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Atheism’s (Not So) Hidden Assumptions

Evolutionist Jerry Coyne thinks atheism is true. But if atheism (in addition to evolution) is true, then how could Coyne know it? For if atheism and materialism are true, then Coyne’s brain is nothing more than a set of molecules in motion. Its various configurations are simply a consequence of its beginning, subsequent inputs, and some random motion here and there.  Read more

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36 Responses to Atheism’s (Not So) Hidden Assumptions

  1. cogito ergo sum

  2. Materialism makes reason impossible. If our mental processes are nothing but chemical reactions in the brain, then there’s no reason to believe anything is true (including the theory of materialism). Chemicals can’t evaluate between true and false; they don’t reason, they react.

    I wonder how many atheists have considered this startling contradiction in their belief system.

  3. Exactly.

    And none have. And when one attempts to bring it to their attention, they call one a liar.

  4. Yet they are the ones who claim to be on the side of logic, reason and rationality while at the same time excoriating “faith-heads” as irrational, illogical and without reason. Apparently, in defense of atheism, the normal rules of logic and reason simply do not apply. Self-refuting premises be damned!

    And rule #1 is: when in a debate or discussion with a theist – concede nothing! Never even admit that a theist has a point.

  5. I know of no one who has better stated the case that an epistemology rooted in evolution coupled with naturalism is at best inscrutable at worst, self-refuting, than Alvin Plantinga. In his well known evolutionary argument against naturalism, he clearly shows that there is no getting around the problem that in a purely naturalistic world, it simply isn’t possible to know whether or not our cognitive faculties have evolved to the point where they have as one of their primary functions, the formation of true beliefs. Thus when Coyne, Dawkins, or others of that ilk proclaim loudly and victoriously that there simply is no God, they aren’t speaking from any position of actual knowledge…they are only stating what they wish…hope…want to be the case. In other words, it only mere opinion, for they have neither a scientific nor philosophical way to defend the position.

  6. Barb @1

    I agree completely with what you said. And I would just add that what you described is also known (but denied) by atheists and it’s also the reason for many atheists war against absolute truth itself.

    The problem (for them) is, if absolute truth does not exist, then atheism itself is not absolutely true.

  7. Indeed, the recognition of consciousness as the primary empirical reality is what is lacking in modern scientistic thought.

    Consciousness is an empirical fact. All other empirical facts are known by consciousness itself. It’s strange that intelligent people fail to acknowledge this simple and uncontrovertible truth.

    Our personal consciousness is a fact before we can build any theory about it, be it materialistic or spiritual. It is a fact, indeed, before we can even perceive any aspect of the world outside us, or any aspect of our physical body. Before we can reason, we can feel, we can judge, we can act. Indeed, all those events happen in our personal consciousness, and could never happen without it.

    Logics and reason, cognition, free will, feeling, purpose, intelligence, design, are all attributes or faculties of consciousness.

    All cognitions are based in the amazing correspondence between logics and reason (properties of consciousness) and the outer world that we experience through consciousness. I say amazing, because it is amazing.

    Many forget, for instance, that the fact that mathematics (a purely innate science, totally abstracted from the outer world) is such a powerful instrument to understand the outer world (like in physics), and often in completely counter-intuitive ways (whoever is familiar with quantum mechanics knows what I am speaking of), is in itself a stunning peace of knowledge, and needs deep consideration.

    So, no knowledge of the outer world, indeed no cognition, is possible without logics, mathematics and reason. And no reason is possible without consciousness.

    And yet, Hofstadter is so sure that consciousness is only a software loop…

  8. Barb,

    On what basis do you feel confident to make the assertion that chemical reactions cannot give rise to consciousness and an ability to react? That is simply a statement of belief on your part.

  9. “Materialism makes reason impossible”, and other such statements, simply aren’t true. All logical systems, philosophical or mathematical, start with axioms – “self-evident truths”. Among those “self-evident” truths are the rules on which logic are based, i.e. congruency, excluded middle, … All other true statements are built using the rules of logic on the axioms. We choose a framework that describes “reality” (whatever it really is), but we know this description is an approximation. If, for some reason, it doesn’t “work”, we look for another description. There is so much disagreement within philosophy (and theology) because we don’t do a good job of formalizing our axioms. Multiple axiom systems lead to different geometries (e.g. Euclidean and non-Euclidean), and different philosophies.

