Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Nightmare consequences of assuming the exclusive validity of the Brain-Thinking model

The problem with Brain-Thinking - the mind as brain as information-processor - as I described it yesterday, is not that it is utterly false. It is not false - it describes well many aspects of thinking.

The problem is that, firstly, it is merely a model - hence a partial truth: necessarily incomplete and distorted; and, secondly, that Brain-Thinking has captured belief in public discourse to such an extent that other understandings of thinking are assumed to be, not merely false: but impossible. Thirdly, following-on from monopolisation of public discourse - the assumption has invaded and colonised the mind itself.

Because people have come to assume (assume, mostly without thinking) that Brain-Thinking is the only possible model of thinking; Brain-Thinking has become a self-fulfilling assumption. Any thinking which does not fit the model of the mind as a biological-computer is regarded as childishly-mistaken or actively-delusional.

Since people do not wish to regard themselves as dumb or deluded; this has, over time, meant that our culture has restricted first its communications about thinking, then later (and increasingly) actual thinking itself, to a form which fits within the Brain-Thinking model.

In other words, actual thinking is now (mostly) restricted to automatic and externally-determined processing of information derived from sensory inputs (or from memories of sensory inputs). Actual thinking has become passive. People regard themselves as functioning like computers, driven by inputs in accordance with their processing software.

The possibilities of human change are increasingly seen in a transhumanist frame; where improvements to Men are conceptualised in terms of re-programming, or being enhanced by upgrades.

It seems quite natural to younger generations that the essence of a person could - in principle, and 'soon', they assume, in practice - be down-loaded from the biological-computer of the human brain into a silicon computer; or even translated to pure information, encoded in whatever convenient form is available (binary code stored in a hard drive, or captured in a single complex artifact). 

This is, indeed, a standard current trope of 'immortality' - that our-selves might live forever in the 'purest' essence of a characteristic pattern of information-processing.

Other types of thinking, especially Primary Thinking (for example genuine creativity or intuition, direct knowing, telepathic phenomena etc.) is either re-conceptualised into forms of information processing (which abolishes even the possibility of real creativity, intuition, direct knowing, 'telepathy'), or else they are rejected outright as naive or exploitative obsolete formulations - now superseded...

That Brain-Thinking is the only possible thinking has therefore passed swiftly from being an assumption - and an assumption which would be impossible to prove; into being treated as a fact: a fact-supported-by-overwhelming-evidence.

In other words, the exclusive truth of Brain-Thinking is (like the theory of evolution by natural selection) an example of metaphysics masquerading as a scientific discovery. As such, it is tyrannical - because a metaphysical assumption can never be disproved by any observation or experiment - since all possible (all evidentially-allowable) observations and experiments are interpreted within the metaphysical framework.

Consequently, many modern people are trapped by their assumptions into inhabiting a world of experience framed exclusively by Brain-Thinking - a wholly-determined world, with no possibility of freedom; a world which excludes the possibility of any reality beyond the five senses.

And - given inevitable imperfections and errors in bio-processing and memory; this is also a 'relativistic' world in which we can never be sure of anything.

In other words, an inescapable nightmare world; and a mind-set that makes it possible (for the first time in history) for rulers really to manipulate the thinking of everybody, forever.

(My echo of Orwell's phrase from 1984 is deliberate.)


Robert Brockman said...

I am a PhD student in computational neuroscience, and what you are talking about is a huge problem I have to deal with every day.

What is interesting is that almost everyone in CompNeuro is committed to metaphysical computationalism. The problen is that very few follow computationalism through to the end. They seem to be trying to use computationalism to get away from the idea of an intelligent creator, but this doesn't work, as the following line of reasoning shows:

If computationalism is true, then a simulated environment with sufficient precision will fool any intelligent being into thinking they are in a "real" world. Computationalism claims that such simulations are indeed "real" for all practical purposes. At present we can make some pretty good simulations, and we can expect that in a million years we could make a simulation that could fool any human now living. Since we can nest simulations (this is already done with games like Minecraft) and there is no fundamental limit to how deeply recursive such simulations can be, the odds that we are at the "top layer" of reality are vanishingly small. If metaphysical computuationalism is true, we are almost certainly living in a simulation.

So metaphysical computationalism strongly suggests simulationism. However, if we are in a simulation, the odds of the simulation program having come together by chance is basically zero relative to the likelihood that our simulation was *built by an intelligent creator* -- the very idea the atheistic materialist computationalists were trying to avoid! The metaphysics of computationalist Brain-Thinking you describe, applied *honestly and consistently*, bring us back around to the idea that there must be some sort of higher-order Mind that has unlimited access to everyone's brains, that built our Universe / simulation for some purpose, etc. Entities from the Higher Level of Simulation could manifest at our level as angels, demons, or even US as souls directly manipulating our brain matter as easily as flipping bits on a computer.

The problem thus isn't that the computationalist worldview is inescapable -- it totally is. The problem is that these people are *not honest*.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Robert - I take your point about the dishonest lack of follow-through - but your conclusion is only 'inescapable' if you ignore the fact that it rests upon metaphysical assumptions (i.e. assumptions regarding the ultimate nature of reality) which are Not inescapable - indeed, these are very rare, localised and recent metaphysical assumptions.

Robert Brockman said...

Yes, the metaphysical assumptions behind modern neuroscience are very unusual historically and may certainly be wrong. What I find interesting is that (approached honestly) even these odd metaphysical assumptions seem to get us back around to roughly the same place!

We should check to see whether there exists a set of apparently different *coherent* metaphysical assumptions that *applied consistently* leads to the same conclusions. This would indicate that the metaphysical assumptions may be fundamentally the same except for a "coordinate transformation."

In the example of computational neuroscience, the accepted paradigm of Brain Thinking seems to *imply* the very high probability of some other kind of thinking operating at a level "outside" or "above" our physical universe, as well as the existence of a Creator. We should thus consider the possibility that your metaphysical assumptions and that of the neuroscientists may be more similar than they seem at first.

Challenge: can we come up with a coherent / internally consistent set of metaphysics that *doesn't* bring us back around to this same place? I suspect that we can't: there may be certain conclusions that turn out to be True regardless of the starting metaphysical assumptions provided we are sufficiently honest about how we approach things. Hence, "Seek and ye shall find."

Bruce Charlton said...

@Robert - While I recognise the similarities you state; there is a collosal difference, at least from my perspective, between living in a real-reality created by our loving Father (or Parents); and living in a simulated-reality created by some unknown entity (which may, or may not, be divine). In the first we can have faith and trust - in the second not.