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  1. #31
    The implications are, for me at least, somewhat frightening.

    Firstly, the moral implications, that nobody can be held responsible for their actions. If a robot is programmed to kill several people, and it does so, then it as absurd to hold the robot as morally responsible; we would blame the programmer, even if the robot had been programmed to display messages like 'I am doing this because I enjoy it and I want to.'

    However, if all human choices are nothing but the outcome of their programming (i.e. their genetic background and life experiences), then it is equally absurd to hold them responsible if they start a massacre, and say things like 'I am doing this because I enjoy it and I want to.'

    Secondly, and even more worrying, is that not only am I morally level with a robot, but my internal experiences are not any different. We can imagine a robot with a camera that acts in a variety of ways to different visual stimulus, yet we hold off from saying that it actually has its own mental represenation, which it sees. However, what science is revealing is, apart from complexity, there is no difference between how a simple robot with a light sensor perceives the world and how a human does.

    I find this disturbing, not just because its insulting, but also because it suggests a profound statement like 'I love you' could be reduced to a list of brain processes and conditions that would elicit certain behaviour.

  2. #32
    GemQuest Moderator Gary Wassner's Avatar
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    I think the one thing that's missing from your perspective is that knowing means many different things and that there are many different levels of knowing. I am convinced that most people deceive themselves intentionally, and that most of the time, we do recognize that the things we believe in are not sturdy, but we choose to disregard that recognition in favor of the illusion. So i am not at all disturbed by your house of card tumbling down on our heads. I don't think the vast majority would feel it even as it fell upon them. Hope and belief are tied closely together, and in many cases I think you may be confusing the two when you talk about those who live a lie they believe is true. They don't 'think' it's true. They believe it's true, and once again, the facts are unimportant in that equation. Prove all you want to about our lack of resonsibility for our actions and about cognitive illusion. As long as we communicate and arrive at this illusionary consensus, the illusion is good enough.

  3. #33
    Just Another Philistine Hereford Eye's Avatar
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    I am not a neuroscientist nor have I played one on TV but we watched a daughter grow up with a “chemical imbalance.” That caused me to read a lot about the topic. Conclusions that seem logical to me include:

    The brain never acts on a single synapse. It always a pattern of synapses that fire and, thus far, we do not have a reliable map of any given total pattern. Yes, we know a great deal of activity in a specific part of the brain is associated with one specific biological function but even then, that part of the brain, say Broca’s area, does not act by itself. There are multiple possible patterns within the specific area and every such pattern is always accompanied by activity in several other areas of the brain. It is always a pattern of total system activity.

    We do not begin with pre-burned patterns in our brain; we learn them beginning sometime while still in the womb. We increase our store of patterns over the course of our life. This is called “learning.” By age seven we have enough patterns stored to be able to understand right and wrong according to the society we grow up in.

    The patterns are affected by the chemicals produced and resident in the brain. Thus, a child with schizo- affective disorder can be said to be suffering from a chemical imbalance because the levels of the appropriate chemicals in the child’s brain do not match a statistical norm. Such a child is placed on a medicinal regime that, oddly enough, does little to restore the chemical balance. It does, however, inhibit certain emotions – (reduces or adds to the level of inhibitors) and thus makes the child’s life somewhat more manageable. I have yet to discover a neuroscientist or a psychiatrist who can claim a cure for these children. Some children learn to live acceptably in our society with their disability but none that I know of have been cured.

    This leads me to believe that Scott’s enthusiasm for the reduction of the thought process to “mere” processes of the brain has little chance of attaining reality. I assert this for a couple of reasons:

    (1) We have no idea how memory functions. The computer analogy tries to tie it to a given neuron but – at best – it must be tied to a given pattern of neurons but we are nowhere close to understanding how these patterns are generated or recalled. Nor can we trot out an example of a pattern that we can say this is what my brain looks like when I say “me.”

    (2) Without knowing how memory functions, we are that much farther away from understanding the process we call thinking. Saying that the same area of the brain provides the majority response is very much like saying water is wet.

    (3) Since the treatment of not-normal “chemical imbalance” does not involve balancing the chemicals nor is the current treatment effective; it is pre-mature to state neuroscientists are close to understanding the whole mess.

    (4) I have a gut suspicion that Godel’s Theorem applies: our system does not contain enough terms to describe itself.

    So, for me, this debate seems based on a false premise.

  4. #34
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    I'm having difficulty reconciling "I am convinced that most people deceive themselves intentionally, and that most of the time, we do recognize that the things we believe in are not sturdy, but we choose to disregard that recognition in favor of the illusion" with "They don't 'think' it's true. They believe it's true, and once again, the facts are unimportant in that equation."