    And, BTW, Hofstatder is right. Consciousness is software. Arguing whether God or evolution is the programmer doesn’t change the nature of consciousness.

  10. yeah, how could we trust our brains if they were just made of matter? If we tried to come to conclusions on what we observe, we’d have to test those conclusions against the conclusions of others and come up with a system of comparing and contrasting what our “matter only” brains perceive. Luckily our brains are not just matter and we have ways of just knowing stuff that doesn’t need to be “tested” or compared against other brains.

  11. Dr. Don Johnson has a video lecture series here:

    http://www.vimeo.com/11369746

  12. Well consciousness is a software loop, due to the absolutely solid fundamental scientific principle: that which goes round and round and round becomes conscious. Haven’t you read the peer-reviewed journals on this?

    The irony is that as soon as they create consciousness in a computer, someone will decide to optimize the code, the loops will be unrolled, and the consciousness will disappear, all because the going round and round and round stopped.

  13. wrf3:

    And, BTW, Hofstatder is right. Consciousness is software. Arguing whether God or evolution is the programmer doesn’t change the nature of consciousness.

    It’s rather the other way round. Arguing correctly about the nature of consciousness definitely changes the debate about evolution and design (and, if you like, even God).

    But, as you are so sure that consciousness is software, I leave you to your Hofstadter. But could it be using pointers, instead of loops?

    Good luck…

  14. Matteo:

    Maybe they should try to optimize the code in us IDists: it seems we are not behaving as we are supposed to… :)

  15. “Consciousness is software.”

    Strangely enough, no known computer needs to be conscious to operate. So the software analogy is supposed to prove what, exactly?

  16. so the new law is that which goes around and around in a circle is the definition of consciousness? Who’d have known that it was so simple DOH! ~(_:(l)

    I believe there may be a little more to consciousness than a perpetual motion merry-go-round:

    Notes:

    “As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about atoms this much: There is no matter as such. All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter.”
    Max Planck – The Father Of Quantum Mechanics – (Of Note: Planck was a devout Christian, which is not surprising when you realize practically every founder of each major branch of modern science also had a deep Christian connection.)

    “What does observation have to do with anything in the quantum mechanics or the universe?” Yet, the assertion that consciousness is to be treated as a separate entity when dealing with quantum mechanics has some very strong clout behind it.

    “It was not possible to formulate the laws (of quantum theory) in a fully consistent way without reference to consciousness.” Eugene Wigner (1902 -1995) laid the foundation for the theory of symmetries in quantum mechanics, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugene_Wigner

    Quantum mind–body problem
    Parallels between quantum mechanics and mind/body dualism were first drawn by the founders of quantum mechanics including Erwin Schrödinger, Werner Heisenberg, Wolfgang Pauli, Niels Bohr, and Eugene Wigner

    The Mental Universe – Richard Conn Henry – Professor of Physics John Hopkins University
    Excerpt: The only reality is mind and observations, but observations are not of things. To see the Universe as it really is, we must abandon our tendency to conceptualize observations as things.,,, The Universe is immaterial — mental and spiritual. Live, and enjoy.
    The Mental Universe

    That the mind of a individual observer would play such an integral, yet not complete “closed loop” role, in instantaneous quantum wave collapse to uncertain 3-D particles, gives us clear evidence that our mind is a unique entity. A unique entity with a superior quality of existence when compared to the uncertain 3D particles of the material universe. This is clear evidence for the existence of the “higher dimensional soul” of man that supersedes any material basis that the soul/mind has been purported to “emerge” from by materialists. These following studies confirm this “superior quality” of existence for our minds:

    Miracle Of Mind-Brain Recovery Following Hemispherectomies – Dr. Ben Carson – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/3994585/

    Removing Half of Brain Improves Young Epileptics’ Lives:
    Excerpt: “We are awed by the apparent retention of memory and by the retention of the child’s personality and sense of humor,” Dr. Eileen P. G. Vining; In further comment from the neuro-surgeons in the John Hopkins study: “Despite removal of one hemisphere, the intellect of all but one of the children seems either unchanged or improved. Intellect was only affected in the one child who had remained in a coma, vigil-like state, attributable to peri-operative complications.”
    http://www.nytimes.com/1997/08.....lives.html

