Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Continuity, Time, and "Artificial Intelligence"

Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Continuity, Time, and "Artificial Intelligence"

Article excerpt

In her book Maps of the Mind, science writer Rita Carter put forward a theory, based on findings of Neuroscience, that every human being is a "programmable machine." More specifically, our brains are computing machines and we are our brains. (2) This view evokes the following equation: Person = Mind = Brain = Computer, or PMBCI (the Person, the Mind, the Brain and the Computer are Identical). This theory relies on several serious flaws of conceptual confusion, and others have taken her views to task for those errors, but among enthusiasts and researchers pursuing the development of "Artificial Intelligence" conceptual errors such as those committed by Carter are not merely ignored, they seem to be invisible. For many, the distinction between humans and machines has virtually disappeared.

The ease with which large segments not only of the scientific world, but of the general public as well, accede to this idea is not difficult to understand. It suits physics, where mechanistic reductionism applied to such unruly things as "consciousness" is the favored paradigm. It is also a view long entrenched in popular culture via science fiction, where sentient robots such as R2D2 and [C.sub.3]PO are merely the latest versions of machines which think, feel, care and behave like humans but have computers for "brains". These are accepted as characters on an equal standing with their flesh and blood compatriots.

A singular advantage of PMBCI is that it can be understood as a solution to the long-standing problem of mind-body dualism, the view that there is an absolute separation between mind, consciousness and self on the one hand and the physical body on the other. PMBCI would eliminate any remnant of dualism simply by calling the mind a computer located in the cranium. Somewhere in the intricacies of the brain-computer is a neuron, or a group of them, which "generate" a property called consciousness.

For a time, it was indeed thought that the brain operates as a computer. An important example of this is that memory, in a real human being, has been understood as the recovery of "memories" stored somewhere in the neurons of the brain. Since that is precisely how computers "remember" things as well--by storing data in digital form in "memory banks" and accessing the data when needed by means of programmed algorithms, the analogy between memory in computers and memory in persons seems perfect.

This is the ubiquitous storage theory of memory, and it is so widely accepted that one would not be far off base by saying it is universally understood to be how memory works. The trouble is that this widespread presupposition about remembering is seriously flawed, but to challenge it goes so violently against the dominant paradigm of present thinking that to suggest it is wrong is simply to ask for instant dismissal, accompanied by a stupendous horselaugh from just about everyone.

The underlying reason for the dismissal of objections to the storage theory is that the theory goes contrary to the dominant paradigm. This paradigm of scientific presuppositions has achieved near-universal acceptance, because physics--or to be more precise, the mathematical formulae that make up its language of description--has come to be understood as the science that describes the fundamental nature of everything, with its corollary that whatever physics cannot describe must be illusory. As one noted physicist has said, we and everything around us are only "atoms and empty space," and to think otherwise is to give in to a "figment of imagination." (3)

The dominant paradigm is based on three related ideas. The first is the view of time employed in physics (and accepted by just about everyone else). This view is what has been called geometrical time, or physical time. It is geometrical, because it is derived from the notion that time is a further dimension of space, and a time-line is a line of units of measure just as the three dimensions of space are also identified by lines of discrete homogenous units of measure. …

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