Writing artlessly about artificial intelligence

I’m usually drawn to online writing that reports good science or worthwhile social ideas. I seldom bother to respond to bad science or sloppy thinking. Today is an exception.

Browsing science digest sites, I recently ran across “Hidden Smiles and the Desire of a Conscious Machine,” by Malcolm Ramsey, published by H+ (Humanity +) on June 6th.

Intended as a thoughtful look at the possibility of artificial consciousness, “Hidden Smiles” is a muddled mash-up. It’s a good example of the bad writing wandering about out there in cyberspace.

Too harsh? Crossing the line from the critical to the uncivil? Hold your judgement until we’ve taken a look at the piece itself.
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Bilingualism can help you think

I had just started reading Guy Deutscher’s 2010 book, Through the Language Glass, an exploration of culture’s relationship with language, when I ran across “Does Speaking in a Second Language Make You Think More, or Feel Less?”

Julie Sedivy’s article, published online by Discover on May 30th, focuses on one way that language informs thought.

Sedivy writes that “we can have different feelings about the same thing—even make different decisions about it—depending on the language used to talk about it.” She reports that a new study in Psychological Science shows that “bilinguals were immune to framing effects and other cognitive biases—but only when working through problems in their non-native language.”
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Are you a Diachronic, or are you an Episodic?

Daniel Dennett believes that our sense of self comes from our brains’ concocting stories, narratives that create the protagonists we call “I.”

Other psychologists and philosophers offer explanations of individual identity that agree, more or less. Antonio Damasio, for example, calls the rational, third stage of consciousness “the autobiographical self.”

Last week, Big Think published “Why Are People Drawn to Stories?” The article, written by David Berreby, features ideas from Johnathan Gottschall’s The Storytelling Animal, a book that claims that “we live our entire lives in a web of story.”
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Chimps with smarts and culture

A lot of people over a lot of years have disliked Darwin’s contention that humans are just “big-brained apes.” They’ve fought to maintain a suitable distance between us and our closest primate cousins.

While the least sophisticated of these people are motivated by Bible literalism, and others by an often unrecognized or unadmitted need for human dignity, the most thoughtful objectors argue that we can’t rely on perceived similarities as real evidence that there is an uninterrupted continuum from the ai ai to the academic.
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Why? Because blogging strokes my brain!

I’m sometimes asked why I devote so much time to “that silly blog of yours.” When I choose to answer, I say that writing organizes my thoughts, which enhances the pleasure I get from reading. Or I talk about self-expression and social communication.

Now, a series of studies by psychologists at Harvard has uncovered the real reason that people like me write blogs like this: We enjoy talking about ourselves.

Not just enjoy, like “I enjoy a good joke,” but really enjoy, like we enjoy food, money, and sex. Honest to goodness, neural cascade, spike of pleasure enjoy.

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Is the centre of the universe in your head?

Underlying some of the consciousness discussion here recently is the fundamental question “Where Is Reality?” — or, in its more provocative version, “Is Reality Real?”

The ongoing debate about the nature of consciousness is in one sense a narrow-focus version of this broader question.
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To understand consciousness, look at a rainbow?

There’s been a lot written here about consciousness lately. And there’s been much, much more in the popular science press.

For example, the April 20th issue of New Scientist contains an article titled “We’re Closing in on Consciousness in the Brain.”

In the article, Christof Koch, a colleague of Francis Crick in devising the idea that there are “neuronal correlates of consciousness” (NCC), claims that NCC are “the minimal neuronal mechanisms – the synapses, neurons and brain regions – that are jointly sufficient for any one conscious percept.”

You’ll notice that this claim makes no reference to the rest of the body, much less to the rest of the world outside the brain. This is the prototypical “the mind is the brain” conception.

And, according to robotics expert Riccardo Manzotti, it’s completely wrong.
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Language v. Science

A reference to Max Bennett and Peter Hacker in one of the articles I reviewed last time prompted me to read more.

Now that I’ve finished Neuroscience and Philosophy, I’m compelled to write just one more article about the assaults on neuroscience mounted by philosophers and the like. This is the last one of these for a while. I promise.

Neuroscience and Philosophy (N&P, hereafter) is the book form of a conference debate between Max Bennett and Peter Hacker, on one side, and Daniel Dennett and John Searle, on the other.

The essence of the dispute: Is it right to say that consciousness happens in the brain, that the brain thinks and feels? For language philosopher Hacker and neuroscientist Bennett, the answer is an unqualified “No.” For Dennett and Searle, it’s a qualified “Yes.”

N&P is not new, having been published in 2003, but it’s new to me, and, like the “brave new world” of Miranda, it’s full of strange creatures. Continue reading

Two more non-scientists criticize neuroscience

The defenders of culture, beauty, and subjectivity are at it again, toiling to save civilization — and us — from a bleak, science-infested future.

Two recent examples from England, where this battle seems most energetically joined, are articles by Roger Scruton and George Walden.

The articles have different emphases, but taken together they illustrate the literati’s fear of the cold and inhuman scourge of “scientism.” Continue reading