Sunday, June 26, 2016

Minds and Motives

Stan - I appreciate your understanding of the situation with the day job and real-life time constraints. Here is my next follow-up on our conversation. For this round, I've organized our conversation under these headings: Clarifying our previous conversation, Motivation, and Who or what operates the brain?, as our main current topics.

Clarifying our previous conversation
In your comments you restated my position, showing some places where I should clarify. Let me start there:

I would not say that 'the mind operates the brain'; I would say that the brain is the basis for the mind. I doubt that there is anything that the mind does independently of the brain. I'll explain with some analogies to see if it helps communicate the point. To give an analogy using digestion as a comparison: there's a lot that happens in the stomach, though you wouldn't necessarily see a change in the stomach itself for every change in its contents because there are things like enzymes involved. In the same way, there are things that happen in the brain where I'd suspect, when we look at the the mechanisms, some of them will as transient as our thoughts. Or if we use a computer analogy, the brain is something like hardware and the mind is something like software ... in some ways more like the Operating System or even like BIOS. If anyone reading along wants a short intro to BIOS: it is very low-level software that underpins even the operating system, and is used by the operating system. BIOS is barely above the hardware level, and comes pre-loaded on the hardware, regardless of which operating system is installed over it. I think the most basic brain functions -- like trying to make sense of the world -- are comparable to BIOS. We see early versions of understanding in dogs and cats, though not as fully-developed as in humans. We come back to a closely-related question in the last section of this post, so I'll leave further comments until then.

As far as I can tell, motivation requires life. (You're a theist; what's the difference between God and 'the Force'? I see the difference as awareness and motive. Motive implies having a stake in the outcome. And the questions, "What are God's motives?" and "Why does God even have motives?" are some interesting questions in philosophy of religion.) When it comes to computers and artificial intelligence, maybe I should say specifically that I doubt they could have self-motivation, in that I don't see how they could have a stake in the outcome. A computer could be given a motivation. It might even have a motivation built into its system, like a hypothetical chess-bot with instructions to analyze other chess programs to find logic with the highest win-percentage, or most efficient code for getting there. But that 'motivation' would come from outside because it's not living. More follow-up on that next.

Look at human motivation: it's generally to meet some kind of need or fulfill some kind of desire. (Is there more that goes into 'motivation'? Let's at least start there.) What 'need' does a computer have? You could argue 'Electricity' ... but if the power goes out, it doesn't destroy the computer. It cannot sense pain so wouldn't seek to avoid it. It doesn't even have a concept of itself, so does not think about the day that its hardware fails and it's taken to a recycling center. It doesn't have any commitment to an idea of its own superiority, so it doesn't go around trolling. It doesn't have a desire for competence/mastery. (Ever notice the satisfaction we get from competence/mastery? We have an emotional investment, even in understanding things.) So we could probably give a computer motivations by building it into the instruction set. But I wouldn't expect motivations to arise independently in a being with no wants or needs or desires or self-concept. By the way, it interests me whether God gave us the desire to understand which, taken to its ultimate limits, leads us to reach out to him. There's that old quote from St Augustine, "Our hearts are restless until they rest in You."

So after we talk about motivations, we get back to an interesting question that you introduced: 

Who or what operates the brain?
You introduced the background question of who or what operates the brain. That's a good conversation to have, so let's go there next. I'm going to start with the old digestion analogy just so we have a starting place where I'm hoping we both agree: the stomach and digestion are basically automatic. That is to say, nothing really 'operates' that system except built-in biological functions. I think there is something analogous in the brain/mind where we have a built-in function of trying to understand and make sense of the world. Previously I talked about how there are animals that we wouldn't consider to be very rational (worm, dog or cat) that have some level of understanding.

I'm curious ... I don't know what your view is: Would you say that a dog or cat has some kind of mind-duality going because they have a basic level of understanding? Or is duality something that begins at a higher level? Is duality just for humans, in your opinion? Does the dog's/cat's mind require duality in order to recognize you and be glad to see you? What functions do you see as needing some sort of transcendence? (Do you consider yourself a dualist? Or would you put it some other way?) I'm considering all those questions as general prompts to see what you think; feel free to pick whichever offers you the best starting point for explaining what you think.

1 comment:

Stan said...

I have posted a reply at my place: HERE.