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The Mind's I: Fantasies and Reflections of Self and Soul

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 30, 2005

    Still well worth reading but dated

     This  is a followup to Hofstadter´s  famous Godel, Escher, Bach (1980)(see my review).   Like its predecessor, it is concerned mostly with the foundations of artificial  intelligence, but it is composed mostly of stories, essays and extracts from a wide range of people, with a few essays  by DH and DD and comments to all of the contributions by one or the other of them.  Much  of it is very reductionistic in tone(ie, explain everything  in terms of  physics/math) but as Hofstadter notes, the quantum  field equations of  a water  molecule are too complex to solve(and so is a vacuum)and nobody has a clue about  how to explain the way properties emerge(eg, water properties from H2 and 02) as  you  go up the scale from the vacuum to the brain, so reductionism, like  holism,  requires a great deal of faith.  There is not only the  uncertainty principle,  and chaos(eg, no way to predict how a pile  of sand will fall) but the logically  necessary incompleteness  of math, which is now fused at the highest levels with  physics(eg,  string theory). Godels incompleteness theorem was a central theme  of  his first book. This is really a  psychology text, though perhaps none of the authors realized it.  It is about human  behavior and reasoning¿about why we think and act the  way we  do.  But(like all such discussion until recently) none of the explanations are really explanations.  Nobody discusses  the mental  mechanisms  involved.  In fact, like most ´explanations` of behavior the texts here and the comments  by DH and DD are often more  interesting  for what kinds of things  they accept as explanations(and omit), than for the  actual content.  As with all reasoning and explaining one  now wants  to know  which of the brains  inference engines are  activated to produce the authors biases and results.  It  is the  relevance  filters which  determine what sorts of things we can  accept  as  appropriate data for each engine and their automatic  and unconscious   operation and interaction that determines   what we can accept as  an answer.    Cognitive and evolutionary psychology are still not evolved enough to provide full  explanations but an interesting start has been made.  Boyer´s  `Religion  Explained` shows what a modern scientific explanation of human behavior looks like.  Pinker´s `How  the mind  Works` is a  good general survey. See several of  the  recent  texts(ie, 2004 onwards)  with  evolutionary psychology  in the title or the web for further info. We now recognize that art,music,math,language and religion are all results of  the automatic  functioning of the inference engines.  This is why we can expect similarities and puzzles  and  inconsistencies or incompleteness and often, dead  ends. The  brain has no  general intelligence but numerous specialized modules  or inference engines, each of which works on certain aspects of  some problem and the results are then  added.  Hofstadter, like  everyone, can only generate or recognize explanations  that are  consistent with the operations of his own inference engines, which  were  evolved to deal with such things as resource accumulation,  coalitions in small  groups, social exchanges and the evaluation  of the intentions of other persons.  It is amazing they can produce  art or music or math and not surprising that  figuring out how  they themselves work together to produce overall intelligence  or  consciousness or choice is way beyond reach even 25 years later.    The  article on Turing (and many others) left me thinking- ´Oh where  is Wittgenstein  when we need him!´  Turing attended W´s lectures on the foundations of math but he does not seem to have understood them(not surprising as almost nobody else did).  As W so famously said, decades  before this book was  written--`Philosophy is the battle against  the bewitchment of our intelligence  by language`(or we mi

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2000

    Have you ever wondered who are 'YOU'?

    Being an engineer, it's not very common to make a stop to think about philosophical issues as self, soul and self-perception. However, not only the articles about artificial intelligence and simulation (Turing) but also the poetical fiction of Borges and Lem, trap you into an enlightening spiral of self-consciousness and discovering. Denett and Hofstadter made a wonderful job synthesising and giving fluidity to an otherwise complex -and possibly unrelated- set of knowledge.

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