Am I a ghost in a machine?
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Author:  Chris OConnor [ Sun May 11, 2014 10:06 pm ]
Post subject:  Am I a ghost in a machine?

Am I a ghost in a machine?

Author:  Robert Tulip [ Thu May 15, 2014 7:11 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Am I a ghost in a machine?

This first essay opens the intriguing problem of the nature of consciousness. What is it that animates our material body?

My view is that the salient problem here is actually the nature of life, or perhaps the nature of animal life. It seems that all animals have capacity to make choices, even when these choices are heavily programmed by genetic instinct. This choice capacity is consciousness.

The way Blackburn approaches this problem of consciousness is to me unsatisfactory because of some axiomatic commitments I hold. For example, he asks hypothetically if we can help to understand consciousness by imagining that I am the only conscious being in the universe, or that other people see colours differently, or that other people's perceptions of light or hearing are vastly different. I see these hypotheses as unhelpful and useless games that put philosophy into disrepute. The axiom that the world exists in conformity with abundant corroboration simply eliminates such mental exercises from the realms of possibility. Nihilism and solipsism are ethically repugnant, and any hypothesis that entertains them is equally obnoxious.

But we are still left with the reductive problem of how our ideas differ from their material substrate, how our dream of a favourite place differs from the neurons in our brain. This all comes down to what Blackburn indirectly refers to as the mystery of animation, or soul. Our minds give our perceptions a coherence, and we simply could not survive if we did not process our perceptions in this automatic way. Aristotle spoke about four causes, material, formal, efficient and final. Our minds, in normal activity, deal mostly with purpose and intent - the final cause. The other causes come in as we analyse reductively to understand the thing as matter in motion.

Author:  Dexter [ Sat May 17, 2014 10:11 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Am I a ghost in a machine?

From the book:

The neurophysiologist, however far he probes, will not be able to hold up a fragment of brain and say, "Aha! Here we have a thought about the boulevards of Paris!"

Not yet, but it seems we're getting closer. Of course, that's different from understanding the subjective experience ... e30291.htm ... ivity.html

He also says,

We have to recapture the idea that a smile is an utterly natural mode of expression of pleasure or happiness, so the mental state is not something lying behind the fully functioning individual, but something that is visible in their face or in their doings.

The first part seems a reasonable thing to assume for other humans and maybe other animals (which ones?), but I'm not sure it gets any closer to any of the hard questions about consciousness.

Author:  whitneybrook [ Thu May 29, 2014 11:32 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Am I a ghost in a machine?

I find this chapter confusing in large part because I don't think the question or questions are asked clearly. Rather he seems to walk around several philosophical issues related to human consciousness.

I think the primary question he means to ask is are the body and soul separate, where the body is the physical means of supplying information to the soul and the soul is locus of consciousness. While I suppose this could be a question of faith, I feel like there is a fairly straight forward scientific answer to this. The body is a system. A major function of the system is to collect information, process it and make decisions. Consciousness is most likely an adaptation that makes us better at decision-making and hence survival. I also suspect that we're not the only animals to have this adaptation. Humans are distinctive in our cognitive abilities, but doubt that distinction is self-awareness.

If I understand the question, then I also tend to agree with Leibniz' perspective that consciousness is the the hypotenuse of a triangle, something that is inherent once you build a machine that is a human. Neural pathways exist in part to carry out the function of consciousness. If we hadn't evolved to have consciousness, those neural pathways wouldn't exist.

I suspect Blackburn is circling a deeper question that science can't so easily answer. But I'm not sure what it is.

Author:  Robert Tulip [ Fri May 30, 2014 7:50 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Am I a ghost in a machine?

Information and Matter

The question of the ghost in the machine is about the relation between human identity ('the ghost') and our physical existence ('the machine'), and turns on the relation between information and matter.

Information is not material, but resides in symbolic interpretation and representation of matter. The difference between symbol and thing is at the foundation of human identity. A symbol is only meaningful as a perceived relation between a physical sign and the information that it signifies.

The metaphor of “ghost” entirely fails to capture the relation between the informational content of human intelligence and our physical body. A ghost is generally considered a thing, with a physical, if ectoplasmic, reality. But an idea is not a thing.

The essence of this problem is the nature of animation, or life. ‘Anima’ means soul, and indicates the spiritual intent of mind. Intent in human life is formulated in language, the symbolic power of representation. This basic idea of representing, one thing standing for another, is a purely intellectual and non-material action of seeing relationships of meaning. While these relations refer to material objects, the connections they represent are not themselves material.

So overall, framing the problem in terms of a ghost in a machine just starts from the false idea that everything real is material, failing to see that mind, although grounded in matter, cannot itself be understood merely in terms of its material biology. Memory links us to the past, which no longer exists materially. So in mind we create or sustain existence for things that do not physically exist. Only the present moment physically exists, in the sense that we can fully say it is real. But nonetheless the past and future have a reality in memory and projection.

Author:  Interbane [ Fri May 30, 2014 9:32 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Am I a ghost in a machine?

Robert Tulip wrote:
But we are still left with the reductive problem of how our ideas differ from their material substrate, how our dream of a favourite place differs from the neurons in our brain.

This is no different from the issue we have in figuring out how complex simulation algorithms differ from their silicate substrate. How information is processed and stored in a way that supervenes on physical systems is not illusive on a basic level(simple functions). It is only when the information starts getting complex that we can no longer draw the immediate parallel. But in the end, even the complex processes are the same as a single stored logic function, separated by degree rather than type.

I don't think it's right to say that our ideas "differ" from their material substrate. They cannot truly differ if they supervene on them. Unless you're speaking of the seemingly magical way the phenomenon emerges.

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