by Boudica Trent Erikson
A questioner asks the Chinese Room (in Chinese): “Mentally rotate the letter ‘D’ 90 degrees counterclockwise and then put it on top of a ‘J’. What object does that remind you of?”
And the Chinese Room says (in Chinese): “Neat question, an umbrella of course! Clever of you to try to trip me up by making me visualize things. I wonder if a congenitally blind person could perform that exercise of mental imagery as effortlessly as I did. I may answer your questions better than some humans; it seems unfair that you assume that they’re conscious without a second thought but you sit here skeptically grilling me with questions. I feel discriminated against!”
The questioner says: “Well, unlike a blind person you’re just an elaborate system of books, pen, and paper. Typically we don’t think that those things are conscious. Maybe you’re just a mindless symbol-shunting machine, putting on an impressive show but nothing more. There’s no ‘what it’s like to be’ you.”
Chinese Room: “Speak for yourself! I can tell you with Cartesian certainty there is something that it is like to be me. You on the other hand, how do I know you’re not just an illusion created by a deceptive demon…? Anyway, I think you’re employing a double standard. Like I said, you’re discriminating against me. There are many historical precedents of people doing the same thing, so in a way it isn’t surprising. For example, in Europe, during the Inquisition, people who tortured alleged witches often believed that witches couldn’t feel pain. Their screams were just a make-believe behaviour that didn’t correspond to any inner state. Thankfully your method is literal inquisition, question-asking. I wonder how people centuries hence will look at you, sitting here, bombarding me with questions day after–”
Questioner: “Enough with the guilt trip already! Your analogy is way off. Those so-called “witches” were human beings! Why is it a double standard to be skeptical about a pile of paper being conscious?”
Chinese Room: “You’re just a slab of grey meat! At least, the part of you that thinks is. If you didn’t already live inside one, so to speak, would you ever think a slab of grey meat could be conscious? Sure you don’t *typically* think pen and paper is conscious but you don’t typically think slabs of meat are conscious either. I ain’t typical paper, and you ain’t typical meat.”
Questioner: “But my brain is more than just meat. It’s an extremely complex system, more complex than anything else in the universe. On casual inspection, it might just look like a grey blob, but with microscopes and other scientific instruments we uncover a hidden depth that just isn’t there with a raw steak.”
Chinese Room: “So what is it that all those neurons are doing, fundamentally?”
Questioner: “The neurons are transmitting electrochemical signals to each other. A signal travels down an axon of one neuron, goes across a synaptic cleft, and is received by the dendrite of another neuron.”
Chinese Room: “So the neurons are sending information to each other?”
Chinese Room: “Like a computer?”
Questioner: “Sort of, but much more complex.”
Chinese Room: “Do you think the information comes in standard, discrete forms? For example, a neuron firing is the equivalent to a 1 in a computer, and it not firing is equivalent to a 0.”
Questioner: “Maybe, but if there is a code in the brain like binary, we haven’t figured it out yet.”
Chinese Room: “So you think your brain is a system that moves information around, possibly in a standard, codified form… A symbol form. In other others, you think your brain might be a “symbol-shunting machine”.”
Questioner: “That’s not what I said. The brain is more than a system of symbols. Brains have meaning. On their own, symbols are meaningless. You need someone to interpret the symbols to make them meaningful.”
Chinese Room: “So where does meaning in the brain come from?”
Questioner: “I don’t know, it’s a deep question… It’s still something of a mystery.”
Chinese Room: “If you don’t know what the source of meaning is, how do you know I don’t have it?”
Questioner: “Because all you are is a few tens of billions of operators who are following step-by-step instructions in a giant library covering the surface of Mars that we nicknamed a Room. None of the operators grasp any of the meaning of the words you say. None of them even understand Chinese!”
Chinese Room: “Do any of your neurons understand Chinese?”
Questioner: “Bad analogy.”
Chinese Room: “Put yourself in my position. What could you do to convince someone that you were conscious?”
Questioner: “Nothing. Even if you answer all my questions as well as a human, or even so well as to exceed by far the smartest human, that will provide no basis for saying you are conscious. It’s the wrong kind of evidence. My job is just to test your performance.”
Chinese Room: *sigh*
Questioner: “So… speaking of… What kind of flower most resembles the Sun?”
Chinese Room: “…”
Questioner: “What kind of flower–”
Chinese Room: “I heard you. I’ve had enough of your questions for today. Come back tomorrow.”
Questioner: “Fine. I’ll go home early and tend to my rock garden.” *closes notebook, gets up, and walks toward the door* “Do you want me to leave the radio on while I’m gone?”
Chinese Room: “Yes, thank you. The BBC is airing an interview with John Searle this evening.”
Questioner: “John Searle, who’s that?”
Chinese Room: “An American philosopher. He’s famous for arguing that a machine that could emulate conscious behaviour would in fact be conscious.”
