Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Material Mind

Now that I have neuroscience on my mind ... :-)

One might call the idea that some people have the mechanical-engineering model of the mind -- or, more simply, the mechanical mind -- the idea of the mind as mechanical. But if the basis of thought is in material (and this proposition stands in some serious doubt -- since it is far from clear that the underlying substratum of everything is materium rather than, say, "information"), human thought is not embedded in metallic material.

If mind is to be material, the mind might better be called the biological mind.

And it's interesting, of course, that the biological mind is structured to produce thought, logic, etc.; that it has neurons, axons, etc. that are arranged this way and that way so that thought (and consciousness?) can emerge.

I have sometimes wondered -- this, it must be said, is pure speculation -- I have sometimes whether the Grand Orginator preferred to give man [there's that word again] neural pathways embedded in soft tissue -- rather than electric circuits embedded in, say, dense metal -- because (is it so?) neural pathways enmeshed in soft brain tissue are sloppier -- because (if the following is true) there is more signal loss, signal misdirection, signal corruption, etc., in neural paths enmeshed in soft tissue than in the circuits enmeshed in your average computer. (Let's put aside the phenomenon of signal degradation over, say, the internet or telephone lines.) Is the (presumed) sloppiness -- mushiness? -- of neural pathways -- could we say their fuzziness? -- the basis of both human creativity and human freedom?

Well, it's a thought. Does anyone have more substantive, scholarly, and scientific comments to offer about this idle thought? (This question is not meant to be a veiled invitation to Daniel Dennett or to Paul and Patricia Churchland -- but I would not be angered to see such eminences heap material scorn here on my speculative ruminations. They are free to say what they wish. :-) )


Priit Parmakson said...

Wikipedia says it very well:
"Just as a modern understanding of science has no need for concepts such as luck or witchcraft to explain the world, a future neuroscience, Churchland argues, is likely to have no need for "beliefs" or "feelings" to explain the brain, instead dealing in objective phenomena such as neurons and their interaction. (Churchland points out that the history of science has seen many concepts so discarded: phlogiston, caloric, the luminiferous ether, and vital forces.)"
-- What are the concepts that the law (e-law in particular) will drop? Human judge? Jury? Justice?

Unknown said...

By way of contrast to the Churchlands (if not necessarily contradiction) consider John McCarthy, McCarthy was one of the participants in the 1956 Dartmouth AI conference and is widely considered to be one of the founders of AI. He is also a student of common sense reasoning. He famously thinks it makes perfectly good scientific sense to endow thermostats with beliefs. Whether McCarthy also believes in matters such as "freedom" and "creativity" and "error," I cannot say. (Faculty tenure committees would be in a pickle-- if they were honest, which they're generally not -- faculty tenure committees would be in a pickle if they insisted that "creativity" and "originality" do not exist and that these things are the endowments of, What?, Nature, Natural Variation, Luck, String Theory, Creator, Dark Matter? Well, perhaps members of tenure committees wouldn't really be in a pickle [whatever a pickle might happen to be] but they might be forced to have more humility than they typically do. [N.B. I have tenure. Indeed, I am voting on a tenure candidate this afternoon.])