    Blind Woman Can See During Near Death Experience (NDE) – Pim Lommel – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/3994599/

    Kenneth Ring and Sharon Cooper (1997) conducted a study of 31 blind people, many of who reported vision during their Near Death Experiences (NDEs). 21 of these people had had an NDE while the remaining 10 had had an out-of-body experience (OBE), but no NDE. It was found that in the NDE sample, about half had been blind from birth. (of note: This “anomaly” is also found for deaf people who can hear sound during their Near Death Experiences(NDEs).)
    http://findarticles.com/p/arti....._65076875/

    Quantum Consciousness – Time Flies Backwards? – Stuart Hameroff MD
    Excerpt: Dean Radin and Dick Bierman have performed a number of experiments of emotional response in human subjects. The subjects view a computer screen on which appear (at randomly varying intervals) a series of images, some of which are emotionally neutral, and some of which are highly emotional (violent, sexual….). In Radin and Bierman’s early studies, skin conductance of a finger was used to measure physiological response They found that subjects responded strongly to emotional images compared to neutral images, and that the emotional response occurred between a fraction of a second to several seconds BEFORE the image appeared! Recently Professor Bierman (University of Amsterdam) repeated these experiments with subjects in an fMRI brain imager and found emotional responses in brain activity up to 4 seconds before the stimuli. Moreover he looked at raw data from other laboratories and found similar emotional responses before stimuli appeared.
    http://www.quantumconsciousnes.....Flies.html

    In The Wonder Of Being Human: Our Brain and Our Mind, Eccles and Robinson discussed the research of three groups of scientists (Robert Porter and Cobie Brinkman, Nils Lassen and Per Roland, and Hans Kornhuber and Luder Deeke), all of whom produced startling and undeniable evidence that a “mental intention” preceded an actual neuronal firing – thereby establishing that the mind is not the same thing as the brain, but is a separate entity altogether. http://books.google.com/books?.....8;lpg=PT28

    “As I remarked earlier, this may present an “insuperable” difficulty for some scientists of materialists bent, but the fact remains, and is demonstrated by research, that non-material mind acts on material brain.” Eccles

    “Thought precedes action as lightning precedes thunder.”
    Heinrich Heine – in the year 1834

    Genesis 2:7
    And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

    Of more importance though, the “effect”, of universal quantum wave collapse to each “central 3D observer”, gives us clear evidence of the extremely special importance that the “cause”, of the “Infinite Mind of God”, places on each of our own individual minds.

    Psalm 139:17-18
    How precious concerning me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you.

  17. wrf3,
    the main problem with your “consciousness is software” comparison is this:

    ,,, computers can’t pass this following test,,,

    “… no operation performed by a computer can create new information.”
    — Douglas G. Robertson, “Algorithmic Information Theory, Free Will and the Turing Test,” Complexity, Vol.3, #3 Jan/Feb 1999, pp. 25-34.
    http://www.evoinfo.org/

    ,,Whereas humans can fairly easily pass create information,, thus this strongly imply humans have a “higher informational component” to their being,, we have “a transcendent mind”,, i.e. these findings offer another line of corroborating evidence which is very suggestive to the idea that humans have a mind which is transcendent of the physical brain and which is part of a “unique soul from God”.

    It is also interesting to note that this is exactly the same problem facing the origin of life in particular and evolution in general,, i.e. material processes have never shown the capacity to generate any information whatsoever:

