On Wed, Aug 24, 2011 at 7:13 AM, Craig Weinberg <whatsons...@gmail.com> wrote:

>> Well yes, "functional equivalence" does depend on the function you are
>> talking about. The function I am talking about for neurons is the
>> ability to stimulate other neurons. An artificial neuron should
>> stimulate the neurons to which it is connected with the same timing as
>> the biological neuron it replaces. It doesn't have to be exactly the
>> same, just close enough.
> The ability to stimulate other neurons is not that hard. We can use
> transcranial magnetic stimulation to do that already. The problem is
> not with augmenting the brain with additional resources, it's with
> replacing the parts of the brain that are actually who we are. You can
> have input and output (maybe) emulation, but there's nothing in the
> middle doing the feeling, experiencing, and understanding the meaning
> of those inputs and outputs. That feeling is what determines the
> outputs. There's no external 'timing' that controls our thoughts and
> actions and those of our neurons, the timing arises out of first hand
> experience - voluntary choices about unpredictable situations and
> conflicting priorities.

Where does the "feeling" that you claim determines the outputs come
from? Can you make it clear whether you believe there is another
substance in the brain other than the chemicals we know about?

>> If it's possible to reproduce basic neuronal function as described
>> above without neurotransmitters then it should be possible to
>> reproduce consciousness without neurotransmitters, as explained many
>> times.
> I know it's been explained many times, because I have explained just
> as many times why it's not true. There is no such thing as a 'basic
> neuronal function', but if there were, it would be made of
> neurotransmitters. It's a living organism withing the context of a
> massive civilization of living organisms, so what you suggest is like
> saying that if it's possible to reproduce basic human function then it
> should be possible to reproduce the major cities of the world without
> humans.

Do you think it's possible to reproduce the function of anything at all?

>> Neurons will do the same thing over and over again, if they are in the
>> same initial state and receive the same inputs. A neuron is a finite
>> state machine. Given certain inputs at the dendrites, it either will
>> or will not send an action potential down its axon. The trick is to
>> work out the state transition table describing its behaviour.
> People will do the same thing over and over again too, given similar
> initial state and inputs, but that doesn't mean that makes a person
> what it is. Behaviorism is important to understanding some aspects of
> of what people or animals or neurons do, but it tells us nothing about
> how they feel. A pen and paper are finite state machines too, but they
> have infinite possible outputs together. Figuring out the alphabet of
> the languages of neurons is great, but it doesn't get you any closer
> to replacing the speakers of that language with a timing belt and a
> spark plug.

Figuring out the internal dynamics of the neuron will tell you when
the neuron will fire in response to any given stimulus. You seem to be
saying that it won't, because some non-physical influence which is the
basis for feelings may come along and make it fire in an unpredictable
way. This would be something amenable to experimental verification,
since you just need to show that sometimes a neuron (or other cell, I
assume they all have this vital essence) will do things apparently
miraculously, not in accordance with the known laws of nature. Surely
if such amazing things happened someone would have noticed and it
would be common scientific knowledge.

>> But your brain would be convinced that this ersatz vision was real,
>> since it would be getting the same signals in the same sequence from
>> the artificial visual cortex. For example, your language centre would
>> be forced to say that your vision was perfectly normal.
> You're assuming that the 'language center' is a monolithic logical
> device rather than a community of tens of millions of autonomous
> living entities. They aren't forced to say anything. They aren't
> getting the same signals, at best they are getting tv screen images
> instead of windows to the outside world, but more likely is that there
> is nothing left in the visual cortex to make any images at all. The
> rest of the brain gets pre-digested nutrient sludge instead of
> expertly prepared meals. We can't tell the difference from the
> neurology, just like we can't tell the difference between the color of
> x-rays and the color of gamma rays, but that doesn't mean that the
> brain can't tell the difference.

You do understand that a neuron fires in response to another neuron to
which it is connected via synapses? The neurons in the language centre
(and everywhere else) would be getting the same signals from the
artificial cortex as they would normally get, so they would fire in
the same sequence as they normally would, so the muscles involved in
speech would get the same signals they normally would, so you would
say the same things you normally would.

>> In that case,
>> how do you know that right now that you don't have GPS-like qualia
>> rather than the normal ones?
> These 'how do you know you're not blind now?' kinds of questions are
> silly to me. It just means that you don't take consciousness seriously
> and value third person views over the first person source of those
> views in all cases and at all times. How do you know we're having a
> conversation on the internet? How do you know that you exist? Meh.
> Sophistry. We don't have to know what our experience is in objective
> terms, if it had any. That doesn't stop us from being able to tell if
> we've gone deaf or blind.
> We know from our experience that sound qualia is different than visual
> qualia. We know from accounts of synesthesia that these qualia are not
> hardwired to the sense organs and that in fact optical stimulation can
> be interpreted through the qualia of flavor, etc. This should give us
> a clue that there is a qualitative difference which is independent
> from function, otherwise we should not be able to notice the
> difference between tasting food and seeing sound - the sense it makes
> would be the same. It's not just an automatic property of the universe
> that a wavelength of light automatically looks like something instead
> of tastes like something. The wavelength of light in fact, has no
> external properties whatsoever. It's all about how the receiver
> interprets the transmitter.

