Plato’s weekend suggestions

readingsHere it is, our regular Friday diet of suggested readings for the weekend:

Chomsky’s theory of language dying by many small empirical cuts, as it often happens in science.

What does it feel like when we die?

The complexities of raising geniuses.

Medical vs religious “miracles.”

On the weird notion of panpsychism (commentary coming soon…).

Crackpots are just as curious as real scientists, but they don’t have the means to succeed.

Hoping that the whole idea of cultural appropriation is a passing fad.

Do yourself a favor, don’t trust research funded by the food industry. Or any industry, really.

217 thoughts on “Plato’s weekend suggestions

  1. Coel

    Hi Robin,

    The term “computation” has a specific mathematical meaning.

    Yes, agreed, and hence it is an abstract commentary about a physical system. I don’t regard the abstract commentary, the maths, as being “conscious” (this is where I differ from DM).

    As I would see it, a physical system is the thing that is conscious. The maths that might describe that system is not. In the same way, I might have a mathematical model of a bridge on my laptop, but that model could not carry the weight of a 30-ton truck across a river, whereas the physically extant bridge could.

    So, as I see it, a close enough physical replication of a human brain would be conscious. However, I simply don’t know which physical aspects are the ones that are necessary for that, and so if one starts envisaging systems that are functionally equivalent in some respects but not in others then I wouldn’t know whether or not they would be conscious.

    On your last point, could one create a lookup-table AI device that claimed to be conscious but wasn’t? Sure, that would be trivially easy. Could it pass the Turing Test and not be conscious? Sure, you’d just need a large enough lookup table to cope. But that’s not the same as a p-zombie, which I understand to be something that is physically indistinguishable from a human in all respects, save qualia and consciousness.


  2. Robin Herbert

    Hi Coel

    You appear to have misunderstood what I said. I am not claiming the mathematics is conscious.

    And it it not just any old system that is claiming to be conscious.

    Nor am I saying that the model is the same as the thing it is modelling.

    When we have a computational model of a physical system it model the behaviour or some of the behavior of the system.

    The brain is a physical system and language is part of its behaviour.

    So I am talking about a system that models our brain and some environment. That is an important part and can’t be left out.

    And it is a computational model. That part can’t be left out either.

    I am saying that this model ought to, at some granularity, be able to model the behaviour of the physical system it models, including language, which would also include the kinds of statements we have about our conscious experience.


  3. Disagreeable Me (@Disagreeable_I)

    Hi Dan,

    As Massimo has explained umpteen times, substrate matters when it comes to matters mental.

    And as I have explained umpteen times, substrate doesn’t matter when it comes to matters mental.

    We don’t get anywhere with such statements. Massimo has presented arguments. I have presented arguments. I have reasons for rejecting Massimo’s arguments and presumably he has reasons for rejecting mine.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Disagreeable Me (@Disagreeable_I)

    Hi Coel,

    I would see the term “computation” as being a description about a physical system,

    OK, I guess. I agree that there isn’t really a fact of the matter about whether a physical system is a computation. Some systems are more usefully described as computations than others, and that’s all there is to it. But what I mean when I describe the mind as a computation is that consciousness depends only on the way information flows through the brain, not anything specific about its physical makeup. If I can make information flow in much the same kind of logical pattern in a simulation, then I think that is all that is required to instantiate consciousness.

    and thus to me the only way of simulating absolutely all functional equivalences would be a full-scale exact physical replication

    This doesn’t follow. If you have simulated every physical aspect of a system, then every function physically realised in that system has a virtual analogue. There is no physical event taking place in the system that does not have a corresponding virtual event in a simulation. As such, we see the same behaviour. The virtual system will report that it is conscious and will be able to converse just like a physical person. But if it is not truly conscious as we are, then consciousness is functionally inert, as we can get all these behaviours without consciousness.


  5. Disagreeable Me (@Disagreeable_I)

    Hi Coel,

    Just to be clear, I didn’t really address the lookup table argument. Obviously, we can also get the same behaviour with a big enough lookup table, and it would seem that this system is not conscious (although I would argue that the consciousness is in the algorithm that generated the lookup table in the first place, but never mind). In that system, we are taking a shortcut, trading off the need for vast amounts of information storage against the need for complex calculation. That’s why I’m instead talking about the example of a simulated brain. There is no such shortcut in such a simulation. We still have complex information processing in a manner analogous to how a brain works.


  6. garthdaisy


    “You do know that Australia was not purchased by the English? And the Spanish did not buy Bolivia, etc.”

    Neither did the aboriginals buy that land. It was the state of nature back then. Land was just taken by the strongest. That’s how everyone rolled.


    “So any point you make that depends upon the concept of “race” has nothing to do with what I said. I have no idea why you keep bringing it up.”

