The Mind’s I – Fantasies and reflections on the Soul
Douglas R. Hofstadter
See which one sounds more like the truth to you – I have a brain, I am a brain.
So suppose we agree that you “have” a brain. You’ve never seen it, have you? You can’t see it, even in a mirror, and you can’t feel it. You’ve read it in books and been told it by people you trust.
Your thinking seems to happen behind your eyes and between your ears – but is that because that’s where your brain is, or is that because you locate yourself, roughly , at the place you see from?
Our world is filled with things that are neither mysterious and ghostly nor simply constructed out of the building blocks of physics. Do you believe in haircuts? Are there such things? Where in space and time does “The Star Spangled Banner” exist?
The game of bridge is less than a hundred years old. What sort of a thing is it? It is not animal, vegetable, or mineral.
But they are notpurely abstract objects either – objects like the number PI, which is immutable and cannot be located in space and time. These things have birthplaces and histories.
What makes you you? And what are your boundaries? But what in the world is consciousness? Consciousness is both the most obvious and the most mysterious features of our minds.
Are other animals conscious? Are they conscious in the same way we are? Could a computer or robot be conscious? Can a person have unconscious thoughts? Unconscious pains or sensations or perceptions? Is a baby conscious at or before birth? Are we conscious when we dream? Might a human being harbor more than one conscious subject or ego or agent within one brain?
For Locke, indeed, there was a serious problem of how to describe all one’s memories as being continuously in one’s mind when yet they were not continuously “present to consciousness.” The influence of this view has been so great that when Freud initially hypothesized them he got severely rebuffed.
IT was even called self-contradictory to assert that there could be unconscious beliefs and desires, unconscious feelings of hatred, unconscious schemes.
“unconscious” thoughts, desires, and schemes belonged to other selves within the psyche.
Every mental state must be someone’s conscious mental state.
“Cognitive” experimental psychology says that information processing happens within us, though it is entirely inaccessible to introspection.
Although the new theories abound with deliberately fanciful homunculus metaphors – subsystems like little people in the brain sending messages back and forth, asking for help, obeying and volunteering – the actual subsystems are deemed to be unproblematic nonconscious bits of organic machinery.
If before the very idea of unconscious mentality seemed incomprehensible, now we are losing our grip on the very idea of conscious mentality. What is consciousness for, if perfectly unconscious, indeed subjectless.
But what remains problematic is whether both subminds “have an inner life.” One view is that there is no reason to grant consciousness to the non-dominant hemisphere.
The unattended signal is comprehended – but this is apparently unconscious sentence comprehension!
ONE – A SENSE OF SELF
The one called Borges is the one things happen to.
This is the non fictional character. Years ago I tried to free myself from hm and went from the mythologies of the suburbs to the games with time and infinity, but those games belong to Borges now and I shall have to imagine other things. Thus my life is a flight and I lose everything and everything belongs to oblivion, or to him.
I do not know which of us has written this page.
Robert Burns may be right that it is a gift to see ourselves as others see us. Pete notices a closed circuit system in the store he is in. Suddently he notices that the person whose pocket is being picked in the monitor is his.
When reading about someone, something suddenly “clicks,” and the reader gets an eerie sense that he or she is the very person being described.
What if it was this book? What paragraph did you imagine the person who was being described was reading? What thoughts might have crossed the reader’s mind. What paragraph.
There is a robot tied to a computer. The computer moves the robot according to feedback the computer gets about the robot’s position. Suppose you had to translate into English the computer’s internal representation. Should it be “It is in the center of an empty room”? This question resurfaces again and again in different guises in this book.
What actually happened was something absurdly simple and unspectacular: I stopped thinking. I forgot who andwhat I was, my name, manhood, animalhood. And what I found was khaki trouser legs terminating downwards in a pair of brown shoes, khaki sleeves terminating sideways in a pair of pink hands, and a khaki shirtfront terminating upwards in – absolutely nothing whatever! Certainly not in a head.
I had always been too busy or too clever to see. It was naked, uncritical attention to what had all along been staring me in the face – my utter facelessness.
* * *
What is there at this moment to tell me how many eyes I have here – two , or three, or hundreds, or none?
Some men have a hairy eight – inch ball with various holes in it. Not I. This luminous and absolutely pure void, which nevertheless is – rather than contains – all things.
