Saturday, May 31, 2008

Consciousness; New Scientist Reports Grand Theory

Feature article of New Scientist, May 31 2008.

As a professional point, I had to spend the five bucks to get that issue, because the article is titled, Grand Theory of the Brain.

Ultimately, though, it only serves as a decent primer to the things I'm trying to say.

The brain is a computer. It should be cheaper to run an unconscious computer than a conscious one, but it isn't. Therefore, the brain is doing something nonphysical.

Not that I'm knocking his theory per se. It seems like an impressive bit of cross-disciplinary thought; the brain tries to minimize a quantity, roughly equivalent to uncertainty, the way physical systems minimize free energy. Much like I can observe Bayesian filtering in my own brain, I can see plausible effects of this minimizing strategy, like his example of turning your head to focus on something noticed out of the corner of your eye. Also, the feeling of doubt seems to be a direct sense of this quantity.

Nevertheless, this idea only enhances the procedural and deterministic mathematics we've been using to describe physics, a paradigm that not only seems unsuited to describing consciousness, but is demonstrable incapable.

Also in New Scientist, but available without subscription, is another excellent example of the generally piss-poor thought relative to the mind.

Yes, technically, human memory could be organized like computer memory. It would be more efficient for our current needs. But can't you think of anything our associate-memory might be better for? Perhaps like recalling exactly what's necessary given a present emergency, and not having to search through your entire memory bank each time?

Not that I'll refute the central point; yes, the human body abounds with kludges, including the human brain. However, it seems that there's only two schools of thought on the human body; either it's perfectly transcendently wonderful, or it's a load of crappy, crappy, crap, incapable of even fending off other primates with our bare hands, and ritually outperformed by even primitive computer technology. The fact, as always on such issues, almost has to lie somewhere in between.

Our desire for fats and sugar isn't what makes us fat. Otherwise, everyone physically capable of laying down fat would be prodigiously fat, without equally prodigious helpings of willpower. Obesity is almost certainly a psychological disease.
"Economists make that mistake. They assume that humans are rational, but they aren't necessarily. And I think that people almost always overestimate their own abilities."
The problem is that, rational or not, the individual always makes what they believe are the best choices for themselves. If people in general overestimate their abilities, then the advisers, presumably including Gary Marcus here, also overestimate their abilities. Again it's best left to the individual, because at least they'll learn from their mistakes.

In other words, even if the economists are wrong, the result is the same.

Notably, Marcus also doesn't realize that the main reason for ability overestimation is that the skills for competence are also the skills for recognizing competence. The incompetent are also incompetent at recognizing their incompetence. Given a random person, they will be incompetent at recognizing competence in nearly every field of human endeavor, and so Marcus can make observations like this without appearing retarded.
"But if you take the perspective that I'm presenting about kluges and tinkering and so on, then language can't be as separate from the rest of thought as people used to think."
Nevertheless, he succeeds in looking retarded here. What exactly are the properties of kludges that unify the mind or prohibit modules? Don't we have a hearing centre and a visual cortex? Why can't we have a language cortex?

Notably, there's more here about how consciousness must be an old evolutionary adaptation, which means it's specifically selected for.
"There's no type of neuron that you only find in the human brain, and there's no brain area that doesn't have a counterpart in the chimpanzee."
There's a link to the source article, but it also requires subscription.
"There's a real mystery about how mostly spare parts got reconfigured to make something so unique."
Hint: It's not unique. I suspect we simply have a much more powerful 'muscle' for consciousness than a chimp does. Much like consciousness appears to be nonphysical, and turns out to be nonphysical, it appears we are much more aware than a chimp is, and that's probably for the simple reason that we are.

Even the so called 'cell that makes us human,' the spindle cell, has been found in sea mammals as well as great apes.

The article that I found these additional tidbits in has another neat bit - about brain exercise. (Additional links in article.) So, want to make yourself think as well as I do? (Pff, like that happens.) It's simple - train. If your IQ is over 130, you should eventually become better than I am.
"Though we have discovered an enormous amount about the brain, huge and crucial mysteries remain. One of the most important is how does the brain produces our conscious experiences?"
Conscious experiences, eh. I'd call them right now but I have no way to prove I'm not just a web crank...aside from logic, that is. And, dear reader, I can assure you that is only the flimsiest of techniques.

Incidentally, most of the data necessary for my theories can be found in the pages of New Scientist. If you have a subscription, you can review all my crucial data points yourself, conveniently linked at the bottom of this third article.

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