Re: [asa] Sense and nonsense

From: Iain Strachan <>
Date: Thu Jun 21 2007 - 13:26:38 EDT

On 6/21/07, Christine Smith <> wrote:
> To this I will repost an earlier question of mine
> which no one ventured an answer--it is evident, as Pim
> pointed out, that brain and thought, emotions, etc.
> are *correlated*, but *correlation does not prove
> causation*--can someone please point me towards
> specific research studies that *mechanistically* show
> how non-sentient electrical impulses and atoms can
> give rise to sentience? Do you propose that this is
> another fundamental property of substances, as I
> believe it was Don(?) argued earlier? Or do you
> propose another *mechanism* which directly causes
> these properties to emerge?

This is probably the 64 billion dollar question, and is a topic of much
controversy among AI researchers.

The "strong AI" adherents would argue that consciousness is an "emergent
property" of a sufficiently large and sufficiently interconnected neurons.
The human brain has 10^10 neurons, with 10^14 interconnections (synapses).
If you are of the strong AI persuasion, then you will believe that when we
can build a computer with sufficient memory to simulate such a large neural
network (and that time can only be a couple of decades away at most), then
you will have a sentient, conscious machine like Data in Star Trek. In
other words you would have a conscious algorithm. A futurologist from
British Telecom gave a talk which I attended when he suggested that a "Data"
would be a possibility by 2015 - a timeline much shorter than that envisaged
by Gene Roddenberry!

Such theories reach their ultimate philosophical embodiment in so-called
"Alorithmic Theories of Everything", which suggest that the universe is just
a simulation on a gigantic computer. See for an introduction to
this idea. It also led to a kind of religious idea, dubbed "The Great
Programmer Religion" - the Great Programmer running all possible universes
up to a similar complexity as ours, in parallel on a gigantic computer.

However, not everyone believes this will happen. Notably Roger Penrose, a
maths professor at Oxford Univerity, and long-time associate of Stephen
Hawking, does NOT accept that a mere algorithm will be able to be
conscious. Penrose holds that some bit of physics is yet to be done to
understand consciousness - he holds that it is in Quantum mechanics, and in
particularly Quantum Gravity, that the answer to the riddle will be found
(this would be the other mechanism you referred to that directly causes
these phenomena). These ideas are explained in Penrose's popular science
book "The Emperor's New Mind".

There are also quasi-religious ideas embodied in here. It has been
suggested that at the scale of the Planck length and Planck time, that the
interconnectivity of the universe itself mimics that of a brain, and that
possibly consciousness is a fundamental property of the universe, rather
than an emergent one and that the properties of matter etc "emerge" from the
fundamental underlying consciousness. I think a Google on "Quantum
Consciousness" should dredge up some interesting info on all this. I think
this latter seems to lie closer to eastern mysticism than to Christianity,

I don't know which side I'd take in the debate - I think we simply don't
know enough to be able to say.


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Received on Thu Jun 21 13:27:15 2007

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