Blog Comments

  1. Mike1984's Avatar
    Well, last time I checked, seaweed didn't have a brain at all, so I'd call that pretty dumb :p
  2. Kotonoha's Avatar
    if by "really dumb" you mean "as intelligent as seaweed"

  3. Mike1984's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Kotonoha
    What if there were aliens and they were really dumb and nowhere near as advanced as life on earth

    Why does nobody ever consider that possibility, it's always "super advanced aliens who are better than humans in every way"
    Well, that is quite likely, if by "really dumb" you mean "as intelligent as seaweed", since intelligent life has only existed on this planet for 2 million or so years, whereas life of some form has existed for several billion.

    However, given how long humans have been around (2 million years or so), the likelihood of us finding sapient alien life that is not far more advanced than us is very low (unless most or all intelligent species kill theirselves off before they can survive that long). 2 million years is nothing relative to the lifetime of a planet, so the likelihood of us coming across a race of similar or lower advancement to us that is still recogniseably sapient is low.
  4. Satehi's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Kotonoha
    What if there were aliens and they were really dumb and nowhere near as advanced as life on earth

    Why does nobody ever consider that possibility, it's always "super advanced aliens who are better than humans in every way"
    There is an infographic on this somewhere. The current levels of human technological advancement we have today were reached extremely quickly, so the probability of meeting a civilization on our level is pretty much near 0. We will either meet bacteria (which has been around for a pretty darn long time), dumb animals (and maybe some really primitive beings capable of learning), or huge techfags, since they can be anywhere on the scale of time and development beyond us. Our current civilization's development is like, 10,000 years? That's barely anything in terms of the time that life has taken to evolve to our current selves.
  5. Aiden's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Kotonoha
    What if there were aliens and they were really dumb and nowhere near as advanced as life on earth

    Why does nobody ever consider that possibility, it's always "super advanced aliens who are better than humans in every way"
    Because that would be vaguely innovative, and people hate that.
  6. NZXT's Avatar
    Well, if an Alien civilization was able to peer off into distant galaxies and observe other forms of life, which this scenario calls for, they would have to be significantly more advanced than us, who can only glance at near by galaxies- much less distant ones, and to be able to observe them to such an extent... Yes, significantly more advanced. But, then, their civilization- themselves as a species would likely have been around much longer then us.

    When you hear scenarios like this, it isn't a smite against human progress, just logic.
  7. Kotonoha's Avatar
    What if there were aliens and they were really dumb and nowhere near as advanced as life on earth

    Why does nobody ever consider that possibility, it's always "super advanced aliens who are better than humans in every way"
  8. NZXT's Avatar
    Oh, but it is. Perception might as well be reality...

    Interesting thought Counter Guardian.
    Updated June 15th, 2012 at 09:29 AM by NZXT
  9. Counterguardian's Avatar
    Good to see we're on the same page now virzi.

    However, there is some housekeeping issues that need clearing up first, that is we need a proper definition of a "soul" to work with for the purposes of this discussion. It is a often seen situation where a disagreement in perspective between two people stems exclusively from a differing definition of a key term that forms the basis for their arguments.

    I do not have a definition of the soul that fully accounts for over two thousand years of Judeo-Christian theology, but I will use the word "soul" in the way set out formally by Descartes - that a soul is the fundamental essence of an individual's existence that can also exist independently of a brain or body. Or put another way, the soul is the bare minimum that Descartes' Demon can possibly work with to create the illusion of life. As such, I am leaving the existence of Heaven or Ultimate Judgement open as I am only interested in the soul as a method to determine whether to be "human" is also to be "completely physical".

    I define it now in respect for my brief education as a philosopher and in homage to their syntax, and do not intend for this definition to feel like an artificial constraint on any argument you may make. If you feel it lacking in any form, please feel free to make amendments to it in order to ensure we are discussing the same thing.

    Now it could be said that my view on what a "soul" could be has effectively backed myself into a corner, in that we all know we all possess this feeling of "me". When I stub my toe I feel pain, and the language also suggests that there is a "me" that feels it.

