Sunday, July 10, 2016

Physics, Biology, and the Mind

This continues a conversation with Stan about whether the human mind works by natural means (where I have the "pro" side, and he has the "con" side). 

Some premises

I'd like to start with something that seems to be an axiom in your understanding of the mind, starting with your comment:
... it exists outside and beyond the four known physical forces (note 3), which would make it non-physical, non-material ... (Stan)
Your premise here seems to be that, if a thing is not caused by the four forces of physics (gravity, electromagnetism, weak subatomic, and strong subatomic) then it is non-physical, and non-material. I'd strongly disagree: biology is not accounted for here. Much of life in general works outside the four forces of physics. If a flea hops, there's nothing in the four forces that made it hop, so there's something more going on than the four forces -- but there may not be anything more going on than instinct.  (Another working definition: let 'instinct' be the motives and reactions that are hardwired into a living thing.) If we want to explain something as simple as a worm wriggling, we need something more than the four forces of physics, but we're not looking at something non-physical or non-material either.  So I don't think that "outside the four forces of physics" means that we are working in a realm that is "non-physical, non-material" by any stretch; it may instead be covered by biology.

I'd also like to start with something that is basic to my own understanding of reason as it is generally used:
'Reason' tells us the reasons why the thing we want is right. 
In general, I think people often attach themselves to a conclusion (or a goal, or a side) first, and then set the mind to work to justify what was already desired. Some people want truth; some people want dominance, acceptance, prestige, luxury, or a really nice dinner. When people make a decision, even the "rational exercise" of making a pros-and-cons list usually has the "pros" list cataloging "how does it benefit me personally", and the "cons" list considering "how does it harm me personally." Consider how many rational decisions are, in effect, rational self-interest. (Take an example when certain atheists argue that Christianity grew and thrived because it has positive adaptive characteristics that helped people survive better. As soon as you answer, "So, you're saying that Christianity grew because it is a positive and helpful force?" some types of atheists will change tack with dizzying speed, if all they were looking for was a stick with which to beat Christianity.)

Marking territory and the desire to conquer Europe

You mentioned the desire to conquer Europe as an example of an irrational thing that humans do.
shows the necessity of the software's ability to generate irrational adherence to fallacious pursuits, ideologies, and subjective opinion over fact, because that is part of the human mind, too.
In some cases (e.g. the desire to conquer Europe), irrationality seems to track to our more animal natures. Computers, without an animal nature, would "lack" that irrationality. (Is the lack really on their side, here?) I would never expect computers to duplicate an animal need for dominance or territory. Neither do I see our animal need for dominance or territory as some sort of proof that we are 'more than physical' in our minds; I'd say it's proof that we are less than rational. Dominance and claiming territory are expressions of animal instincts.

So I don't see validity to claims along the lines of "computers don't need to feed/fight/flee/mate, so that proves humans are more than physical" ... On the contrary, I'd think it shows that humans are so physical that our instincts hijack our better judgment, and it can interfere with our minds' trustworthiness. There's definitely something more going on than the forces of physics, but it seems to be something animal / biological.

The scope of the proof

You were saying:
if the human mind is to be shown reducible to software, thereby demonstrating that the human mind is likely to be merely physical in nature, then the software must demonstrate the ability to produce all (sum total) of the processes which are available to the human mind ... (Stan)
I'd disagree because of the animal / biological features of our mind. That is to say: The human mind also includes things I'd attribute to biology (e.g. animal instinct). So I'd say that a software system as analogy for the mind would need to account only for those items not accounted for by biology. One or both of us have mentioned biological things like feeding, fighting, fleeing, mating, relationships, motives / desires, and instincts. Those whole arenas of the human mind are the province of living things, as far as I can see. Anything we'd attribute to hormones and adrenaline are biological and physical, yet outside the scope of what a computer would or could do.

My main area of interest is rational thought, which is the original topic on which I'd posted, where our conversation started. I'm also interested in some follow-up on topics you mentioned that intrigue me (e.g. the all-too-common misapplication of Bayes Theorem, or the nature of creativity).

However, if your view is that a software program would need to duplicate even biological instincts, because you believe the scope of the proof would need to include biology because biology is not covered by the laws of physics, then we'd have a fairly insurmountable difference of opinion on the scope of the proof for this topic. Though we might have finally found one thing on which we agree: I doubt that software would manage to duplicate the effects of our animal instincts.

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