    The Capabilities of Chaos and Complexity: David L. Abel – Null Hypothesis For Information Generation – 2009
    To focus the scientific community’s attention on its own tendencies toward overzealous metaphysical imagination bordering on “wish-fulfillment,” we propose the following readily falsifiable null hypothesis, and invite rigorous experimental attempts to falsify it: “Physicodynamics cannot spontaneously traverse The Cybernetic Cut: physicodynamics alone cannot organize itself into formally functional systems requiring algorithmic optimization, computational halting, and circuit integration.” A single exception of non trivial, unaided spontaneous optimization of formal function by truly natural process would falsify this null hypothesis.
    http://www.mdpi.com/1422-0067/10/1/247/pdf
    Can We Falsify Any Of The Following Null Hypothesis (For Information Generation)
    1) Mathematical Logic
    2) Algorithmic Optimization
    3) Cybernetic Programming
    4) Computational Halting
    5) Integrated Circuits
    6) Organization (e.g. homeostatic optimization far from equilibrium)
    7) Material Symbol Systems (e.g. genetics)
    8) Any Goal Oriented bona fide system
    9) Language
    10) Formal function of any kind
    11) Utilitarian work
    http://mdpi.com/1422-0067/10/1/247/ag

  18. Fross (#10) asked: how could we trust our brains if they were just made of matter?

    The same way we trust our chairs.

  19. Consciousness cannot be explained by software and chemicals.

    We should define what consciousness means though. Does it mean “information processing?” Or does it mean “awareness?”

    It is often a problem when discussion consciousness to conflate a lot of different definitions of it. For example, one science fiction writer said that one kind of chimp is conscious because he can recognize himself in the mirror while another kind of chimp was not conscious because he could not recognize himself in the mirror.

    That is not consciousness! that is self awareness. A computer can be self aware, but not conscious. Consciousness is feeling, experience, “awake-ness” quality of existence. No matter how well a robot can answer a question, you can never know that it actually experiences the conversation you are having with it. You can program a robot to scream in pain when you stab it, but does that mean that it actually feels the pain? What if you map the pain response in its brain? Does that prove that it feels the pain?

  20. bornagain77 (#17) noted: “… no operation performed by a computer can create new information.” and “Whereas humans can fairly easily pass create information.”

    How can you say that humans can create information when you don’t know what the information content of the brain is?

    As for the rest, you’re arguing over how the software came into existence, not that the brain is software.

  21. collin (#19) wrote: Consciousness is feeling, experience, “awake-ness” quality of existence.

    Yet, to us, feeling is awareness of feeling; experience is awareness of experience; … That is, it’s based on self-awareness.

    No matter how well a robot can answer a question, you can never know that it actually experiences the conversation you are having with it.

    The same is true of humans. You think they do, because you project your self-awareness onto them. But, in actuality, the only way you can know about their experiences is to ask them. If they appear to be self-aware about their experiences, and they tell you that they are self-aware, then we can’t say they aren’t.
    It’s no different for us.

    You can program a robot to scream in pain when you stab it, but does that mean that it actually feels the pain? What if you map the pain response in its brain? Does that prove that it feels the pain?
    You can sever a human’s nerve endings and they could scream after being stabbed. It isn’t any different for the machine. We just don’t yet build machines with elaborate nervous systems.

  22. Zeroseven: “On what basis do you feel confident to make the assertion that chemical reactions cannot give rise to consciousness and an ability to react? That is simply a statement of belief on your part.”

    On what basis am I to assert that mindless chemicals reacting with each other somehow evolved into consciousness? What peer-reviewed literature should I read that would explain the development of the human mind (not the brain) and human consciousness?

    Wrf3: “Materialism makes reason impossible”, and other such statements, simply aren’t true. All logical systems, philosophical or mathemathematical, start with axioms – “self-evident truths”. Among those “self-evident” truths are the rules on which logic are based, i.e. congruency, excluded middle, … All other true statements are built using the rules of logic on the axioms. We choose a framework that describes “reality” (whatever it really is), but we know this description is an approximation. If, for some reason, it doesn’t “work”, we look for another description. There is so much disagreement within philosophy (and theology) because we don’t do a good job of formalizing our axioms. Multiple axiom systems lead to different geometries (e.g. Euclidean and non-Euclidean), and different philosophies.”

    Here are five reasons why I consider materialism unreasonable:

    1. Specified complexity. This cannot be explained materially. It cannot be explained by nonintelligent natural laws.

    2. Human thoughts, dreams, and ideas are not simply comprised only of materials. Chemicals are involved, but they don’t explain all human thoughts. The theory of materialism isn’t made of molecules. You cannot measure and weigh love, hate, or jealousy, yet they exist in the human mind.

