The Brain is a Computer–Maybe not

Notes from a panel at Penguicon Satrurday afternoon

2:30 to 4 PM Maple A Brain-As-Computer Metaphor Karl Schroeder, Ron Hale-Evans, Dr. Jonathan “Sullydog” Sullivan Cutting-edge SF author Karl Schroeder joins Ron Hale-Evans, author of Mind Performance Hacks, and Dr. Jonathon Sullivan MD PhD in neurology, to consider “The brain is a computer, the mind is software.” That’s been the ruling metaphor of cognitive science, neurology and AI studies for decades. The software of thought is supposed to operate much like that of a computer, going from discrete state to discrete state. However a new study from Cornell shows that our thoughts change continuously; the brain works “in shades of grey”. And there are good reasons to think that the mind is not an artifact of the brain alone, but is extended into the environment as well

Is consciousness necessary for intelligence?

Consider “Blind sight”–seeing something without knowing that one has seen it

If you think of the brain as a fixed array of neurons, each of which is either on or off, then indeed you are talking about a computer, but…

Neuroplasticity: The brain can change.

The brain is not just array of neurons-other tissues are clearly doing important things .

We don’t have one physical model to describe nature at the most fundamental level: We need both quantum mechanics and relativity. So it is not surprising that we need more than one model to describe the brain.

Direct interaction with environment. A baseball player does not catch a fly ball by solving the differential equations that govern the ball’s. Also consider how cockroaches scatter when you catch them. This is automatic–not conscious.

“Consciousness cannot be aware of its own absence”

Roger Penrose: Consciousness as quantum gravity effect.

The cognitive system is not just the brain: It is the brain plus its environment.

Consciousness may have a very low bandwidth…may not use much of brain’s power. Large amounts of what we do is unconscious. Consciousness just along for the ride..is it important? With experience you do more decisions automatically. Consciousness is for novel situations. Mastery of something is to make it unconscious.

“It’s all a blur”…consiousness attenuated.

You do something automatically, an your brain “back dates” the decision to do it. This has moral and theological implications “An array of neurons did this not me. But …. These experiments have been challenged.

“It’s all a blur”…consiousness attenuated.

Partial knowledge is often enough…lot of people know how to use computers, but few of them really know how they work.

Ask a pure mathematician “what is a number”–not an easy question.

References:

On the Origin of Objects

Smolin on quantum gravity.

The User Illusion

Synaptic Self

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