Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Friday, July 27, 2007 Intelligent Speciation With or Without God

Friday, July 27, 2007
Intelligent Speciation With or Without God

This essay deals with two primary issues: First, the highly problematic issue of the natural existence of mind in a physical world, and second, how the evolution of the species, as events in the physical world, might be thought of as possessing mind, and intelligence. What will emerge is a different way of looking at nature.

The philosopher G.W. Leibniz (1646-1716) challenges us to imagine a machine with cogs and wheels and gears that is wired exactly as the human brain is. Would such a machine possess a "mind"? If not – and this is what he was going for – then we humans, who clearly possess minds must be more than mere machines. But let us suspend that judgment. Our science is reluctant to admit the existence of a soul, a substrate for the mind, that is separate from the body, and reasonably so.

However, we cannot conceptualize a system of physics, a science of bodies, that incorporates mind.

Two proofs: First, the philosophical zombies. These zombies are just like human beings. They look and act and even interact like normal human beings. But they have no consciousness and no experience of the world. The fact that such is a coherent idea means that there is something more to possessing a mind then having the physiology and behavior of a human being. We are obviously not such beings. Second proof, the "neural correlates of behavior". Every class of behavior, including thinking (in theory at last, and let us grant the strongest theory,) can be detected using advanced brain scanning technology. That is, if I'm thinking of a pizza, if someone can see into my brain with sufficient detail, he can know that I'm thinking of a pizza. But my experience of the thought pizza is different from my firing neurons. What is happening in my brain involves electric charges, molecules and ions, shapes and patterns, all laid out in geometric space. The idea in my head has nothing to do with any of those things. Be it true that whenever one is present the other is present too; that doesn't make them the same thing. It merely means they are correlated.

We don't understand what it means for a physical pattern to be a mental pattern. But what else could the mind be? Physical matter shouldn't have mind, if elementary physics is correct, but it seems to in some cases, namely brains. So we assert that the firing pattern of the brain and the thought are the same without understanding how. It takes us beyond the boundary of science, however, it seems a reasonable conjecture. In any case, I can think of no good scientific philosophy of mind other than this one. Let us grant it then, and see where it leads us.

Leibniz's machines – and we're not so far away from creating such machines with computer technology – might indeed be conscious. There is nothing about the particular kind of goop a brain is made of that makes us think that it is the only substrate that can hold a mind. If the same interactions take place in a network of silicon chips or in a computer program, there is no scientific reason to think that mind will not occur in such substrates. (Of course, it will be impossible to prove that mind exists in computers. However, we can forgive that as it is impossible for me to prove that you have a mind and are not a "zombie". I think, therefore I am; I can prove only my own consciousness, not yours. Incidentally, we humans can never know exactly what it's like to be a non-human animal.)

However, why bias ourselves to assume that the only physical systems that can manifest consciousness are brains? The lesson here is that mind and matter can (sometimes) be identified one with the other, that is, this thought, action or feeling is the motion of matter. What does it matter if the moving is the stuff of brains or other stuff? The brain is a highly complex physical system. The interactions that comprise the exchange and proliferation of genetic material in the evolution of species, are also extremely complex. During the processes of exchange and proliferation of electro-chemical signals in the brain, the various states of consciousness occur. Perhaps the evolutionary processes, (along with many other processes of nature which I'm not addressing at the moment) also possess consciousness.

Perhaps, you could say, from its perspective there is a state of the evolution of a species that is always correlated to its mental state at the time.

There is a debate going on between "evolutionism" and "intelligent design" as ideologies of the origin of the species. Evolutionism sees the processes responsible for evolution as random and senseless, because, they posit, all of nature's interactions are random and senseless. The rules of nature are such that enough random, senseless motion occuring within them produces complex, beautiful, and interesting results. But are all of nature's interactions random and senseless? What about human interactions? Some interactions are purposeful, for example, when we humans act purposefully. Perhaps other physical systems also act purposefully.

Bioforms change and evolve through time through adaptations that make them better suited for their environments. Some of these adaptations are very clever indeed. But you and I mean differently with the word "clever". I take it to be cleverness in the way that people or animals are clever. I don't know what you take it to mean. You kind of mean it as a metaphor. It would take a clever person to design what nature did by chance. But you were willing to accept the word when you first read it.

Whether or not you believe in God, you believe in the existence of the human mind. If so, there is no reason not to believe in other kinds of mind also. If so, then the forces that govern the evolution of bioforms may very well be intelligent.


Dave the Philosopher said...

The following is copied from another site where I have essentially the same essay, which is coming down. This is the critics first response.

What is the mind? Aside from its physical substance or constitution, what is it in the sense of how do we recognize one's presence? I may not know what Non-Dairy Coffee Creamer is made of, but I know how to recognize it, so in a very real manner I know what it is. In the same manner, we all know intuitively what a mind is, because we recognize them around us all the time. So the question is, can we recognize the work of a mind in speciation?

