Headline, March10, 2014


"'O"' THINKING!!​! "'

"THINKING IS VERY HARD,"' concedes Professor Daniel Dennett.

"Thinking about some problems is so hard that it can make your head ache just thinking   about thinking   about  them."

Professor Dennett should know. A professor of philosophy at Tufts University, he has spent over half a century pondering some of the knottiest problems around:

"'The nature of meaning; the substance of minds and whether free will is possible."'

His latest book,  "Intutition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking",  is a precis of those 50 years. And its aim is to show how the pumps work, but to deploy them to help readers think through some of the most profound -and migraine-inducing conundrums:

As an example, take the human mind. The time-honoured idea that the mind is essentially a little man,  or homunculus,  who sits in the brain doing clever things soon becomes problematic:  who does all the clever things in the little man's brain?

But Professor Dennett offers a way out of this infinite regress. Instead of a little man, what if the brain was hierarchical system?  

This pump, which professor Dennett calls a  "cascade of homunculi" , was inspired by the field of  Artificial Intelligence  [AI].

An AI  programmer begins by taking a problem a computer is meant to solve and breaking it down into smaller tasks, to be dealt with by a particular subsystems.

These, in turn, are composed of sub-subsystems, and so on. Crucially, at each level down in the cascade, the virtual homunculi becomes a bit less clever, to a point where all it needs to do is, say, pick the larger of two numbers.

Such  homuncular functionalism   -as the approach is known in AI circles- replaces the infinite regress  with a finite  that terminates at tasks so dull and simple that they can be done by machines.
Of course the  AI  is designed from the top down, by an intelligent designer, to perform a specific task. But there is no reason why something similar couldn't be built up from the bottom. Start with nerve cells:

They are certainly not conscious, at least in any interesting sense, and so invulnerable to further regress. Yet like the mindless single-cell organisms from which they have evolved (and like the dullest task-accomplishing machines):

Each is able to secure the energy and raw materials it needs to survive in the competitive environment of the brain. The nerve cells that thrive do so because they  "network more effectively, and:

Contribute to more influential trends at the  higher levels where large-scale human purposes and urges are discernable". 

From this viewpoint then, the human mind is not entirely unlike Deep Blue, the IBM computer that famously won a game of chess against Garry Kasparov, the world champion. The precise architecture of Mr Kasparov's brain certainly differs from Deep Blue's.

But it is still  "a massively parallel search engine that has built up over time, an outstanding array of   heuristic pruning techniques   that keep it from wasting time on unlikely branches.

Those who insist on Deep Blue and Mr Kasparov's mind must surely be substantially different will balk at this. They may well be right. But the burden of proof, Mr Dennett argues, is on them.

For they are in effect claiming that that the human mind is made up of  "wonder tissues"  with miraculous, mind-moulding properties that are,  even in principle-  beyond the reach of science - an old fashioned homunculus in all but name.

Mr Dennett's book is  not a definitive solution  to such mind-benders; it is philosophy in action. Like all good philosophy, it works by getting the reader to examine deeply held but unspoken beliefs about some of our most fundamental concerns,   -like personal autonomy.

"'Thank You, Professor, for the  Intellectual Gratification. You come across witty, clear and mercifully, with a jargon free prose:

That is a feature, and not a bug,.....I suppose?!"'  ........Hahaha!!!

With respectful dedication to the Students, Professors and Teachers of the World. See Ya all on !WOW!  -the World Students Society Computers-Internet-Wireless:

"' Join The Challenges! Join The World!!  "'

Good Night & God Bless!

SAM Daily Times - the Voice of the Voiceless


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