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.