Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Review of Kurzweil


My review of Ray Kurzweil’s recent book How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed appears in the April 2013 issue of First Things

12 comments:

seanrobsville said...

"In How to Create a Mind, Kurzweil presents a provocative exploration of the most important project in human-machine civilization—reverse engineering the brain to understand precisely how it works and using that knowledge to create even more intelligent machines."

The phrase head against a brick wall comes to mind.

Anonymous said...

Surely the pattern recognition of a triangle as concept is just a higher order level of recognition than the phantasm of a particular triangle. When you see a shape with three straight sides, again, you will note it had a quality like many others you have seen and you might simplify it for future purposes as a class of 'triangle'.

I am not sure how we can assert that animals dont use concepts, just phantasms. That is an empirical matter that I am not sure we can ever prove much as we cant prove other minds have concepts not phantams like our own except on trust.

seanrobsville said...

I sometimes wonder whether the distinction between discursive and non-discursive thought processes corresponds to the difference between machine-processible and non machine-processible mental activities.

grodrigues said...

@Anonymous:

"I am not sure how we can assert that animals dont use concepts, just phantasms. That is an empirical matter that I am not sure we can ever prove much as we cant prove other minds have concepts not phantams like our own except on trust."

There is a little difference between other minds and animals: other people have syntactic language, engage in discursive thought, do mathematics, raise a culture, etc.

I suppose we could say that animals have rational capacity while refraining from any activity that is distinctive of such capability; but then at least of the courtesy to extend the same privilege to plants, rocks and electrons.

Anonymous said...

@grodrigues 'I suppose we could say that animals have rational capacity while refraining from any activity that is distinctive of such capability' It depends how you define what such activity would be.

Dogs when seeing a new kind of ball won't need to treat it as a new thing unrelated to any prior higher level concept they have come across before for example. When you throw a new ball that is different size and shape to an old one (different phantasm) they anticipate its behaviour which presumably is because they recognise it as of a type, concept, that behaves in a certain way...

grodrigues said...

@Anonymous:

"When you throw a new ball that is different size and shape to an old one (different phantasm) they anticipate its behaviour which presumably is because they recognise it as of a type, concept, that behaves in a certain way..."

We do not need to invoke the capability to abstract and form the concept of ball or the capability to make the intellective judgment that such and such instantiates the universal ball to explain the behavior of animals; the powers of sensation, memory and imagination (in the sense of the ability to recombine images) and what we, for lack of a better name, could call, perceptual or sensory intelligence, suffice.

James said...

“We do not need to invoke the capability to abstract and form the concept of ball or the capability to make the intellective judgment that such and such instantiates the universal ball to explain the behavior of animals”

Nor, strictly speaking, do we need to invoke the capability for abstraction in order to explain the behavior of other humans. It makes a whole lot more sense to do so, sure, but on the other hand some animal behaviors are enough like concept-formation that whether some animals can abstract remains controversial. Thus you clearly overstate your case to ask why we don’t “extend the same privilege to plants, rocks and electrons”.

Do any non-human animals possess the ability to reason? Dunno. But it remains an open question. (If one’s religious commitments preclude even considering the matter, fine — but that obviously doesn’t apply universally.)

Anonymous said...

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/02/putnam-on-causation-intentionality-and.html

Anonymous said...

James and grodrigues

I understand that we can look at the behaviour of our imaginary dog playing with a ball and find more mechanical explanations which do not require a capability to abstract and form concepts etc but why? And how do we know? If we werent humans with introspection we might think the same about them as well and as you note James, we don't even know for sure other humans really do.

It seems unreasonable to assume that is the case, maybe the dog has a far lower capacity but of a similar kind to ourselves.

James said...

“maybe the dog has a far lower capacity but of a similar kind to ourselves.”

For the record I believe something like this, although I’m unprepared to serve up a comprehensive defense. Over the years I’ve observed domestic animals engaging in behaviors that seem too much like rudimentary problem-solving. Such behaviors can be explained in other ways, but at some point we’re inventing epicycles and deferents to avoid concluding that animals possess anything like reason.

That said: my only real point above was to point out how this position isn’t prima facie totally absurd.

Anonymous said...

Timely article on this subject from Lapham quarterly... http://www.laphamsquarterly.org/

grodrigues said...

@Anonymous:

"I understand that we can look at the behaviour of our imaginary dog playing with a ball and find more mechanical explanations which do not require a capability to abstract and form concepts etc but why? And how do we know?"

If all the activities animals engage in do not call for a capacity for reason, then why should we presume that they have such a capacity? For why would Nature (anticipated apologies for the anthropomorphism) endow animals with a capacity that that they absolutely have no need for? Nature does nothing in vain, so the saying goes, and it would be futile and wasteful in the extreme, not to mention actually detrimental, conjuring up an animal in the planet with a capacity for reason and yet not only having no need for such a capacity, but showing none of the distinct manifestations of such a capacity. How could the feral spirit of Evolution select such a capacity? And if your only justification is that we do not know, as we have no access to their private experiences, then as I asked, why don't you say the same thing about plants? Or rocks? Or just about anything in the universe for that matter? Plants lack the powers of sensation and locomotion you say, which are presupposed by a reasoning capacity? Well, by the same logic, how do you know? You cannot answer that that is just their behavior, for that would be conceding my point. Maybe you will tell some story pawned off from biology books how such capacities require such and such a physical substrate to be realized? But once again by the same logic, that would be begging the question, as such capacities could be realized by hitherto unknown structures. And why is this quasi-religious insistence on wanting animals to have a capacity for reason, when they themselves show no inclination of manifesting it? Was this blog infiltrated by PETA minions?