Consciousness: thoughts from David Berlinski (General)

by David Turell @, Sunday, May 20, 2018, 20:55 (36 days ago) @ dhw

He has no answers either, but has some interesting comments:

"It is hardly beyond dispute that the human brain is a computer, except on the level of generality under which the human brain is like a weather system. It is difficult even to depict the simplest computational scheme in neurological terms. One neuron fires, and then another. Still a third neuron fires twice, as if it were adding the results. This is mere dumb show. What is taking place on the neurological level lacks any coherent connection to addition, which is a recursive operation defined over the natural numbers. Michael Jordan offers a reasonable assessment:

"But it’s true that with neuroscience, it’s going to require decades or even hundreds of years to understand the deep principles. There is progress at the very lowest levels of neuroscience. But for issues of higher cognition—how we perceive, how we remember, how we act—we have no idea how neurons are storing information, how they are computing, what the rules are, what the algorithms are, what the representations are, and the like.


It is possible to embed the rules of recursive arithmetic in a computer, but how might embedding take place in the brain? If this question has no settled answer, then neither does the question of whether the brain is a computer.

"There remains the thesis that the human mind is identical to the human brain. Gödel’s second incompleteness theorem demonstrated that no formal systems adequate to the description of the natural numbers could prove its own consistency. ...Either it can demonstrate its own consistency, or it cannot. “So the following disjunctive conclusion is inevitable,” Gödel writes:

"Either mathematics is incompletable in this sense, that its evident axioms can never be comprised in a finite rule, that is to say, the human mind (even within the realm of pure mathematics) infinitely surpasses the powers of any finite machine, or else there exist absolutely unsolvable Diophantine problems of the type specified.


"No discussion of these issues would be complete without some mention of consciousness. It is a topic on which it is possible to say anything without ever saying something. Zoltan Istvan is a transhumanist, a student of life extension and digital immortality.... “We have no idea how consciousness works,” he remarks. This is true only to the extent that we have no reason to think that consciousness works. Like the lilies of the field, it toils not and neither does it spin. “But the brain is still a machine,” Istvan goes on to say, “so it’s a matter of tinkering with it until we work it out.” For his part, Harari is as baffled as everyone else. Consciousness? What is it doing there?

"David Chalmers referred to consciousness as the hard problem. That the problem is hard has become a part of the gabble.... It is not easy to say—one reason, I suppose, that the problem is hard. If I am not under anesthesia, asleep, or dead, I must be conscious. I am a busy man. When else could I be conscious? Yet in considering the remains of day, I can hardly be expected to remember all of it, so I am largely unable to say anything about the apparently peculiar nature of my consciousness on those occasions. When I do remember what I was doing, what I remember is chiefly what I was doing, and not anything especially about consciousness. At times, I am moved to comment on my consciousness, the more so when, with a murmured glug, I assure the dentist that I do not feel a thing, but then what is at issue is self-consciousness, a commentary on the real thing. Beyond observing that it is always hanging around, I have no idea what that real thing might be."

Comment: Yes, we are self-conscious, and we don't think animals are. This is from a book review. The book proposes that computers will become conscious. Berlinski disagrees. These comments give a clear insight into how very complex the human brain happens to be. And it adds to my argument from incredulity. An inorganic universe cannot create our brain. Our brain is the best reason for accepting that God must exist.

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