Of course I agree that if you have qualia, you know you have qualia.
That is why I think it is impossible to make an artificial device that
replicates the normal pattern of neuronal firings without also
replicating the part those neurons play in consciousness. If you
could, then the qualia would change without you realising. It's a
reductio ad absurdum argument.

> Why do you think that mind is mindless? That it senses nothing? The
> visual cortex is made of neurons just like the optic nerve and the
> prefrontal cortex (not the exact same neurons or types of neurons, but
> still neurons). If any of them sense or make sense then they all make
> some kind of sense. You would not be forced to describe memories which
> you could no longer visualize, but you could find that you have access
> to that information if the prosthetic was done well. How well the
> prosthesis is done would determine what form that information would be
> in - whether it would feel remote and command line based, or whether
> it would be a super enhanced visual-esque modeling laboratory. I'm not
> sure that you could get actual vision out of it though. You would need
> new stem cells in there I think to specialize in feeling color and
> shape.

But if the artificial visual cortex sends the same neural signals to
the rest of the brain, how could the rest of the brain notice that
anything was different?

>> >> It seems to me that biology is sufficient since if you exactly
>> >> replicate the biology, you would replicate awareness.
>> > That's not the case. An identical twin is close to a biological
>> > replicate the awareness is not at all 'replicated'. They will share
>> > some personality traits but are by no means the same person. My own
>> > dad has an identical twin who has a very different personality and
>> > life path than he has, so I can verify that.
>> If two identical twins differ mentally, then obviously this is because
>> they differ physically in their brain configuration. My mental state
>> is different today than it was yesterday, and there is less difference
>> between my brain on two consecutive days than there would be between
>> the brains of identical twins.
> If I impersonate someone, does that obviously mean it's because I have
> changed my physical brain configuration?

Yes, of course! How could you change your mental state if your brain
state stays the same?

>> > What biology gives you is access to awareness. Two computers can have
>> > the same hardware, but entirely different contents on their HD and
>> > entirely different users who put that content there.
>> A change in content on the HD changes the computer physically.
> But the change does not emerge from the HD or computer itself. It is
> caused by the actions of the user for the user's natural language
> semantic reasons, not for computer scientific reasons.

It's the same with a brain or computer. The environment acts on
brain/computer state S1 at time T1 and results in brain/computer state
S2 at time T2.

>> No, I think awareness happens when certain types of information
>> processing happen.
> Haha. What is information without awareness?

When signals from the environment are processed, for example when an
animal sees some food and through a series of neural events moves
towards the food and starts eating, that is associated with awareness;
at least when the animal is human, probably for other animals as well.

>> My opinions are determined by biochemical processes. If the
>> biochemistry in my brain were different then my opinions would be
>> different. Where's the problem with that?
> The problem is that you are a blind powerless puppet of microscopic
> masters you have no connection with, and your every thought and
> experience is a meaningless delusion. You have not explained why this
> conversation exists biochemically, or how 'you' come to 'imagine' that
> you are 'participating' in it.

If I am the result of these biochemical reactions how does it make
sense to say that I am a puppet? It's like saying I have no power
because I am being pushed around by myself. There is no separate "I"
to be pushed around.

>> >> (a) Release of dopamine from Neuron A triggers an action potential in
>> >> Neuron B which causes Muscle C to contract which causes Hand D to
>> >> rise,
>> > What caused Neuron A to release the dopamine in the first place?
>> > Nothing in the brain - it was caused by an event in the mind, or, more
>> > accurately an experience of the Self, which constellates as many
>> > overlapping events on different levels of sensation, emotion, and
>> > cognition. That's the reason the neuron fires, because something is
>> > happening to us personally. The neuron has no reason to fire or not
>> > fire on it's own. It doesn't care, it just wants to eat glucose and
>> > participate in the society of the other neurons.
>> Neuron A was triggered to fire by the other neurons or sense organs to
>> which it is connected. There are also some neurons which fire
>> spontaneously (eg.http://www.jneurosci.org/content/20/24/9004.full.pdf). But 
>> even the
>> spontaneously firing neurons do so because that is their the way their
>> biochemistry makes them behave. They don't suddenly start doing
>> bizarre and magical things. A table will move across the room because
>> it's pushed or it may move across the room by itself if there is an
>> earthquake, but it won't just move across the room by itself, with no
>> external force.
> Of course they don't need to do anything bizarre or magical. No more
> than the internet needs to do anything bizarre to host new and
> undreamed of content forever. Just because the alphabet is 26 letters
> does not limit in any way what can be expressed with them. Human
> consciousness is the equivalent of the collected works of Shakespeare
> every second, and that's just the novelty. Every minute hour, day, and
> week produce their own irreducible meta experiences which optimize and
> deprive different neurological trends in the brain, dictating what is
> pruned and what is beefed up. You can't simulate that any more than
> you can make a foot by filling a shoe with plaster.

