Friday, January 28, 2011

Re: [Yasmin_discussions] Around Simulation II - Simulating Empathy and Subjective Experience

Dear Simon,

A pleasure to find you on the Around Simulation again!

You write:

"Empathy would seem to involve one mind appreciating, by some means, the state
of another mind. As yet no meaningful or useful definition of mind, or
explication of how it comes to be, has been put forward so we are discussing
something we know very little about. The mind, in the sense of a conscious
being's sense of self, might not even exist, or at least not in the sense we
appreciate it. Computers, on the other hand, clearly do not have a mind. They
are computational machines, not beings."

Indeed current digital computers do not seemingly have mind, at least not as we
generally conceive of a mind, not including ideas that all is mind. But what
happens when computers are embedded in robotic bodies and are linked to the

In 2006 Terrence Sejnowski who is a computational neuroscientist at Howard Huges
Medical Institute and coauthor of The Computational Brain, was asked to pose his
answer to the question posted by The Edge in that year. What is your most
Dangerous Idea?

Sejnowski asked himself: "When will the Internet become aware of itself?" for
his full post see:

In his post he asks how the communications power of the Internet compares
with that of the cerebral cortex, the most interconnected
part of our brains?

"Like the brain, the Internet has circadian rhythms that
follow the sun as the planet rotates under it. The growth of
the Internet over the last several decades more closely
resembles biological evolution than engineering.

How would we know if the Internet were to become aware of
itself? The problem is that we don't even know if some of
our fellow creatures on this planet are self aware. For all
we know the Internet is already aware of itself."

As it were, Assimovs 'positronic brain', not embedded in the robot with
technology, but floating between our satellites. I wonder if then, social
networks such as Facebook would function as a simulation of neurons responsible
for social communication...

Simon, you also write:

"Whilst there seems to be a connection between mind and thought, the ability to
compute and process information, it isn't necessary for an individual to have a
higher level of intelligence to possess a mind, although intelligence and mind
appear interdependent."

Is 'thought' not more than the ability to compute and process information, is
it not also directing information, choosing, dancing, taking a perspective?

and further:

"That said, it is possible to feel empathy for a tree that has been injured.
Where is the difference here? Where is the line between us projecting our sense
of self onto the other (anthropomorphising a tree, for example) and our sense of
an actual other, perceiving its subjective state in some way? If we knew the
answer to this question, the difference between objects and subjects, then
perhaps we could simulate mind and create a conscious machine."

Very good point. We must ask ourselves if 'the other' actually exists. Are we
indeed all one? All made from stardust just happen to be jiggling in different
formations, thanks to the construct of Time? Like the radical constructionist's
stating the possibility that we created the world, but seem to have forgotten
that we did? Then Empathy might be the link to remembering ourselves. I've often
wondered what the evolutionary function of 'forgetting' is.

" However, what is clear is that until we do understand what mind is we will not
be able to simulate it. I wonder if we will ever achieve that understanding.
Most of the time I doubt we will. When I do think we will I'm pretty quick to
discount my hubris."

Well, I seem to be the eternal optimist here...I think we do ourselves injustice
if we think that we need to understand Mind first in order to simulate it. I
think it is perfectly ok to fumble in the dark. And we should not underestimate
the fact that we are very experienced in using our minds. I think we know more
than we think we know...Much like Semir Zeki calls the artist an intuitive
neuroscientist (getting back to Ziva's motion for focus on intuituition here :).
I think, when we put our minds to it, we all could benefit from exorcising the
study of how our brain is working at any given moment. Much like Susan
Blackmores homework question: are you conscious now? and now? and now?

So in regards to your comment:

"To claim we do have the capacity to simulate things is to assume we have
knowledge of them we most likely do not possess. This would seem arrogant in the
extreme. Further to this, a simulation is only a knowledge modelling activity.
Even where we do have enough information about something to build what seems to
be a useful and functional simulation it does not mean we have made an accurate
copy of something. It is only as accurate as we are able to test its accuracy
and that testing is constrained by what we know. Even the best simulations are
likely to be incomplete or even erroneous in their conception. To assume
otherwise is to consider oneself to have complete and irrefutable knowledge of
something. That does not seem like good (sceptical) science or philosophy. It
starts to sound like arrogant dogma."

I do not think it is arrogant dogma, when it seems that the Universe might
indeed be a quantum computer, it would mean, that we would need to take our own
first person experiences seriously. Something that Chalmers, Clark, Varela, and
all, are fighting for. It is problematic of science to not take first person
methods seriously. Perhaps it is why artists are so often involved in these

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