But how do we recognize minds on a daily basis? As you said, I am quite unable to prove that my neighbor is not a zombie, and truly does posess a mind (though I wouldn't be so hasty to call the logical coherence of philosophical zombies a fact). But on the other hand, I find assuming my neighbor to have a mind to be an excellent working hypothesis. It hasn't failed me yet, and has allowed me to effectively predict and respond to his behavior on many occassions. When he tells me, for instance, that he plans to mow the lawn, I find it much more effective to assume he is capable of thought and knows what his words mean than to treat him as a non-conscious conglomeration of quarks whose sonic emmissions only remind me of words by the rarest of coincidences. So without absolute proof of his mindfulness or lack thereof, I'm quite happy to continue believing in my working theory.

I would suggest, then, that the mind is a heuristic, or a metaphor. I look at the world around me and find it much more sensible if I treat various objects within it as if they have minds. Prior to settling the metaphysical questions that are raised in your essay, it seems reasonable enough to just treat the mind as that thing I attribute to parts of the world (parts like human beings) in order to comprehend their actions.
And when we consider that "part" of the world that is speciation, we find that -just as you suggested- attributing to it a mind proves a very effective tactic. Bio teachers and students left and right use words like "smart" or "idea" when talking about speciation. "Wings are a good idea," we say, or "It's smarter for the turtle to lay its eggs on land." By evolutionary processes, a population "learns" how to do this or that over many generations. We attribute a mind to evolution and speciation in order to understand its behavior. Who is to say it doesn't have one?

Of course, while we can use talk of minds to facilitate our grokking of evolution, and intelligence is an excellent metaphor to describe it, we can also see the reality behind, the grittier mechanisms which the metaphor hides. When we call evolution "clever," we know deep inside that we're more or less kidding, because we trace the unthinking proceduresl that emulate cleverness. So far, however, we can't do this perfectly. And forever, I imagine, we will be sufficiently limited in our cognitive powers that metaphors will remain necessary to the individual man which purest science can see through unerringly. You and I, my facebook friend, will be calling evolution mental long after its mysteries have faded in the light. No matter how involved our understanding of the brain becomes, we'll be bound still in daily living to continue attributing minds all over, disregarding in our derrings-do and conversations the neuronal nature underlying it all.

For all of that, though, the consciousness of evolution and the mechanics of mentality, the intelligent mind of speciation is a rather foreign one to us human folk. We aren't likely to manage having a chat and a glass of lemonade with the megamental conglomerate of our species' DNA. The metaphor can only go so far, you see, and I'd hesitate to get too excited. So far, anyway, I can learn much more about you (much more that matters, anyway) by studying your mind than by studying your brain. The mind of evolution, unfortunately, we seem to discover only after we've pieced its brain together bit by painstaking bit.

Dave the Philosopher said...

(And my reply)

We do not believe in other minds because it is a good "working hypothesis". Sure, when we ask ourselves the hard questions, we find that there is room to doubt the existence of other minds. However, typically, even intelligent people put it out of their minds at other times and grant the existence of other minds in other people, much in the way they deny mind in rocks and rivers and nebulae (and their subsystems). Granting the existence of mind in other people the DEFAULT position.

The reason "we know deep inside that we're more or less kidding" when we say that evolutionary and other processes are intelligent is because the default position in orthodox science is materialist/behaviorist/physicalist, and that's how we were trained. But if the materialist position cannot explain in human cases, then it should not be the default position. And if it is not, then why ASSUME it when we look at other parts of nature?

This is out of the purview of science proper. This is what one sees when one looks at the world. Could be that the "equations" would come out exactly the same whether the things of the world have mind or not (although if freedom exists, then the equations will inevitably fail to fully describe nature). Let science apprehend what the equations are. Science may tell you that it is all behavior - patterns of motion in space, but when you look at it, what do you see? What do we really know deep inside?

Dave the Philosopher said...

( And his reply )

I would claim that yes, the materialist position can explain the human case. And why not? Because we're not zombies? I find that a little bit dubious. You believe that I have a mind because in all ways you can imagine, I act like I have a mind. And in some ways that we can imagine, speciation also acts like it has a mind. It solves problems, often quite elegantly, and does so by methods similar to our own. The difference is one of magnitude. My behavior indicates that I have a mind. Evolution's behavior indicates that it has a mind. I think the indications from my behavior are a little bit clearer, that's all.

You talk about equations and free will. I think that if you could fully grasp all of the incredibly complex mechanics at work in a human brain, you'd find the associated mind's understanding of its behavior laughable. The mind would become a terribly pale metaphor for what was going on in this brain, compared to the fully detailed truth. In the mean time, given our cognitive limits, we find the metaphor of mind to be about the best we've got. With regards to each other, that is. With regards to evolution, I think we can do a bit better.