Friday, September 16, 2005


Yep! It's an illusion, but seems like it's very important to our sense of survival for the identity.

[Open quote] Those who contend that computers will eventually be privy to experiences traditionally reserved for humanity are a diverse group. One large contingent could be loosely labeled scientific materialists, or perhaps determinists, but for short we will call them the mechanics, because they believe that human beings (and all other forms of life) are like GMC pickup trucks—entirely explicable in terms of engineering. They maintain that every aspect of behavior, sensation, and thought is a product of the processing of information. And by information they mean physical information: hormones, synaptic firings, sound waves, light particles, and so on.

If the mechanics are correct in this belief, then presumably it is possible, by controlling the flow of information in a computer, to replicate human experience with precision. Why should the computer's electrons be any different from the brain's synaptic firings? Information is information, right? And besides, even if it isn't—even if for some reason synaptic firings are the only kind of information that will yield consciousness—that's no problem; in principle, someday, we could build a computer that runs on synaptic firings. So one way or another, with the right hardware, the right software, and enough time, we should be able to create computers flushed with pride, riddled with doubt, or alienated by the rapid pace of technological change. . . .

The average mechanic would. . . would argue that consciousness has the same relationship to your brain that shadows in a shadow play have to the puppets producing them. There is a close correspondence between the two at any given time, but not because the shadow is influencing the puppets; rather, the causality moves entirely in the other direction: puppets determine shadows, and your brain determines how you feel. Thus the sense that some intangible aspect of yourself has power and somehow affects your neurological activity is all in your head. This is the illusion of free will under which we all labor every day. To put the mechanics' point in technical terminology: consciousness is merely an epiphenomenon of physiological processes. It is affected by them but does not affect them.

Given this view of consciousness, it is easy to see why a mechanic wouldn't be threatened by the prospect that computers may someday be conscious. Shadow consciousness, after all, doesn't gum up the works; it may feel messy to the computer—all those sappy emotions burdening the binary spirit—but it won't upset the machine's smooth predictability. The electrons corresponding to it—the electrons that cast it as their shadow —will be running through the computer in perfect accordance with the programer's dictates. [Close quote]

From MYSTERIES OF LIFE AND THE UNIVERSE, pp. 110-112, edited by William Shore


From a USAToday front page factoid on two days running (April 5 and 6), we discover that blue states New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont spend the most per capita on their children’s education while archly red states like Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Nevada and Mississippi (always down there) spend the least. Yep, family values sure show through, don’t they? The most conservative times (say the Dark Ages?) are when illiteracy looms large and the most liberal times are when literacy grows universal (say 1776?).

"What luck for rulers that men do not think." —Adolph Hitler (describing the red state mentality)

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