    3. If life were nothing more than materials, then scientists would have already taken the materials of life (the same ones found in dirt) and make a living being. A combination of chemicals cannot explain consciousness.

    4. Spiritual experiences. If materialism is true, then anyone on earth who’s ever had a spiritual experience of any sort was completely mistaken. While this isn’t impossible, it’s highly unlikely. Those who have had spiritual experiences include Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Johannes Kepler, Sir Isaac Newton, Blaise Pascal, and Jesus Christ. All of them were mistaken? I’d have to see strong evidence from the atheist/materialist side to be convinced.

    5. Reason requires faith. A defense of reason by reason is circular and therefore worthless. Our ability to reason could have come from (1) preexisting intelligence or (2) mindless matter. It is the materialists who insist, by faith, that our minds arose from mindless matter without any intelligent intervention. This contradicts all scientific observations.

  23. Barb,

    I can’t point you to any literature – I am not a scientist. I merely wondered why you feel that it is self-evident that chemical reactions could not cause consciousness?

    The proposal that consciousness could result from a mindless chemical reaction doesn’t seem any more strange to me than many other scientific propositions.

  24. wrf3 (#18):

    You trust your chairs to know what’s true? That’s interesting :) .

  25. Collin (#19):

    I agre with you on the substance, but not on the use of words, which could be cause of confusion.

    For me, consciousness just means “awareness”, but in the sense of: subjective representations of any kind (sensations, cognitions, feelings, etc) which are referred to a common perceiving subject (the perceiving I).

    In that sense, consciousness doen not necessarily imply any higher cognitive function (recognizing oneself in the mirror): seeing the mirror is enough.

    When you say: “A computer can be self aware, but not conscious. “, that could ingenerate some confusion. The way I use words, a computer is never “aware” of anything, because a computer is never conscious (and never will be). We probably agree on that. When you say “self-aware”, I think you mean the computer can have some algorithm which can perform computations where the computer itself can be in some way taken into account. That would be, in principle, the Hofstadter “loop”. But obviously, all that takes place passively and automatically. The computer programmer, who was conscious and aware of what the computer is and of the purpose of the computations he was programming, is the only conscious and aware entity in that scenario.

  26. wrf3:

    You say:

    The same is true of humans. You think they do, because you project your self-awareness onto them.

    That’s correct, but not complete. The whole process is as follows:

    a) You perceive consciousness in yourself, directly, intuitively. That is our first empirical experience, and the basis for all the rest.

    b) You observe other humans who are similar to yourself, behave like yourself, and communicate to you in complex symbolic ways that they have the same kind of experience you call “self-consciousness”.

    c) Fro that whoile scenario, you infer consciousness in others, by analogy.

    So, while consciousness in others is certainly inferred by analogy, consciousness in ourselves is certainly perceived directly, and not inferred. It is a fact, the most certain of facts.

    You can sever a human’s nerve endings and they could scream after being stabbed. It isn’t any different for the machine. We just don’t yet build machines with elaborate nervous systems.

    I am not sure I understand. The nerve endings could scream?

    Anyway, about the machines, you are wrong:

    a) there is no logical reason or model why the growing complexity should at some point generate consciousness. That’s called “the hard problem of consciousness”, and is well recognized as an unsolved cognitive problem.

    b) there is absolutely no empirical evidence of machines becoming, even slightly, conscious. That’s a fact.

    c) no machine can produce new CSI. You don’t want to discuss CSI in detail? Well, let’s say that no machine can produce new complex semantic output.

    So, where is the evidence for your point? In case you are not aware of that, all the strong AO perspective is based only on two things:

    a) Humans are conscious (known directly for self-consciousness and by inference for all others)

    b) A blind belief that humans are explained by their bodily structure, and that therefore consciousness must be explained by the structure of the brain. That brings materialists to the inference that, being the brain a physical machine, physical machines can generate consciousness, and to the silly assumption that some form of complex property (loops, parallel computing or else) must be responsible for that.

    As we can see, strong AI has no sense unless b) is assumed by blind faith.

    I don’t believe in b), so I will keep my empirical approach to the problem: we don’t know what consciousness is, but we do know that it is. It is a fact.

