[ExI] aeon article - you have no memory

Adrian Tymes atymes at gmail.com
Fri May 20 18:27:07 UTC 2016

On Fri, May 20, 2016 at 10:05 AM, William Flynn Wallace <foozler83 at gmail.com
> wrote:

> https://aeon.co/essays/your-brain-does-not-process-information-and-it-is-not-a-computer?utm_source=Aeon+Newsletter&utm_campaign=0223b88963-Weekly_Newsletter_20_May_20165_20_2016&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_411a82e59d-0223b88963-68993993
> Not surprisingly, I did not understand this at all, but clearly this
> relates to some of the postings in this group, so have at it and I'll try
> to follow.

It presents a sadly all too common logical fallacy: just because the brain
does not store information exactly like computers, it asserts that no
computing metaphors can possibly apply.  More generally, it asserts "not
100% therefore 0%" in multiple places.

For example, the bit about the dollar bill, where someone asked to draw a
dollar bill could only put in the general details.  The article argues,
just because the representation stored in the memory is not picture-perfect
- instead compressed and distilled down to just certain details - there is
no such thing as a representation of a dollar bill in the brain, the way a
computer might have a data object representing a dollar bill.  Problem is,
computers are entirely capable of having less-than-perfect representations,
optimized to their needs; not all programs need complete digital images of
a dollar bill in order to know that bill's serial number and condition.

Another example of the article's flawed logic:

"Because neither ‘memory banks’ nor ‘representations’ of stimuli exist in
the brain, and because all that is required for us to function in the world
is for the brain to change in an orderly way as a result of our
experiences, *there is no reason to believe that any two of us are changed
the same way by the same experience*."

The first clause has nothing to do with the last clause.  The middle clause
is technically false: a working body is needed as well as a brain.  It is
true that neither of these would support that two of us could be changed in
the same way by the same experience...but, contrary to the assertion in
italics, they do not rule out any possible other explanation.  (It is not
the case that any random two people are always changed in exactly the same
way by the same experience, true - but neither is it the case that any
random two people are never changed in exactly the same way by the same

An even bigger mistake:

"Worse still, even if we had the ability to take a snapshot of all of the
brain’s 86 billion neurons and then to simulate the state of those neurons
in a computer, *that vast pattern would mean nothing outside the body of
the brain that produced it*."

If that were true, then transplanted organs could not work, because they
would have nothing in common and be utterly unable to understand the neural
and hormonal signals from the brain in the new body.  And yet, they do.  So
even if one body is not exactly the same as another, there are
commonalities - a great deal, even - which can be used in a new context
(such as if that snapshot were put into an imperfect simulation of the
original body).  The remaining differences can be learned and handled.  It
is perhaps philosophically true that an uploaded person would not be "the
same", but only in the sense that normal people are not "the same" day to

(For instance, as I write this, I have caught something that has made it
painful to swallow or breathe, and that builds up enough mucus that I have
not been able to sleep more than 2 hours in a row before waking up coughing
the past couple nights.  I'll be seeing a doctor later today about it.  But
in the mean time, my capabilities and preferred range of action are
significantly diminished from what they were a month ago, when I did not
have this problem.  Am I the exact same person?  Clearly my state is not
100% identical.  And yet, everyone who knows me and has seen me in person
has accepted me as the same person, just ill.)
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