[ExI] Is the brain a digital computer?

Christopher Luebcke cluebcke at yahoo.com
Fri Feb 26 01:37:28 UTC 2010

This request seems to keep falling on deaf ears, but I'll state again that a question like "do thoughts have mass" absolutely cannot ever be answered if the people involved do not have a solid working definition of what a "thought" is.

If a thought is a unit of information, then no, it doesn't have mass. If you pass a high-powered magnet over the hard drive of my computer, the mass of the hard drive will not change, but the information will be destroyed. So too for adding information back to it.

If by "thoughts" you instead mean something like "thinking", then yes, it's a verb, and "thinking" doesn't mass any more (or less) than "running" or "typing".

What a massive category error. Do thoughts have mass? Depends on whether you've beaten your wife lately :P

From: Spencer Campbell <lacertilian at gmail.com>
To: ExI chat list <extropy-chat at lists.extropy.org>
Sent: Thu, February 25, 2010 4:35:28 PM
Subject: Re: [ExI] Is the brain a digital computer?

Gordon Swobe <gts_2000 at yahoo.com>:
> If we want to call ourselves materialists (a noble motivation, I think) then it seems to me we must say that thoughts have mass.


This is meaningless and misleading. Thoughts aren't even real things.
There are such things as thoughts in precisely the same way that there
are such things as solitons.


Solitons are quasiparticles, like plasmons and phonons. They're
blatantly imaginary. They have no mass. They are vague perturbations
in a continuous field. Nevertheless, it is useful to think of them as
discrete objects.

Photons make a worse analogy, but are easier to grasp. Photons are
real particles that lack mass. Materialism does not say anything even
remotely resembling "everything that exists has mass". To imply
otherwise is an inexcusable misrepresentation of basic physics.

Look at it this way: thoughts are just perturbations in the activities
of the brain. This is why Searle's appeals to intuition are not such a
great idea. And, I should note, this is an INTJ saying this. I am all
kinds of intuitive, but intuition is no more useful when thinking
about thoughts than it is when thinking about quantum electrodynamics.
It would be far, far more respectful of the reality to ask whether or
not a system *is thinking* rather than to ask whether or not it *has

Verbs, not nouns.

John K. Clark has a point.
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