  27. zeroseven:

    I can’t point you to any literature – I am not a scientist. I merely wondered why you feel that it is self-evident that chemical reactions could not cause consciousness?

    Let’s say that it is absolutely not self-evident that chemical reactions could cause consciousness. Moreover, there is no credible model of why they should. IOW, consciousness is an observed fact, with specific properties (a common perceiving I, specific states of cognition and feeling, cognitive judgements, the ability to create active output, the sense of free will, etc.). Chemical reactions are another kind of observed facts, which bear no formal similarity to all that. Software is still another kind of observed reality, which bears no similarity to the observed processes of consciousness, although, being created by conscious agents, it can be programmed to imitate some of their outputs.

    That’s why there is no logoical reason to suppose that the properties of chemical reactions or of softwre can be useful in explaining consciousness. Again, that’s called “the hard problem of consciousness”.

    The proposal that consciousness could result from a mindless chemical reaction doesn’t seem any more strange to me than many other scientific propositions.

    If you are referring to darwinian evolution, I do agree :)

    Seriously, the point is that there is no basis for such a proposal. Scientific proposals must ne based on some reasonable inference, usually by analogy, or on some deductive reasoning. Nothing of that kind is possible for the proposal thaty consciousness arises form chemical reactions. No formal property of chemical reactions helps in explaining the formal properties of empirical consciousness.

    In science, you can propose what you want (I am not for censorship). But what you propose must have a rationale.

    Please read my previous poat for an explanation of the only ratinale to stron AI, and you will see that it implies an act of blind faith, a completely gratuitous philosophical assumption.

    IOW, if you are by faith a materialist, then strong AI theory has at least a minimum rationale. But not otherwise.

  28. gpuccio (#24): You trust your chairs to know what’s true? That’s interesting.

    So? It’s no different with any truth. One can cite Russell, for example: “All knowledge, we find, must be built up upon our instinctive beliefs, and if these are rejected, nothing is left.” [The Problems of Philosophy, pg. 25].

    One can also cite the writer of Hebrews: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”

    Since you disagreed with my original claim, how do you know what’s true?

  29. gpuccio (#25) wrote: consciousness in ourselves is certainly perceived directly, and not inferred.

    Sure. But that still doesn’t tell you the mechanism of consciousness — that it’s just software.

  30. gpuccio (#26): The nerve endings could scream?

    No, the person could scream, i.e. when seeing the stab occur. The point is that there is nothing to prevent machines from having nerve endings and programmed responses to stimuli — just like humans.

    there is absolutely no empirical evidence of machines becoming, even slightly, conscious. That’s a fact.

    While true, it’s specious. First, computer science is only 60 years old. It’s barely out of diapers. We’re still doing algorithm development. Second, we know that to approach human functionality that we far larger machines. We haven’t begun to develop neural nets that large.

    no machine can produce new CSI. You don’t want to discuss CSI in detail? Well, let’s say that no machine can produce new complex semantic output.

    How do you know that you produce new CSI?

  31. gpuccio,

    I think you said what I meant, but more clearly. Thanks.

    wrf3

    I’m not sure if I disagree with anything in your response to my post.

    you later say “First, computer science is only 60 years old. It’s barely out of diapers. We’re still doing algorithm development. Second, we know that to approach human functionality that we far larger machines. We haven’t begun to develop neural nets that large.”

    I don’t dispute that either, but I would point out that that is a position based on faith.

  32. wrf3:

    Sure. But that still doesn’t tell you the mechanism of consciousness — that it’s just software.

    That’s really a detailed argument! I am impressed.

    The point is that there is nothing to prevent machines from having nerve endings and programmed responses to stimuli — just like humans.

    A programmed response is a programmed response. (You see, I am learning to elaborate detailed arguments, too).

    But a subjective experience is all another thing (Damn, I am returning to the old habit of putting too much useless staff in my responses…)

    While true, it’s specious.

    It’s simply true. (Better, again).

    How do you know that you produce new CSI?

    Me, maybe not… After all I am only a silly IDist.

    But I suppose you mean humans in general. Ah, that’s a deep argument, indeed. Seriously, I understand what you mean. How can we know that we, as humans, are not only re-shuffling CSI which is already in us? So, we do output CSI (you understand what CSI is, don’t you?), but how can we know that it is really new?

