Sunday, 25 March 2018

#483 Life as a pool table - part 6

The difficulty in explaining the evolution of mind
The idea that a mechanical robot can be created, or in this case become assembled and develop naturally over a long period of time might seem, if not plausible then at least imaginable, which is what I've tried to exemplify extremely crudely in parts 1 to 5.

The development of a mind however is much harder to imagine. The reason for this is that most people, myself included, have next to no detailed knowledge of how their mind works. I couldn't tell you off-hand, which clusters of my neurons and other bits of my brain are involved or even how they are involved, when I imagine eating ice cream, for example. I certainly don't feel or see those neurons doing their thing. I only have an imaginary experience that is somewhat analogous to eating ice cream. Also, strangely, I can imagine eating ice cream even if I'm out walking in the countryside where there's no ice cream. What's the point of that?

The reason for the evolution of mind
The point of the human mind is a good place to start when trying to explain it. We might not know how a dust robot could acquire a mind but we can certainly see how, if it managed such a feat, it would be helpful to its survival. For example, it could imagine future scenarios and start planning its actions in advance as well as imagining how the experience would feel. The more realistic the imagined experience, the more likely the robot would be to plan effectively. It might think to itself "I really feel like I'd better get this right!" and it would sense, using its senses, that the matter was important.

Comparing the evolution of the body with that of the mind
When I started writing this, I didn't know how a ball of dust could become a sophisticated robot. Instead, I took the basic features of the robot and one by one, tried to imagine how a simple dust ball could have interacted with its environment in ways that would lead to its acquisition of useful features one by one. Could we take the same approach with the dust robot's mind? We could have a go. But does that mean reducing the mind to little more than a bundle of neurons, dendrites, axons, electricity and water? No. The mind, or at least our experience of it, is much more than the sum of its parts.

The concept of emergent properties
An emergent property is, put simply, a property that a collection of things has but which the collection's individual parts do not have. For example, most of us understand the basic ingredients of a cake. We know how to combine them and have watched them come together to create a cake. Is a cake nothing more than a bundle of ingredients? Well, yes and no. Yes because it's only made from those ingredients and no because the experience of eating cake is completely different from eating a raw egg, a cup of flour, some milk, some sugar. You get the idea.

What does a single grain of flour taste like? Pretty much nothing. What does a single brain cell think like? Pretty much nothing. What does cake taste like if an ingredient or two are absent? A bit like the full version but not quite the same. What is your mind like if some of your memory or reactions are absent? A bit like the full version but not quite the same. Note that this goes for both the experience and the functionality. What's it like to be a dog? A bit like being a human but not quite the same. What's it like to be a mouse? A bit like being a dog but not quite the same. I'm talking theoretically here, before you accuse me of never having been a dog or a mouse...

To be continued


Fizzfan said...

I guess the point of imagining ice cream on a hike might be triggered by a physical need for sugar to replenish your energies and to listen out for the jingle of a Whippy van.
Memory development might be one of the most useful aspects of a developing mind for survival.
Imagining has other positive aspects too, like making something ordinary seem better, therefore making you happy.
I often hype up bedtime by imagining I’ve just returned from a disastrous mountain expedition akin to the film Touching The Void, or someone’s just rescued me from being homeless. A safe comfortable warm bed is one of life’s biggest blessings as far as I’m concerned.
I guess it’s a progressive unconscious awareness that’s been slowly building over a lifetime and gradually crystallised into a conscious thought that has never left me since.
It’s pointless, but it does make me appreciate a very ordinary daily thing and make me feel lucky.
It’s also made me more empathetic and generous towards homeless people so I guess that helps other people survive, who in turn might help me out if I became homeless. Cooperation = if I give, I increase my chances of survival.
Mountaineering disasters not so much because I’m a wuss and cannot get my head around people actively seeking out enormous physical effort and discomfort, along with a high potential of death, just to stand on top of something and say I got there.
To me, that’s a ‘What is the point of that?’

Cake recipe scenario is excellent. I’m also thinking that without the right temperature in the right sized tin, the optimum cake is not cooked. Perfection is not that common even with the right set of ingredients and circumstances.

My theory of animals is, food, shelter and how best to achieve that in the easiest way. I don’t think we’re much different, we’ve just heaped a lot of other complicated stuff on top of it. Intelligence? Juries out on that, but we’re stuck with it.

Poor news day today. Nothing good or happy:(
I did see some midges flying in the garden though, so nature is on track and in sync with the arrival of the first day of Spring!

Dan Copping said...

I hadn't thought of the need for sugar as I was just picking an example "out of thin air". Yes that is probably why I'd think of ice cream and why people eat it (otherwise it's just uncomfortably cold lumps of solid milk).

I love how you hype up bedtime. That's awesome. And imaginative.

It's like there's a karmic aspect to your attitude to the homeless - if you give, you propagate the idea of giving and hopefully it eventually gets back to you, if you need it.

Yes God knows all cakes aren't perfect.



OK if midges can make you feel good then I guess they're not all bad. I had previously thought them to be rather annoying.

Happy start of Spring.