    No problem, I’ll drop the word “race” and we’ll just call it “bloodline ancestry” if you like. I don’t think parcels of land on this earth should be designated as being owned by all of the bloodline ancestors of the people’s who first wandered that land. It seems as though you are granting land title based on bloodline ancestry.

    “It is to say that they owned it at the time at the time it was taken from them. Are you now saying that it was never their land?”

    No, it was their land but they are dead. You can’t give land back to dead people. You are insinuating their bloodline ancestors now own that land. I don’t own the land that was taken from my ancestors. Why should anyone else own land that was taken from their ancestors centuries ago? How could we ever sort that out anyway?

    “The Guringai or the Gurindji did not own any continents, they owned specific lands.”

    What specific lands? Do you know if they took those lands from previous tribes? What definition of “own” are you using? Did they purchase it? Please define your terms of land ownership. Whoever’s blood ancestors were there first? How do you know who was there first? We are all direct descendants of people who evolved in Africa. Do we all own Africa? And whoever’s blood ancestors got everywhere else first now owns those lands? Is that how you thin kit ought to work? Or just in the case of the Americas and Australia? Is there a time limit on this? How far back do we go?

    “They continued to consider that they owned the land and that the invading forces and the government formed by the invading forces did not own those lands.”

    All land in this world is owned by nation states now. Shall we nix all of this and endeavour to find out who’s blood ancestors got where first and divvy up the planet thusly? That’s a lot of blood testing.

    “So the Gurindji are living on a particular area of land which they have been working for about 10,000 years and which they consider theirs. The British come in and, with superior forces, take the land and they claim that it is theirs.”

    Yes this is how the world worked back then. You say your ancestors were conquered and had their land taken away? Get in line, that happened to everyone’s ancestors. But all of those people are dead now. How shall we proceed? Shall we pay off every tribe who ever had land stolen from them? Do the Russians owe me an acreage in Poland? Or do “my people” whatever the hell that means own all of Europe? How does this “ancient tribes should still own their ancestral lands” thing work? How do we sort it all out?

    “We fast forward nearly 200 years to 1966 and we have the Gurindji people who still consider that the lands they have occupied for all that time are theirs.”

    What constitutes a Gurindjii person today? A blood test? Anyone who is living with them as they currently live? What about Gurindjii people who have integrated into Australian society now and no longer live the way of their ancestors. Do they still own a piece of Gurindjii land? What if they have moved away to Europe now and are living like Europeans? Are they still Gurindjii? What if some people of European descent are now living with the Gurindjii in their culture? Are they now Gurindjii? Do they own the land? And again, how do you know the Gurindjii didn’t take that land from a previous tribe as was the thing all humans did back then? How do you sort all of this out, Robin? Have some Gurindjii people since married Europeans or into other tribes and had children? Do they half own the land? Do you really see no problems with trying to designate land ownership by ancient tribes and treaties that were signed centuries ago? Shouldn’t we build a new better world than the old world where land rights aren’t based on ancient tribes?

    “Why is one of these competing claims to ownership of this land misguided and the other not?”

    Both are misguided.

    “Or are you saying that no one owns the land”

    Everyone or no one, take your pick. One tribe. This is what I am suggesting we work towards. Your ideas are backwards looking.

    “Ownership flows out of the mouth of a gun, right?”

    You hadn’t noticed this before now? All land on this earth is secured by guns and laws. If someone tries to steal your house today you can call the cops. It’s a bit better than the old tribal world where you were just killed for your land by whoever wanted it.

    “So this guy is living in your house because you would never utter such a primitive statement as “hey, that is my house you are living in!”

    I’d call the cops. We have cops in this century. And just a reminder, I was born with zero land belonging to me. Just like any Gurindjii person today, I was born into a land that was already a country with laws that I have no choice but to follow. And just like any Gurindjii person, my ancestors were conquered and had their land taken from them and the old culture they were living is noes gone. But this happened long before I was born and so it does not represent any harm to me. Things that happened hundreds of years, or even decades before I was born do not harm me, unless someone puts it into my head that it ought to mentally harm me. Only things that actually happen to me in my life actually harm me. What happened to my great grandparents did not happen to me. It didn’t hurt a bit. I care about what happens to me and my current family, in this century. I care about how we move forward together, as a species. One tribe. It’s a better way.


  7. synred


    >Neither did the aboriginals buy that land. It was the state of nature back then. Land was just taken by the strongest. That’s how everyone rolled.

    And still apparently ‘roll’, but we generally distintquish between other animals and people.

    You’re seriously going to argue that because aboriginals took the land from, ah, Kangaroos, it’s ok for Europeans to take it from them? Peter Singer on steroids!


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