    I agree with the latter, not the former. Otherwise, I think there's a good chance that the conceptual 'house of cards' will remain intact for the vast majority - afterall, the vast majority entertains any number of prescientific beliefs as it is. Add to this the fact that there's no alternative house (which is why so many are so intent on 'redefining' the house of cards in a manner that maintains the illusion of conceptual continuity while answering to new scientific evidence. "It's not that there's no such thing as freedom and responsibility," they say, "it's just that we now know what that freedom and responsibility really consists of..." So people like Dennett, for instance, give us evolutionary redefinitions of freedom which have nothing to do with our experience of freedom (which he admits is illusory). "Why," he says, "talk about a freedom that's impossible, when we can discuss the 'freedom' we actually have." When the difference is so radical, I ask, why bother with the word 'freedom' at all, when what you're talking about is the variety of behavioural outputs - which is to say, versatility.

    I think you're right: all this stuff will likely remain absurdist mumbo jumbo (especially given our tendency to deride and dismiss things we don't understand (if I can't understand it, it must be rubbish)) to the majority. But how this translates into "As long as we communicate and arrive at this illusionary consensus, the illusion is good enough" I haven't the foggiest.

    There's the question of what 'good enough' means, of course. I'm assuming, you mean, 'good enough for people and society to get on with things,' which is to say, 'good enough to remain functional.' But what's at issue here is the illusion, not the functionality of the illusion. The fact that it's the product of evolution means that it has to possess some functionality. And this does nothing to ameliorate the straits we find ourselves in. A wife with a cheating husband may keep her marriage 'functional' by fabricating denial fantasies, but I'm not sure this in any way resolves her actual dilemma - in fact, I think it quite obviously aggravates it.

    So I guess I'm saying I'm not sure what your point is. To me, you're simply illuminating another aspect of the problem, but your tone seems to suggest that you think you're doing the exact opposite.

  5. #35
    GemQuest Moderator Gary Wassner's Avatar
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    ***we post too fast sometimes before the next response comes up***

    What is the actual dilemma when the wife is deceived? It is unfortunately multifaceted, and denial may very well resolve it. If being married is more important to her than being deceived, then it does, right? The real dilemma has to be clarified.

    Tell me your point again Scott? What earth shattering, mind blowing facts are scientists going to offer us that will send us running for shelter from our false selves? I am still struggling with trying to understand how voices travel over a wireless network, and yet I use the damm cell phone everyday. It's easier for me to understand that when I get up in the morning, the only one making the decision to go to the gym is me, and that the only one typing these words here and now is me, and that when my secretary tells me that someone is on the phone for me, I know what she means and I pick it up and start to talk. In what way are these illusory? It is harder to believe that then it is to believe in God, which explains why most people will not take this all too seriously.



    You make some very good points hereford. I too have had much experience with a bi-polar relative and altering the behaviour is possible through drug therapy, but correcting the problem is not.

    Also, the brain is a living thing. Cells grow and cells die. With each new cell comes an entirely new set of circumstances and possiblities, and with each death all the others are affected, no matter how minutely. How could any scientific formula chart or calculate the effects of what does not yet exist and what might soon be no more?
    Last edited by Gary Wassner; June 23rd, 2005 at 08:51 AM.

  6. #36
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    So, for me, this debate seems based on a false premise.
    What, specifically, would that false premise be, HE?

    Let me give you an example of a real world instance of this problem. My wife attended a seminar for teachers on ADHD and the neurophysiology behind it. The continual refrain of the seminar was that teachers need to avoid making character judgements about these children because their behaviour was the result of their neurophysiology, which is to say, something 'they had no control over.' The irony, of course, is that ALL human behaviour is the product of their neurophysiology.

    You seem to be presuming that a complete knowledge of the brain is a necessary condition of raising these problems. Is that what you're suggesting? If so, you need to make the case, because I certainly can't see.

    This leads me to believe that Scott’s enthusiasm for the reduction of the thought process to “mere” processes of the brain has little chance of attaining reality.
    I can think of many words to describe my attitude toward neuroscience, but 'enthusiasm' is definitely not one of them!

    (1) We have no idea how memory functions. The computer analogy tries to tie it to a given neuron but – at best – it must be tied to a given pattern of neurons but we are nowhere close to understanding how these patterns are generated or recalled. Nor can we trot out an example of a pattern that we can say this is what my brain looks like when I say “me.”
    Not true. We actually know quite a bit about memory function (its definitely one of the most researched of our cognitive abilities), though we are very far from putting together a cohesive picture, and the 'representational' function of memory eludes us altogether (perhaps because representation is a cognitive illusion).