If the neurons won't do anything magical then their behaviour is
defined by their biochemistry and is thus in theory predictable and
can be modelled on a computer. They have a very wide repertoire of
behaviour because they constitute a very complex system. The 26
letters of the alphabet can only be used in 27^n different sentences
of n or fewer letters (27 rather than 26 because we include a space as
another symbol). That is a lot of possible sentences, but it is not
infinite. Similarly, the brain has a very large number of possible
thoughts, but not an infinite number. For it to have an infinite
number of thoughts it would need to be infinite in extent.

>> >> (b) Release of dopamine from Neuron A generates a desire to lift one's
>> >> hand up, the dopamine then triggers an action potential in Neuron B
>> >> which is experienced as the intention of lifting one's hand up, and
>> >> Neuron B stimulates Muscle C to contract which is experienced as one's
>> >> hand actually rising.
>> > Great. So we are dopamine puppets from a neuron puppet master. It's
>> > not a legitimate possibility. If it were there would be no reason for
>> > anything like a 'desire' to be generated. It's completely superfluous.
>> > If Neuron A can trigger Neuron B without our help, then it surely
>> > would. It's like saying that maybe your thermostat has a DVD player in
>> > it that plays excerpts from the Wizard of Oz and then it turns on the
>> > furnace and then the house is warmed up which makes the DVD player
>> > choose a different scene of the movie.
>> "Neuron A can trigger Neuron B without our help" - what does that
>> mean? Do you think that we exist separately from our neurons, deciding
>> whether this one or that one will trigger? The self is just the
>> collection of neurons, acting together.
> We don't exist separately from our neurons, but we only know that
> because we are alive. If you look at a brain, there is nothing about a
> neuron's behavior that necessitates the existence of some human entity
> making decisions and living a 'life'. You take that to mean that there
> is no entity, whereas I see that as not an option, and that in fact,
> the self is not a collection of neurons but a collection of neuron
> feelings. We are what the brain feels of the body and the body feels
> of the world. It correlates to the actions of the neurons, but only to
> some extent. Maybe 40%. Most of what goes on the neuron level has
> nothing to do with 'us' and most of what goes on in our lives has
> nothing to do with biochemistry. We remain ourselves even when we
> change our diet radically, walk through powerful magnetic fields, get
> electrocuted, etc.

True, most of what the neurons do does not directly manifest as
consciousness; but all of what we experience as consciousness is due
to what the neurons do.

>> > I'm only continuing with this for the benefit of you or anyone else
>> > who might be interested in reading it. There is nothing in your
>> > arguments that I have not considered many times in many many long
>> > discussions. It's all very old news to me. It does help me communicate
>> > my view more clearly though so I don't mind, just don't get frustrated
>> > that I'm not going to ever go back to my (our) old worldview. I think
>> > that I mentioned that I used to hold the same views that you have now
>> > only a few years ago? It's almost correct, it's just inside out.
>> It seems that you have an emotional reaction to the idea that you are
>> no more than the biochemical reactions in your body. But not wanting
>> something to be true does not make it untrue.
> Not at all. I know that you think that's true, because otherwise you
> can't make sense of my position, but trust me, I have thought that the
> universe was a simulation since I was five years old. It's only been
> in the last five or ten years that I've seen the limitations of that
> position. We are no more than the biochemical reactions in your body,
> but you seem to have an emotional reaction to the idea that biology
> and chemistry are real things having real experiences rather than
> mathematical 'reactions'.
> You can't have it both ways. Either cells are alive and have sense or
> we are not made of cells. If you insist that what we are is
> 'collections' of the actions of cells, then you have to explain what
> is collecting them and how that collection gives rise to sense from
> something that has none whatsoever. Collections and information are
> metaphysical ideas. You can't find them on the periodic table, so
> where do you find them?

The observation is that we are made of matter and that we have
feelings; therefore, putting matter together in a particular way can
result in feelings. It perhaps isn't unreasonable to speculate that
there might be something other than matter causing the feelings, such
as an immaterial soul, but there isn't any evidence that such a thing

Stathis Papaioannou

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