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The Speed of Thought

Computers are becoming faster and more powerful all the time and those improvements have been mainly due to better hardware. Future improvements, however, may well rely increasingly on better architecture and software. One reason why this seems likely is that the human brain, with its very different architecture, dramatically out performs computers in performing various tasks (such as perceiving an object in a complex visual scene). If computers are to match the brain’s performance, they likely will need to exploit features of the brain’s design.   Read more

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15 Responses to The Speed of Thought

  1. The computer science term “hardwired” refers to built-in characteristics based on fixed circuitry, in contrast to functions put into a computer by a programmer. Applied to humans, hardwiring would refer to innate abilities or predispositions.

    In people there are built in capacities to learn, but not the learning itself. Even the most intelligent animal never develops a brain like that of a human. Our neural equipment allows us to form concepts out of what we see, language out of what we hear, and thoughts out of our experiences.

    From this we construct the human intellect. And, unlike animals, we have free will to program our intellects as we choose, based on our knowledge, goals, values, and opportunities.

    The Encyclopedia Brittanica admitted that man’s brain could take any load of learning and memory put on it now and a billion times that. But why would evolution produce such an excess? Here you have a species provided with an organ that it still hasn’t learned how to use. How can this be reconciled with evolution’s most fundamental thesis, that natural selection proceeds in small steps, each of which must confer a minimal (but measurable) advantage?

    When viewed through the lens of evolution, the human brain is inexplicable. The evolutionary process would not produce and pass on never-to-be-used brain capacity. It is far more reasonable to conclude that man was designed.

  2. To Barb,

    Im not too sure about the billion times, could you provide a reference ?

    But supposing it is true. It raises the obvious question: why the hell would a designer provide such ‘excess’ ?

  3. Here you have a species provided with an organ that it still hasn’t learned how to use. How can this be reconciled with evolution’s most fundamental thesis, that natural selection proceeds in small steps, each of which must confer a minimal (but measurable) advantage?

    Answer:
    Our vast intellectual capacity evolved in steps as women showed a sexual preference for men with greater intellect, because they made better providers, increasing the chances for the survival of the offspring.

    It makes perfect sense. Except… how did our cave-dwelling ancestors demonstrate their vast, redundant intellect? How does one tell the difference between a potential mate with 200% of the brain power he will ever need and one with 300%? 10000% vs 50000%?
    This suggests that our primitive ancestors were busy performing feats of intellect far beyond our comprehension, so that natural selection could drive them to potentials still unused today. IOW, we don’t use it now, but someone must have, enough for others to see the difference and select them as mates.

    And then, in stark contrast to the workings of evolutionary psychology which explain our every behavior, this particular preference disappeared. We somehow inherited a preference for physically healthy mates from our ancestors who apparently valued intellect to a disproportionate extreme.

  4. Graham: As to why the designer would provide an excess, I believe that we are created in His image. Why wouldn’t he give us the capacity to comprehend our universe, our Earth, beauty, love, etc.?

    Scott: “Someone must have used it”? That’s not an explanation; that’s wishful thinking.

  5. Apparently the tone of my post was lost as I was busy amusing myself. :)

  6. 6

    Scott,

    Sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between serious evolutionary psychology and a parody of it, but even using only 0.01% of my brain capacity I was able to recognize your post as parody.

    Good post, Cornelius.

  7. Religion drives science and it matters.

    What? How is this supported by anything you wrote or quoted?

  8. Thanks for the post and link to the article.

    Statements in the article like: “every year or so we find they [computers] can do something – like optical character recognition or speech recognition – that we never imagined they would be able to do” gives credit to computers when it should be attributed to persons who developed the software and hardware that make those things possible.

    Computers that have been combined with software by persons, do arithmetic, play chess or recognize speech. Computer hardware and software without human involvement can do nothing.

    The brain can’t do these things either. Brains don’t think, or see or hear or interpret languages. We may use our brain in the process but that’s light years from saying that the brain is thinking about designing a bridge, classroom curriculum or an F-35 JSF. The fact is, persons do. We need to stop seeing ourselves as “neural equipment.”

    A person is an immaterial substance not a property-thing and physical entities are not all there are. Neurons dying every second should be an indication that thoughts (e.g., of memories), desires, sensations, beliefs and volition are states of consciousness, not states of the brain itself. It’s hard to see how a brain (much less a computer) could retain all of my childhood memories and be able to determine which are happy ones and which are painful ones. The molecular particles that make up my brain can’t, but I have no problems doing so. We can remain the same person through time precisely because our personhood is not grounded in the meat that makes up the brain. So I may use my brain but I am not my brain.

    Consciousness, as a simple uncomposed substance, is the only way “enormous quantity of data can be handled at the same time” and give us that unified information field and the ability to “extract objects from a visual scene … so rapidly and effortlessly” (vision btw continues to exist even with eyes shut). Otherwise the visual field and all the other input would be so fragmented it would be impossible to do anything, from writing a letter to flying an F-35 JSF at low altitude in the middle of New York.

    Could consciousness operate at speeds of C² (the speed of light²) and generate energy?

    Seems that way a designer could act freely (say when implementing a design) and create matter using M=E/C², essentially freezing the energy produced into matter during the volition act. Could we be using those energy bursts as signals (as some sort of morse code) in the brain?

  9. To Barb,
    we are created in His image

    You didnt get the memo. ID has nothing to do with Him.

    Im still curious about: a billion times that Could you provide a reference ?

  10. Graham, I post what I think (namely, that we are created in His image) not what all IDists think.

    Guess you didn’t get that memo.

  11. Graham,

    We could also question why a designer would build a huge mansion for just one person to live in. The question doesn’t really have any bearing on whether the house was designed.
    As for the vast intellect, one explanation is that perhaps we were meant to live longer. That’s not a scientific answer. But there is no evolutionary explanation for our vast, mostly unused brain power. It contradicts the expectations of darwinian evolution.

    I agree, the ’1 billion times’ figure seems like a guess. But it’s universally agreed that we have far more capacity than we need. So far the only explanation evolution offers is the one I alluded to at #3. It doesn’t hold water.

  12. I believe Barb’s reference to “a billion times” that of an encyclopedia britannica was more used as an expression. Currently it’s commonly believed among researchers that the brain has an unlimited capacity for storing information within long-term memory, so it would be appropriate to say that even a billion times that of an encyclopedia would be an understatement. At least this is what I learned last semester in my psychology class.

    Also nothing a quick google search won’t clear up

  13. Whups, I seemed to have mis-read Barb’s post. You can disregard that first sentece.

    But either way it is still commonly believed that the long-term memory in humans has near limitless capacity.

  14. “But either way it is still commonly believed that the long-term memory in humans has near limitless capacity”

    It doesn’t store anything in the brain.

  15. Consciousness doesn’t store anything in the brain. Long-term memories aren’t found in the brain. Brain aren’t hard drives and neuro-scientists only establish correlations between brain states and states of consciousness. The usual objection is: but then how come when you get brain damage or Parkinson’s you can’t remember things? But, if your car breaks down do you immediately think you are your car?

    Brains are super cool but too many people have been brainwashed by Hollywood to think that brains are computers, people are animals and loose behavior is the norm.

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