    (2) Without knowing how memory functions, we are that much farther away from understanding the process we call thinking. Saying that the same area of the brain provides the majority response is very much like saying water is wet.
    I don't understand this analogy at all. How is the correlation of behaviours and experiences with various parts of the brain tautological?

    (3) Since the treatment of not-normal “chemical imbalance” does not involve balancing the chemicals nor is the current treatment effective; it is pre-mature to state neuroscientists are close to understanding the whole mess.
    Who's made that claim? I certainly haven't, and I know of no one who has.

    (4) I have a gut suspicion that Godel’s Theorem applies: our system does not contain enough terms to describe itself.
    What does 'having self-descriptive terms' have to do with Godel's Theorem?

  7. #37
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    What is the actual dilemma when the wife is deceived? It is unfortunately multifaceted, and denial may very well resolve it. If being married is more important to her than being deceived, then it does, right? The real dilemma has to be clarified.
    I'm not sure how it could be much clearer. So you personally would have no problem living a lie? Are you saying it doesn't matter? I'm proceeding on the assumption that it does...

  8. #38
    GemQuest Moderator Gary Wassner's Avatar
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    What I am saying Scott is that most people live these little lies each and every day and it is no great surprise to find out that perhaps there are more lies we need to learn to live with.

    Do you ever look at another woman? Do you ever fantasize? What makes that right or wrong? You are married, so are you then lying to your wife when you say you love her? Do you tell her all of your fantasies? No, unlikely. What do you do in private that you wouldn't want anyone ever to know? (Please don't tell me, okay) Are you lying or attempting to deceive anyone by concealing these things and making believe that you don't do anything in private that you wouldn't do in public? But those lies you can live with.

    I try to pretend to be nice to people whom I absolutely hate. I may lie to them rather than getting into an confrontation. That's okay. I can live with that lie. I am often not sure that I really like to play golf, but I play and I try to convince myself that I like it, though I am still not certain why. I can live with that. I didn't love my brohter in law. He was schizophrenic and impossible to be with for more than a minute at a time. He was a visiting scientist at the Stanford Linear Accellerator Center in Palo Alto, and he required extravagant expressions of affection in order to settle him down. So I lied and I hugged him back and told him how much I missed him. I lied. I could live with that.

    What's the problem with deceiving oneself? Is it the quality of the deception that bothers you? Is once deception more poignant than another? Or is it deception in general that you can't live with? If so, uh oh. Good luck.

  9. #39
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    Are you suggesting that there's no difference between 'the little lies we use to get by' and the possibility that the very structure of conscious experience is fundamentally deceptive?

    I think there's a rather huge difference between someone who uses lies as social lubricant, and someone who deceives others all the time. The deception at issue here is a fundamental as any deception could be. If living an out and out lie doesn't bother someone, then what can I say? I recognize that there's people like that, and I do my best to avoid them.

