[ExI] Possible seat of consciousness found

John Clark johnkclark at gmail.com
Sun Feb 16 14:06:54 UTC 2020

On Sat, Feb 15, 2020 at 8:17 PM William Flynn Wallace via extropy-chat <
extropy-chat at lists.extropy.org>

> I'd say that we understand intelligence far more than we do emotions.

I wouldn't. If given a box of parts it would be easy to design a circuit
that would display fear and pain, just rig it up such that if a particular
number showed up in a register it would change that number to something
else and stop all other activities of the machine until that change was
made. But it would be far more difficult to take that box a parts and,
starting from scratch, make a circuit that could play even a mediocre game
of checkers.

> Biochemically emotional expression is very complex - each chemical
> affecting the brain, muscles and other body parts.

You're talking about hormones, and I'm not impressed with hormones and I
see nothing sacred in them. I don't see the slightest reason why they or
any neurotransmitter would be especially difficult to simulate through
computation, because chemical messengers are not a sign of sophisticated
design on nature's part, rather it's an example of Evolution's bungling. If
you need to inhibit a nearby neuron there are better ways of sending that
signal then launching a GABA molecule like a message in a bottle thrown
into the sea and waiting ages for it to diffuse to its random target.

I'm not interested in chemicals only the information they contain, I want
the information to get transmitted from cell to cell by the best method,
and few would choose to send smoke signals if a fiber optic cable was
available. The information content in each molecular message must be tiny,
just a few bits, because only about 60 neurotransmitters such as
acetylcholine, norepinephrine and GABA are known, even if the true number
is 100 times greater (or a million times for that matter) the information
content of each signal must be very small. Also, for the long range stuff,
exactly which neuron receives the signal can not be specified because it
relies on a random process, diffusion. The fact that it's slow as molasses
in February does not add to its charm.

If your job is delivering packages and all the packages are very small, and
your boss doesn't care who you give them to as long as it's on the correct
continent, and you have until the next ice age to get the work done, then
you don't have a very difficult profession. I see no reason why simulating
that anachronism would present the slightest difficulty. Artificial neurons
could be made to release neurotransmitters as inefficiently as natural ones
if anybody really wanted to, but it would be pointless when there are much
faster ways.

Electronics is inherently fast because its electrical signals are sent by
fast light electrons. The brain also uses some electrical signals,but it
doesn't use electrons, it uses ions to send signals, the most important are
chlorine and potassium. A chlorine ion is 65 thousand times as heavy as an
electron, a potassium ion is even heavier, if you want to talk about gap
junctions, the ions they use are millions of times more massive than electrons.
There is no way to get around it, according to the fundamental laws of
physics, something that has a large mass will be slow, very, very, slow.

The great strength biology has over present day electronics is the ability
of one neuron to make thousands of connections of various strengths with
other neurons. However, I see absolutely nothing in the fundamental laws of
physics that prevents nano machines from doing the same thing, or better
and MUCH faster.

> John, in what sense are emotions 'easy'?

In the sense that Evolution found it much easier to invent emotions than
intelligence. Some of our most powerful emotions like pleasure, pain, fear
and lust come from the oldest parts of our brain that evolved during the
Cambrian explosion, the same time multicellular creatures did 540 million
years ago and perhaps even a bit earlier. Our spinal cord, the medulla and
the pons is quite similar to the brain of a amphibian and first made an
appearance on the earth about 400 million years ago, among other things
it's responsible for our aggressiveness territoriality and social

The Limbic System is younger, about 150 million years old, and ours is
similar to that found in other mammals. Some think the Limbic system is the
source of awe and exhilaration because it is the active sight of many
psychotropic drugs.  After some animals developed a Limbic system they
started to spend much more time taking care of their young, so it probably
has something to do with love too. But it is our grossly enlarged neocortex
that makes the human brain so unusual and so recent, it started to get
ridiculously large less than a million years ago. It deals in deliberation,
spatial perception, speaking, reading, writing and mathematics; the one new
emotion we got was worry, probably because the neocortex is also the place
where we plan for the future.

If nature came up with feeling first and high level intelligence much
much later,
I don't see why the opposite would be true for computers. It's probably a
hell of a lot easier to make something that feels but doesn't think than
something that thinks but doesn't feel.

John K Clark
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