Definitely something to enjoy:
Archive for January, 2007
New Steven Pinker article on Consciousness:
with good links to related articles.
Steven Pinker recognizes in this article that the “I” problem has been over-estimated. However, despite a parenthetical moment of doubt, he does not recognize that the conscious/unconscious question is not a real problem. Science has long recognized that old problems can become meaningless over time. This is indeed the case with the Cartesian mind/body dichotomy, which for so long was the focus of intense scholarly and scientific scrutiny. Nowadays no cognitive or neuroscientist will argue against the prevailing wisdom that every aspect of the mind is nothing more than a consequence of brain activity.
Steven Pinker divides the problem of consciousness into two further problems –a first “easy” problem and a second “hard” problem. I don’t think there is a second problem, and the first is neither easy nor hard, it’s just the core of neuroscience–or should be. New developments in the field, such as the discovery of mirror neurons, have shed light on problems that we did not understand before. As Pinker points out, a neuroscientist is capable of reading the mind of a person just by observing the blood flow in their brain. And this can be done with a degree of precision so high that it is possible to distinguish between someone thinking they are driving a car, someone thinking they are seated watching TV at home and someone pretending he is talking. There are many real problems in the field that remain to be investigated. For instance, there is the question of the matching of mental and physical representations, whether inside a single brain or involving several individuals—what is traditionally referred to as the type/type or token/token problem. Manipulating consciousness is another immense–and delicate– field of research and Pinker mentions it in his article. Surgeons are able to stimulate a brain in such a way that a patient is incapable of distinguishing between these induced hallucinations and reality. Neuroscience is capable of creating a whole new kind of “virtual” experience, and also of improving existing reality by attacking mental problems such as memory loss or depression. Better human-machine interfaces could be created, thereby improving the communcation channel between humans and computers, which at present consists of someone typing on a keyboard, touching a screen or moving a mouse. What of the claims made on behalf of newly released Operating Systems, claims that they are much more sophisticated because they use “new” old-fashioned windows, which look better just because they are now transparent or simulate a 3D environment embedded in a flat screen? Software enginneering could also take advantage of a new kind of interaction between the brain and software through better interdisciplinary research.
Greg Chaitin is preparing a book that promises to surpass even Meta-Math, his distinguished previous publication. A draft of it, entitled “IS GOD A COMPUTER PROGRAMMER? Essays on Leibniz, Complexity & Philosophy” can be accessed online at:http://www.cs.auckland.ac.nz/~chaitin/dp2.html There is a great reproduction of a medallion commemorating Leibniz’s discovery of binary arithmetic.