  10. #40
    Just Another Philistine Hereford Eye's Avatar
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    I'll begin with the last:
    Quote Originally Posted by Scott Bakker
    What does 'having self-descriptive terms' have to do with Godel's Theorem?
    My understanding of Godel's Theorem is that a closed system does not contain enough information to describe itself. I took poetic license to say that I suspect we cannot acquire enough information from our brains to describe our brains.
    What, specifically, would that false premise be, HE?
    That human behavior can be isolated to the chemical content of our brain, which is what I derive from the argument that neuroscience seems to be close to reducing "willpower" to cognitive illusion.
    Let me give you an example of a real world instance of this problem. My wife attended a seminar for teachers on ADHD and the neurophysiology behind it. The continual refrain of the seminar was that teachers need to avoid making character judgements about these children because their behaviour was the result of their neurophysiology, which is to say, something 'they had no control over.' The irony, of course, is that ALL human behaviour is the product of their neurophysiology.
    Now, this may well be naive and stupid and all the other terms the professionals can think to apply, but I believe they are wrong. <Probably a chemical imbalance of my own, eh?> I believe the current situation is much like physics in 1902 waiting for Einstein to write a paper. The ADHD child responds to his/her world differently than a statistically normal child; of that I have no doubt. What I doubt is the cause currently proposed. It seems to me we go from the idea that LSD can alter the mind and consequently behavior, that alcohol can make us do stupid things, and from there determine the rationale is chemical. Explain then hypnotism.
    You seem to be presuming that a complete knowledge of the brain is a necessary condition of raising these problems. Is that what you're suggesting? If so, you need to make the case, because I certainly can't see.
    Like kater mentioned earlier, we seem to be taking some of the parts of the system and trying to explain total system behavior from those parts. Understand I am not denying the associations thus far discovered among brain chemicals. What I am saying is that psychologists look at behavior modification to correct brain "dysfunction." Psychiatrists look at the drug-of-the-week and watch to see if behavior is modified. And neuroscientists figure they have the best insight to the drug-of-the-week.
    This is not intended as a total disparagement of their efforts; they're trying the best they know how and - sooner or later - they may arrive at consensus. At this point, I am not ready to award to the Laurel Wreath to the neuroscientists. Each of the three groups can point to limited successes; each of the three groups seems bent on attacking the problem with the tunnel vision of their specialty, and none of them can point to any given success in curing the "dysfunctional" brain. Maybe the brains are not dysfunctional. Maybe their brains just think differently than the statistical norm. We can't say because we don't know how we think.
    I can think of many words to describe my attitude toward neuroscience, but 'enthusiasm' is definitely not one of them!
    I apologize for the character assassination, an assumption on my part.
    Not true. We actually know quite a bit about memory function (its definitely one of the most researched of our cognitive abilities), though we are very far from putting together a cohesive picture, and the 'representational' function of memory eludes us altogether (perhaps because representation is a cognitive illusion).
    Or - perhaps - because the system cannot describe itself.
    I don't understand this analogy at all. How is the correlation of behaviours and experiences with various parts of the brain tautological?
    In my untrained view, (1) because saying sight is controlled in one part of the brain ignores the other areas of the brain that must function to make sight work. As far as I can tell, there are always patterns firing that include not only the sight center but other centers as well. (2)The idea that different sectors of the brain can learn the functions lost by damage to other sectors of the brain. We have learned some tricks so that we can repair some damage to some parts of the brain but we are not able to repair all damage to the brain. That's not a failure; that's a stage of learning.
    However, based on limited success, drawing the enormous conclusion inherent in the statement "willpower" may well be a cognitive illusion strikes me the same as describing the clockwork nature of the universe based on Newtonian physics. All the brilliant minds who agreed with that analogy were proven mistaken by one man. He, in turn, was proven mistaken. History progresses, doesn't it?
    The brain functions. In the process, this portion of the brain has the majority of the activity and in another process this portion of the brain is the center of activity. The correlation between the processes - hearing the guitar while watching the fingers dance on the strings - seems not specific to a given area. Thus, describing brain functions centered on geographic locations as a final solution strikes me as saying the brain functions because this portion of the brain functions. That doesn't tell me anything about how the brain functions, only that it does.
    Who's made that claim? I certainly haven't, and I know of no one who has.
    Another assumption derived from "willpower" may be a cognitive illusion. Sorry.

  11. #41
    GemQuest Moderator Gary Wassner's Avatar
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    Isn't a lie simply a lie? I wasn't aware that we were subscribing to some kind of heirarchy of lies and decpetions here: good lies and bad lies. An untruth is an untruth, right? The tolerance level for the severity of the untruth is a very individual thing, but it is certainly not fixed in stone and the bigger the error committed, the bigger the deception required to reconcile it.

  12. #42
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    Isn't a lie simply a lie? I wasn't aware that we were subscribing to some kind of heirarchy of lies and decpetions here: good lies and bad lies. An untruth is an untruth, right?
    I think you answer your own question with:

    The tolerance level for the severity of the untruth is a very individual thing, but it is certainly not fixed in stone and the bigger the error committed, the bigger the deception required to reconcile it.
    There's a hierarchy of 'bigger' and 'smaller' lies certainly. I think it's safe to assume that 'living a lie' falls on the bigger end of the spectrum! I also think, all things being equal, it's safe to assume that most of us think 'living the truth' preferable to 'living a lie.'

    My understanding of Godel's Theorem is that a closed system does not contain enough information to describe itself. I took poetic license to say that I suspect we cannot acquire enough information from our brains to describe our brains.
    I asked because some think Godel's Theorem actually applies to non-formal, non-arithmetic systems, which is definitely not the case. There's actually position in the philosophy of mind which hypothesizes that we can never resolve the mind/body problem because we simply haven't evolved the juice we need to tackle it.

    That human behavior can be isolated to the chemical content of our brain, which is what I derive from the argument that neuroscience seems to be close to reducing "willpower" to cognitive illusion.
    The primary source I'm referring to is Daniel Wegner's The Illusion of Conscious Will, which is actually primarily psychological in its approach. It remains the most troubling book I've ever read.