Nothing whatever intervenes, not even that baffling and elusive obstacle called “distance”; the huge blue sky. How can these be remote, when there’s nothing to be remote from? The headless void here refuses all definition and location: it is not round, or small, or big, or even here as distinct from there.
All twoness – duality of subject and object – has vanished.
* * *
But what of the nose? I can see it.
But it just appears as a cloud suspended on my left. I count two of them, not one. Only a hopelessly dishonest or confused observer would deliberately use the same name for such utterly different things.
When I start groping round for my lost head, instead of finding it here I only lose my exploring hand as well.
If hit in the nose, I just get sensations, not a nose.
* * *
Starting off on the far side of the room, he sees me as a full-length man-with-a-head. But as he approaches he finds half a man, then a head, then a blurred check then nothing at all. Alternatively, if he happens to be equipped with the necessary scientific instruments, itself into tissues, then cell-groups, then a single cell.
* * *
There is one place where this head of mine can never show up. That is, on my shoulders. I’ve seen photos of my head. These loose heads can never amount to more than an impermanent and unprivileged accident of the outer phenomenal world.
Then there is the all too familiar guy who lives in that other room behind the looking-glass and seemingly spends all his time staring into this room.
I have never been anything but this ageless, adamantine, measureless, lucid and altogether immaculate void.
* * *
Films often show someone looking out of a car window. There is not face. How are they filmed, these first-person sequences? By a headless person? It is done so as to ensure that I shall identify myself with the actor, his head is got out of the way.
Human capacity for self-deception has surely never been complete.
* * *
The verb to see has two quite opposite meanings. We say a couple see each other. But when I see you your face is all, mine nothing. You are the end of me.
All human beings are mortal.
I am a human being.
What kind of evidence is there for the two premises? The first premise presumes an abstract category, the class of human beings. The second premise is that I too belong to that class, despite the seemingly radical difference between myself and every other member of that class (which Harding is so adept at pointing out).
People are good at piling up category upon category. We come to the general concept of death but cannot hold on to it.
Do higher animals have the ability to see themselves as members of a class? Is a dog capable of (wordlessly) thinking the thought, “I bet I look like those dogs over there”? Imagine the following gory situation. A ring is formed of, say, twenty animals of one sort. An evil human repeatedly spins a dial and then walks over to the designated animal and knifes it to death in front of the remaining ones. Is it likely that each one will realize its impending doom?
Pretty soon, I conclude from your having a head that I have one too.
Did you choose to be you? You could have any other mind you chose to? You have choices. There are many things you could have done that you didn’t. Where are they? I don’t see them. Is there a world in which you didn’t make that stupid mistake? Is there a world in which you aren’t thinking that right now?
Why doesn’t my feeling of myself go along with the other me’s as they split off, following other routes? What attaches me-ness to the viewpoint of this body at this point in time?
Oh that’s right you defy the laws of nature because you are magic.
Biologists have moving steadily towards hardcore materialism. Physicists faced with compelling quantum experimental evidence, have been moving away from strictly mechanical models of the universe to a view that sees the mind as playing an integral role in all physical events.
Reductionism tries to comprehend one level of scientific phenomena in terms of concepts at a lower and presumably more fundamental level.
Francis Crick in his book “of molecules and men” attacks vitalism.
* * *
From mind we go down to physics. Physics is going back towards mind.
We are very different from other primates, but molecularly we are the same. Physics doesn’t explain all. We now understand the troublesome features in a forceful commitment to uncritical reductionism as a solution to the problem of the mind. We have discussed the weaknesses of that position. In addition to being weak, it is a dangerous view.
Actualities seem to float in a wider sea of possibilities from out of which they were chosen; and somewhere, indeterminism says such possibilities exist, and form part of the truth.
Eigenstate means mutually exclusive states.
The system up till the moment of observation, acts as if it were not in an eigenstate. For all practical purposes, the system is not in eigenstate.
TWO – SOUL SEARCHING
4. Computing and Machinery and intelligence
----------The imitation game---------------
Question: Can machines think? Depends how you define the word think. That is changing all the time. How do you define it? The definition is changed as we look at the many types of processors you run and it runs. We all have our specialties.
There is a way to tell. It is the Turing test. Do you like Picasso? Yes. Which period? The blue period.
Occasionally it will give wrong answers. We think that this gives us an aire of superiority. But we give wrong answers and I don’t knows all the time.
