[ExI] How not to make a thought experiment

John Clark jonkc at bellsouth.net
Mon Feb 22 20:48:06 UTC 2010

Since my last post Gordon Swobe has posted 5 times.
> Such programs *describe* and *predict* natural processes but they do not *cause* natural processes.

Swobe is correct but I don't see his point. True, a computer simulation of an apple falling from a tree is not the same as an apple falling from a tree, nor does it cause that fruit to descend; but when we human beings think about an apple falling from a tree, that is to say when we make a mental simulation of it, exactly the same thing is true. Swobe says there is a vast difference between these two cases but neglects to tell us what it is other than to say over and over and over again, without the slightest hint of evidence, that all X understands is that squiggle follows squaggle.

> This means we cannot actually duplicate natural processes with software.

And this means that, despite what some paranormal advocates claim, human beings cannot actually duplicate natural processes with thought alone.

> We can only *simulate* those processes, and simulations of natural processes have no real-world qualities; they exist only as digital descriptions of real things, as digital models of real things, as digital depictions of real things.

Humans can only *think about* those processes, and thinking about natural processes have no real-world qualities; they exist only as mental descriptions of real things, as mental models of real things, as mental depictions of real things.

> Given enough information and the correct inputs, our computation will in principle perfectly describe and predict the hurricane's behavior. I think you will agree however such a perfect simulation would not prove that programs actually *cause* hurricane behavior.

Again I don't see his point, I believe even Swobe would agree that his thinking about hurricanes does not actually *cause* hurricane behavior.

> I do not believe the brain qualifies for any special exception to this rule. What applies to hurricanes and other natural processes applies also to the human brain.

At last, a complete sentence that is 100% correct! 

> Despite the fact that we sometimes think of the brain as an "information processor", on close inspection our use of that term does not justify abandoning the view that the brain exists as just another natural object in nature

And we're right back to gibberish again. The clear implication from the above is that a information processor is not a "natural object in nature". Even without the redundancy that is ridiculous. 

> So then just as real hurricanes do not exist as computations, neither do real brains exist as computations.

True, but real minds do.

> I consider consciousness unique only in so much as we can know about it only from the first-person perspective. Aside from that, it differs in no important way from any other material biological process.

Swobe's use of the word "only" doesn't seem quite appropriate to me, as the subjective objective dichotomy is about as important as things get. It's like saying "the weapon will only destroy the galaxy, aside from that the Universe as a whole will be effected in no important way".

> This difference confuses people


> the mind wants to find significance in the difference. It wants to make something out of it. 

Like a mysterious undefined "something" that is undetectable by the Scientific Method but is nevertheless extraordinarily important that 3 pounds of grey goo has but a computer does not and never will, because, because, well just because.

> Unfortunate that so many philosophers and theologians tried to make something out of it. They only made a huge mess of it.

And most of those befuddled philosophers and all of those befuddled theologians had views almost identical with Swobe's not with mine. I think it's time to try something new.
> You and others here, not I, give the brain special status. 

I would give the brain the same status I would give any computer, digital or analog, that works extremely well.

> You will agree with me for example when I assert that a digital simulation of a complete heart running on a computer does not equal a real complete heart capable of pumping real blood through its chambers. Yes?

Yes, and thinking about a heart is not the same as a real heart either.
> But then you will disagree with me when I assert the same exact principle with respect to brains

No I agree.

> you will disagree when I assert that a digital simulation of a brain running on a computer does not equal a real brain

I don't disagree with Swobe about that either, a real brain weighs about 3 pounds and it's meaningless to ask how much a computer simulation weighs. That is a difference so they are not the same. 

> Can you or anyone here explain why you think the brain deserves that special status without asserting mind/matter dualism? I don't think so.

> Swobe seems to expect Extropians to react to the word "dualism" as if somebody said "fuck" at a sunday school picnic, I think that's silly. I'm not afraid to say I think mind is not the same as brain, I think that should be no more controversial than saying nouns are not identical with verbs and adjectives.

 John K Clark

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