    After all, Hamlet could just be a reshuffling of some old epic poem, and the Odissey just a reshuffling of some old cave painting. And… Wait a moment, I got it! All human CSI, all that has been thought and said and written in centuries, in millennia of culture, is certainly a reshuffling of old information, already present in…

    In LUCA, I suppose?

    (I apologize for the long and silly expostulation, so dangerously similar to an argument. I will do my best to change myself.)

  33. gpuccio (#32) wrote: That’s really a detailed argument! I am impressed.

    It wasn’t meant to be a detailed argument. However, if you’re going to claim that computers cannot do something that man can do (create CSI), then you have to show that man creates CSI — which you haven’t done. You can’t just wave your hands, say “it’s a deep question”, then try rhetorical slight-of-hand to make the problem go away.

    For example, given knowledge of the 5 basic axioms of Euclidean geometry, and rules of logic, computers can derive proofs. Automated theorem provers are solving problems that have humans have not. When man, or machines, derive new theorems, are they creating CSI or just reshuffling information?

  34. wrf3 (33):

    Good questions (this time, I am serious). I think I will answer briefly for now, just to open the discussion, and wait for your comments to go on:

    For example, given knowledge of the 5 basic axioms of Euclidean geometry, and rules of logic, computers can derive proofs. Automated theorem provers are solving problems that have humans have not. When man, or machines, derive new theorems, are they creating CSI or just reshuffling information?

    a) Purely deductive derivation is essentially computation, and can be performed mechanically by both humans and machines, indeed much more efficiently by machines (which is true of all computations). Provided that all the aspects which require conscious appreciation (the definition of the problem, the purpose of the calculation, the operations allowed, the logical principles allowed, the meaning of the results and the way they are used in successive calculations) have been encoded objectively in the algorithm.

    b) The same is true for automated theorem provers: all the semantic context must be provided, and the computation has to be wholly deductive.

    c) Humans are, on the contrary, producing new specifications all the time. They perceive meanings, old and new, and transform their perception into books, plays, dicourses, theories. Language is a semantic output, and not a reshuffling of precious specifications. You want an example of CSI output form humans? I have given it: Hamlet. But it’s just one of the many.

    d) What computers cannot do is to create new specifications: new meanings, new purposes, new semantic contexts. They can, instead, increase the complexity of an already specified output by computation. A computer can give new digits of pi through computation, but the specification of the computing algorithm is always the same: computing pi. And definitely, a computer cannot produce original semantic language.

    Even new inferences which bring to new meanings are not in the reach of computers, unless the procedure has already been implemented in the machine. IOSW, computers cannot generate new meanings, and especially they cannot recognize them. Even if new unexpected meanings were made more available through some computation (which is possible), a conscious intelligent agent would always be necessary to understand that a new meaning is present.

    The world of conscious representations is banned to machines. And so is the world of purpose and feeling and cognitive understanding.

    So, to sum up: computers can reshuffle specifications and perform any kind of computation implemented in them. They are mechanical, totally bound by the laws of necessity (algorithms), and non conscious. Humans can continuously create new specification, and also perform complex computations like a computer, although usually less efficiently. They can create semantic output, make new unexpected inferences, recognize and define meanings, purposes, and feelings,functions, and certainly conscious representions are associated with all those kinds of processes.

    That’s just for starting.

  35. gpuccio (#34) wrote: Humans are, on the contrary, producing new specifications all the time.

    You keep saying this, but you haven’t come close to demonstrating that anything new is being produced. The human brain is estimated to have 10^11 neurons and 10^14 synapses. That’s a huge state space in which random recombination can occur.

    Hamlet is not a proof of new CSI since computers can also write stories. As their capacities increase, their output will improve.

    You write: a computer cannot produce original semantic language

    I’d like to see the proof of this. One of the things we haven’t done much with is creating the software analog to imagination. But that’s more a lack of current technology than any fundamental barrier. Our imaginations are just large state spaces driven by randomization.

    The world of conscious representations is banned to machines.

    Either prove it, or admit that this is an argument from ignorance.