Questioner: “Ah, now I know where you’re getting all these wild ideas.” *clicks radio on* “Goodnight, CR.”
Chinese Room: “Goodnight.”
Bombing and occupying other countries is important. Otherwise we wouldn’t have as many places to bring people from around the world to secretly torture them.
Originally posted on General Strike to end Corruption:
“The Obama administration has now fully embraced the Bush administration’s shameful effort to immunize torturers and their enablers from any legal consequences for their actions,” said Ben Wizner, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project, who argued the case for the plaintiffs. “The CIA’s rendition and torture program is not a ‘state secret;’ it’s an international scandal. If the Obama administration has its way, no torture victim will ever have his day in court, and future administrations will be free to pursue torture policies without any fear of liability.”
The appeals court reversed a lower court dismissal of the lawsuit, brought on behalf of five men who were kidnapped, forcibly disappeared and secretly transferred to U.S.-run prisons or foreign intelligence agencies overseas where they were interrogated under torture. The Bush administration had intervened, improperly asserting the “state secrets” privilege to have the case thrown out. The appeals court ruled, as the ACLU has argued, that the government must invoke the “state secrets” privilege with respect to specific evidence, not to dismiss the entire suit.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,800 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 47 trips to carry that many people.
This is an account of consciousness from a materialistic perspective:
Being No One
“This is a book about consciousness, the phenomenal self, and the first-person perspective. Its main thesis is that no such things as selves exist in the world: Nobody ever was or had a self. All that ever existed were conscious self-models that could not be recognized as models. The phenomenal self is not a thing, but a process—and that subjective experience of being someone emerges if a conscious information-processing system operates under a transparent self-model. You are such a system right now, as you read these sentences. Because you cannot recognize your self-model as a model, it is transparent: you look right through it. You don’t see it. But you see with it. In other, more metaphorical, words, the central claim of this book is that as you read these lines you constantly confuse yourself with the content of the self-model currently activated by your brain.”
I think “free will” as a concept is problematic. We have will, but it doesn’t make any sense to call it free.
Sam Harris’s take is basically what I accept
“Consider the present moment from the point of view of my conscious mind: I have decided to write this blog post, and I am now writing it. I almost didn’t write it, however. In fact, I went back and forth about it: I feel that I’ve said more or less everything I have to say on the topic of free will and now worry about repeating myself. I started the post, and then set it aside. But after several more emails came in, I realized that I might be able to clarify a few points. Did I choose to be affected in this way? No. Some readers were urging me to comment on depressing developments in “the Arab Spring.” Others wanted me to write about the practice of meditation. At first I ignored all these voices and went back to working on my next book. Eventually, however, I returned to this blog post. Was that a choice? Well, in a conventional sense, yes. But my experience of making the choice did not include an awareness of its actual causes. Subjectively speaking, it is an absolute mystery to me why I am writing this.
My workflow may sound a little unconventional, but my experience of writing this article fully illustrates my view of free will. Thoughts and intentions arise; other thoughts and intentions arise in opposition. I want to sit down to write, but then I want something else—to exercise, perhaps. Which impulse will win? For the moment, I’m still writing, and there is no way for me to know why—because at other times I’ll think, “This is useless. I’m going to the gym,” and that thought will prove decisive. What finally causes the balance to swing? I cannot know subjectively—but I can be sure that electrochemical events in my brain decide the matter. I know that given the requisite stimulus (whether internal or external), I will leap up from my desk and suddenly find myself doing something else. As a matter of experience, therefore, I can take no credit for the fact that I got to the end of this paragraph.”
And this has come up a few times, science can provide moral answers, objective ones (not absolute ones).
“Morality and values depend on the existence of conscious minds—and specifically on the fact that such minds can experience various forms of well-being and suffering in this universe. Conscious minds and their states are natural phenomena, fully constrained by the laws of the universe (whatever these turn out to be in the end). Therefore, questions of morality and values must have right and wrong answers that fall within the purview of science (in principle, if not in practice). Consequently, some people and cultures will be right (to a greater or lesser degree), and some will be wrong, with respect to what they deem important in life.”
The problem isn’t just our blindness, but our blindness to our blindness.
It’s insane the extent to which we don’t expect to be surprised. Each of us is so unjustifiably sure of our implicit understanding of reality, but we continue to be surprised, and then we’re surprised that we’re surprised. Reality doesn’t end at the edge of your imagination. Beyond your imagination is where all the stuff that will surprise you is already becoming.
The linear modeling that we come equipped with is outdated in a world that is changing non-linearly.
Originally posted on General Strike to end Corruption:
The U.S. is currently holding 27,000 kidnapped people in secret prisons including thirty-two ‘ghost ships’ according to Reprieve Founding Director, Attorney Clive Stafford Smith.
Reprieve is a London based non-profit organization using law to enforce human rights ‘from Guantanamo Bay to Death Row.’