    But I think this does underscore a lack of clarity on my part. The threat of nihilism has loomed in principle for quite some time. The problem is that the functional explanations of science proceed by giving causal explanations of phenomena, while the intentional character of experience is characterized by the lack of causality. For instance, we see trees, we don't see trees causing us to token 'trees' via the reflection of photons which fire our retinal cells, which send signals along the optic nerve, which are processed by the primary visual cortex and so on. Likewise, we freely choose between alternatives for a purpose, we don't generate behavioural outputs on the basis of the prior neural processing of inputs.

    What neuroscience is doing is transforming this problem in principle into a problem in practice. 'Problems in principle' are easy to dismiss as philosophical artifacts (since pretty much anything can be argued in philosophy), but problems in practice are a whole different ball of wax.

    Now, this may well be naive and stupid and all the other terms the professionals can think to apply, but I believe they are wrong. <Probably a chemical imbalance of my own, eh?> I believe the current situation is much like physics in 1902 waiting for Einstein to write a paper. The ADHD child responds to his/her world differently than a statistically normal child; of that I have no doubt. What I doubt is the cause currently proposed. It seems to me we go from the idea that LSD can alter the mind and consequently behavior, that alcohol can make us do stupid things, and from there determine the rationale is chemical. Explain then hypnotism.
    I'm not sure I understand this. Consensus among neuroscientists is really all any of us have to go on. But then, even if the do radically reevaluate their findings as say, 'Oh, it was really this and this structure that was responsible,' what relevant difference would that make to my argument?

    However, based on limited success, drawing the enormous conclusion inherent in the statement "willpower" may well be a cognitive illusion strikes me the same as describing the clockwork nature of the universe based on Newtonian physics. All the brilliant minds who agreed with that analogy were proven mistaken by one man. He, in turn, was proven mistaken. History progresses, doesn't it?
    All we ever have are inferences to the best conclusion. The fact that the science is incomplete, or that some paradigm shift might turn everything on its head, are simply the cost of doing business in science. Science remains the most powerful instrument of discovery we have. In the meantime, all I'm saying is that the evidence is trending in this or that direction. To say that it might trend in some other, more meaning friendly direction at some time seems, well, trivial. It might, or it might trend in an even less friendly direction - all we have are the trends at hand in the end. Aside from reminding us not to fall into the trap of speaking in cognitive absolutes, I guess I'm not sure what the relevance of this is.

  13. #43
    GemQuest Moderator Gary Wassner's Avatar
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    Answer this then; If most people think that living the truth is preferable to living a lie, then why would one ever opt to live a lie? Perhaps there is another truth that might interfere with this one, that takes precedence at the moment over this one? We humans have a high tolerance for living with lies of all kinds. And we have always been good at rationalizing them so that we can sleep comfortably at night. We accept the premature death of a loved one and we say to ourselves (not me, of course) that God must have wanted that person very badly. A lie? A rationalization? We don't understand what death is any more than we would understand someone telling us that science has rendered our minds obsolete. Yet we convince ourselves that it's okay and that we can live with it.

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    Answer this then; If most people think that living the truth is preferable to living a lie, then why would one ever opt to live a lie?
    Because they confuse it for the truth.

  15. #45
    Just Another Philistine Hereford Eye's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Scott Bakker
    The primary source I'm referring to is Daniel Wegner's The Illusion of Conscious Will, which is actually primarily psychological in its approach. It remains the most troubling book I've ever read.
    Thanks; I'll chase it down. My sources are Atanasio's The Feeling of What Happens, Dennet's Consciousness Explained, and Edelman's Wider Than the Sky.
    Consensus among neuroscientists is really all any of us have to go on.
    As I said, IMO they have just one piece of the puzzle. The field of psychiatry has something to add as does psychology. They all just tend to study things from their own perspectives and seem to rarely speak to each other.
    Addendum: In the meantime, based on 20 years of dealing with all three, I'll take a wait and see attitude before changing my world view.

    As to the neuroscientific trend, again, IMO, it is analogous to weather forecasting. Everyone can tell you what happens when one molecule traveling at a certain speed and temperature rams its neighbor. They can do this a while and then the total number of molecules involved exceeds their computing capability and forecasters are forced to resort to describing the outcome in terms of probabilities. As I understand it, no weather forecast is good for more than 4 hours. In my neck of the woods, a 20% probability of rain guarantees a thunderstorm and an 80% probability means all we'll get is sweaty.
    Knowing how chemicals appear to affect emotions ought to be described with the same probability factors. With the billions of brain cells available to respond to a stimulus, predicting with accuracy anything more than a general emotional response seems to me to not be feasible, despite the trends. But, then, I have trouble accepting lots of things which doesn't make them wrong or me right.

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