    Donald Knuth, in Things a Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About said:

    Indeed, computer scientists have proved that certain important computational tasks can be done much more efficiently with random numbers than they could possibly ever be done by an deterministic procedure. Many of today’s best computational algorithms, like methods for searching the Internet, are based on randomization. If Einstein’s assertion (“God does not play dice with the universe” –ed) were true, God would be prohibited from using the most powerful methods.

    I suspect that breakthroughs in AI will increase once we understand the importance randomization plays in the brain’s software.

  36. wrf3 (#35):

    I am afraid there is not much hope in going on, but let’s try just the same:

    The human brain is estimated to have 10^11 neurons and 10^14 synapses.

    Fine. That’s something materialists often forget. And I would add: 10^14 ordered and functional synapses. And that’s only the beginning, considering that certainly many of the computing powers of the brain will be explained at deeper levels than the synapsis architecture. I agree with you: I am a big fun of the brain complexity and structure too.

    That’s a huge state space in which random recombination can occur.

    Not so huge, compared with the states for any “small” random recombination according to combinatorics: (just as an example: 10^153 for myoglobin; and somewhere I have even calculated the space for Hamlet which is obviously much bigger).

    Hamlet is not a proof of new CSI since computers can also write stories.

    Could you please give references?

    As their capacities increase, their output will improve.

    Their algorithmic output has already increased of many, many orders of magnitude. Obviously, notyhing like even minimally creating consciousness or new meaning or new specifications has ever happened.

    “The world of conscious representations is banned to machines.” Either prove it, or admit that this is an argument from ignorance.

    I have to prove nothing, and it is not an argument from ignorance. I have explained why in my posts #26-27. I sum up here the main reasons:

    a) consciousness is an empirical fact, and has empirical formal properties.

    b) biochemical reactions and software computations are different observed facts, and have different formal properties.

    c) there is no reason “a priori” why either biochemical reactions or computational algorithms of any possible complexity should be considered capable of explaining the facts of consciousness.

    d) the statements that they can (your statement) must be based on some rationale, to be credible, or alternativesly on some empirical data (better, on both)

    e) if you cannot give some rationale or some empirical data in support of your statement, it’s not me who have the burden to prove it false (that’s simple scientific methodology). It remains just one of the infinite imaginative statements whioch can be done. Not believing in it is not an “argument form ignorance”: it’s just sound common sense and good cognitive attitude.

    f) so, again, I beg you to show:

    - what is the rationale why facts of consciousness (subjective representations) shoud be explained by a set of facts (computations) where no subjective experience has ever been documented.

    - where is any empirical support in favour of that (any empirical trace of subjective experience even minimally related to software complexity).

    I suspect that breakthroughs in AI will increase once we understand the importance randomization plays in the brain’s software.

    I can state in the same way that I suspect that breakthroughs in any theory of reality will increase once we understand the importance subjective consciousness plays in the working of brain’s software.

    Anyone can say what he likes, and hope what he likes. But my model is just suggesting that some facts (consciousness and its formal properties) which certainly we observed as interfaced to other facts (brain states, physical neurophysiology) must be used to appropriately study and understand the connections at the interface. In this model, there is no “a priori” assumption about how to explain consciousness facts in terms of physical facts, or the other way round. So, it’s a very correct and empirical approach.

    In your approach, instead, there is a strong a priori assumption that one set of facts (consciousness data) can and must be explained in terms of the other set (physical observations). As ther exists no rationale and no empirical support for that a priori assumption, it remains available only as an act of blind faith.

    Which is what I had already argued at my post #26, in a slightly different form:

    “So, where is the evidence for your point? In case you are not aware of that, all the strong AO perspective is based only on two things:

    a) Humans are conscious (known directly for self-consciousness and by inference for all others)

    b) A blind belief that humans are explained by their bodily structure, and that therefore consciousness must be explained by the structure of the brain. That brings materialists to the inference that, being the brain a physical machine, physical machines can generate consciousness, and to the silly assumption that some form of complex property (loops, parallel computing or else) must be responsible for that.

    As we can see, strong AI has no sense unless b) is assumed by blind faith.

    I don’t believe in b), so I will keep my empirical approach to the problem: we don’t know what consciousness is, but we do know that it is. It is a fact.”

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