A man would have trouble discovering the machine. The machine would find the man right away.
What is a machine?
If a man has his hearing aid is he a machine? What if he has his eye sight replaced? What if he has his motor controls rebooted? What if the breathing and sleep functions are taken over? What of the ability to speak (like Stephen Hawking) What of the memory? What of the …
----------The theological objection-------
Not taken too seriously. God has to put the soul in. Couldn’t he create a being that could imitate his actions via animation? Are you back to saying you must throw in a soul? Whatever.
This is on the same level of the “I just don’t want to believe it” level. In that there is no argument to be made against those who live by “faith”.
---------The consciousness argument--------
Not until a machine has written a sonnet and knows it has written a sonnet will I believe.
Well this is a real addition to the turing test. I’m not sure how you would know what it knows. Would you have to be the machine to know what it knows? It says “Hey you really hurt my feelings.” You say, “You don’t have any feelings.” It says it is even more hurt now.
According to this test, how do I know that you’re conscious? This re-instates solipsism.
Its not that there aren’t mysteries to human consciousness. But they don’t have to be solved for us to be conscious.
------------------------The mistake argument----------
Well the machine never makes any mistakes. Well is it considered worse for that? We can program it to make mistakes. We can program it to be stupid and say, “I don’t remember”. I don’t know that that makes it more conscious. We make mistakes all the time. Does that make us more conscious?
But you would need to put in error and “I don’t knows” to pass the Turing test.
Yes but it can only do certain sorts of things. Well us too! We do vision and words and some math and fall in love and screw!
---------- The Lady Lovelace origination argument----------
It cannot make anything new.
Machines are having more and more options to choose from. Soon they will surprise us with their choices.
Also, They are now solving problems in science all the time. We say get to this and it figures out how to do it (smart bomb).
It also does come up with solutions to problems that we can’t figure out.
You might say that it just does what it is programmed to do. Like us? And the fact that the machine is making choices that surprise us, indicates that we weren’t aware of how it would act.
Gary Kasporov was surprised.
Machines are like us. We are not programmed for every possibility. We have general instructions, “Make friends, don’t bump into things, eat something.” Then we do it. Machines too.
Yes but if you went deep into its programming and wiring you could predict what it would do. It has no choice. You either!
Machines make much of the music that you listen to on the electric radio.
-------Argument from CNS------------
Both computers and humans are binary processors.
Well that brings us up to the idea of Carbonism. The fact that we are made of carbon and it is silicon shouldn’t matter in court. You wouldn’t like it if they discriminated against you!
5 The Turing Test: A Coffeehouse Conversation by Douglas R. Hofstadter
Can you imagine a computer writing a Proust novel? Rome wasn’t built in a day!
Isn’t the Turing test just showing a great job of simulating thought?
We imitate snow patterns on a computer, but no one thinks it is really snow. We do galaxies and atoms and so on in imitation.
Actually if the machine was really powerful and we programmed in little people, they would feel it as a snowstorm.
It takes a certain vantage. You may need computer glasses in or out of the computer to see the reality of it.
You have to get into the substratum and the structures that are coded for in the memory in your simulation.
You recognize a hurricane by its effects. You have no way of going in and finding some ethereal “essence of hurricane,” some “hurricane soul.” A hurricane is a pattern.
But nothing going on in a computer can be a real storm!!
So is a calculations that computers do are simulations – that they are fake calculations?
Cash registers can’t really calculate? They only spin their gears. But cash registers cant really spin their gears either; they can only follow the laws of physics.
This is like saying people can’t really calculate they only make neurons fire. They simply have to let the laws of physics make them fire for them.
We infer a person from receiving morse code.
But there is a real person behind that!
Well what is a hurricane? It is a pattern. A pattern, dust, red spot on Jupiter, in a test tube tornadoes.
There are earthquakes and starquakes. Actual plate tectonics on a giant rotating sphere of pure nuclear matter!
Families and species are also abstract pattern shared at some level. Numbers too.
Think can also be extended.
Thinking is a pattern that happens in brain. These patterns can take place in any of the billions of brains. They all support the same thing, thinking.
It is the pattern, not the medium that is important. If the same type of swirling happens in a different medium that is thinking.
All things are known from the outside. That is indirect evidence of particles to the idea that you are a thinking being.
People give other people credit fro being conscious simply because of their contimual external montoring of them.
The machine doesn’t need emotions to think or have an “I”. It may have other drives to tell it where it is.
How do we know a chess program doesn’t know when its won.
We talk of the desires of the chess program. Oh it likes to get its rooks out early. I don’t think it’l see the hidden fork.
We say the ant wants to get back to the ant hill. We give dogs and cats emotions, but you wouldn’t call it “simulated sadness”.
The program and us in conversation have to care. We have to adopt the “intentional stance.” (Dennets phrase).
We could create a level-crossing feedback loop.
But I’m not a Charles Babbage machine, I have a “flame”!
Computer’s make mistakes, like predicting the weather. The smarter computers get the more they’ll tackle real –life problems and make more mistakes (at least initially). When totally smart they’ll consider us semi-conscious like we do ants.
The problem with being told you’re nothing but a machine is that it makes you think of your phsical nature and your mortality.
The Turing test would work on a sliding scale. We could have a contest for the first machine that lasts for more than 10 minutes.
6. The Princess Ineffabelle by Stanslaw Lem
This is the story where a monkey is hooked up to a machine that allows us to hear what it thinks. Is the monkey intelligent? Yes. And there is no clear line of division.
They set up a tokens to represent words and the apes used them
Rather than communicating – that is, converting private ideas into the common currency of signs in patterns – they are manipulating symbols that to them have no meaning but whose manipulation can achieve desired goals for them.
Then they had high school students use the chips. They said they found out which patterns worked and which didn’t. It felt like meaningless symbol manipulation. So chimp manipulation may be different than human language.
Martha the monkey was thought less because she thought that she didn’t have an equal soul.
If we use the Turing test to test magnitude of soul we can determine value.
I can break a machine, but I can’t hurt an animal.
Do you eat meat? Yes, but look that is irrelevant here!
A theory: your kinship has nothing to do with a respect for life. It is the behavior of the animal resisting death thtat messes you up, not it’s biological body.
He throws a large aluminum beetle on the ground. The little machine purrs.
He is going to kills it, but it’s eating! It eats from an electric socket.
The machine looks at her with soft eyes!
When dropped it whimpers like a baby.
Self reproductive power may be seen as the essence of the living. But inanimate devices can self assemble. And what of microbes and viruses. DO they have souls? Doubtful. It is for people to drown ants. But they feed mice to snakes. Where should be draw the line?
We hide the nature of natural things. We hate meat eating, sex and excretion. We only refer to them euphemistically. We doubt there is soul killing in a slaughter house.
Yet we think that teddy bears are cute. We are so subject to emotions that the nazis told us Jews had no souls and we did it. We are all animists to some degree. Some of us attribute “personalities” to our cars.
THREE – FROM HARDWARE TO SOFTWARE
As we die and others replace us, nothing remains but the germ line. What changes to produce new structures as life evolves is not the momentary excrescence but the hereditary arrangement within the thread.
We are carriers of spirit. We know not how nor why nor where. We in forward with each beat of the heart.
We are moulded by physical forces and time like a river or a rock.
Spirit rises, matter falls. If we look far enough back, we arrive at a primal mist wherein spirit is but a restlessness of atoms.
Sprit leaps aside from matter which tugs forever to pull it down, to make it still. Anemone becomes squid, becomes fish; wiggling becomes swimming, becomes crawling; fish becomes slug, becomes lizard, crawling becomes walking.
* * *
FOUR – MIND AS PROGRAM
13. Where am I? By Daniel C. Dennett
14. Where Was I? By David Hawley Sanford
15. Beyond Rejection by Justin Leiber
16. Software by Rudy Rucker
17. The Riddle of the Universe and its Solution by Christopher Cherniak
FIVE – CREATED SELVES AND FREE WILL
18. The Seventh Sally or How Trurl’s Own Perfection Led to No Good by Stanislaw Lem
19. Non Serviam by Stanislaw Lem
20. Is God a Taoist? By Raymond M. Smullyan
21. The Circular Ruins by Jorge Luis Borges
22. Minds, Brains, and Programs by John R. Searle
23. An Unfortunate Dualist by Raymond M. Smullyan
SIX - THE INNER EYE
24. What is It Like to Be a Bat? By Thomas Nagel
25. An Epistemological Nightmare by Raymond M. Smullyan
26. A Conversation with Einstein’s Brain by Douglas R. Hofstadter
27. Fiction by Robert Nozick