    But with your view on the nature of souls, I understand that you would believe a lion would not be capable of being subject to Descartes Demon, or if it could it would not be a soul that would be the bare minimum that would be tricked into believing its life, but the Demon would rather have to work with its brain.

    This seems very odd to me, as wouldn't it be simpler to say that all living creatures had the same basic "minimum" for existence? Wouldn't it be easier to say that souls don't exist, or that all living creatures had souls?

    Which leads to say that all humans have souls also creates a disjoint between that and evolutionary history. At what stage did humanity gain a soul? At the neanderthal branching? At the branching of the homo genus? The old apes? The vertebrates? The notochords?

    Contrary to what the media and introductory biology may tell you, the distinction between species is purely academic. We are all evolving in every second and minute of our lives, and none exemplifies that more than antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Life is not a set of categories but rather a gradient of creatures that are slightly different, spread so far over time that they seem irredeemably different.

    Returning to my example of mental illness, let us consider the cases in which a souls play a part in mental illness. There are two possible scenarios that a soul can play in mental illness - as we know now through the fact that they can be treated through drugs to be proof that the brain affects behavior.

    1) The soul is unaffected by the mental illness, and the observed effect is merely due to the fact that the soul and body no longer interact properly.

    From this it logically follows that from the perspective of the soul, and assuming the soul is the "independent feeling existence of 'me'", being mentally ill will have the sensation of being a driver in a car that doesn't obey your commands - because the "soul" cannot drive the "body" in the way it intends. A truly terrifying situation to be in. Alternately -

    2) The soul is corrupted alongside the body in mental sickness.

    From this, it logically follows that the soul must be affected by the body and therapy treats both, which goes against the theological stance that the soul is eternal and its only value is affected by sin or virtue. If the soul is able to be affected by physical stimuli such as antidepressants, then it is the same as being able to be poked at with a stick (which, in a sense, is a larger antidepressant :P), which means the soul must be physically interactable with.

    Before constructing your reply, first realize that these two points are simply "soul is corrupted" and "soul is fine", that is it logically covers both possibilities. One can argue that "the soul is temporarily corrupted" or "temporarily detached", but it will still logically mean either of the two situations I have pointed out.

    Thus the insult to psychiatric patients lies in the consequences of the first point. I was reluctant to fully illustrate my point, but I will now state that I have been afflicted with chronic clinical depression for most of my life, and I still remember those days as clearly as it was yesterday.

    I honestly believed I was useless.

    I honestly believed that no matter how hard I tried, I will never be a man great enough to carve his own legacy.

    I honestly believed I was going to die alone (well, that bit might be true).

    And if you told me that "it's okay, that was just your brain, it wasn't you", I would definitely become angry. Entering the second decade of my life, I never felt any detachment of my self and control of my body as you would expect from the point, but rather felt that it was me even throughout the depression.

    I pointed out in my previous statement that a symptom of Parkinson's disease is paranoia. Now if we were to tell a Parkinson's patient the paranoia wasn't him, it would be an insult as he honestly believes the things he does, with very real thoughts and very real conclusions. It would be the same as telling him that he doesn't exist.

    I feel that "responsibility" in terms of crimes under insanity isn't really a reflection of the true ethical state of things, although as with ethics in general we could discuss this for lifetimes and still not agree. Killing is wrong, but the courts and our society believe the circumstances are forgivable, in the same way one can be forgiven if a knee-tap caused me to kick my doctor in the gonads. It was an unconscious reaction.

    Similarly, I believe CS Lewis' statements about the soul were less based on a real consideration on whether or not they were physical or not, but rather used as an ethical illustration. Never mind what it would feel like to cross the line and have your soul sent to hell but then redeem and become a model citizen and have your soul return, but Lewis' quote seems to me to be a validation for capital punishment. "His soul has been condemned by God anyway, so we can kill his body in the name of justice."

    However, I would like the discussion to stay on the existence of things as opposed to the ethics. My preferred discussion topics is Philosophy of Science, and Epistemological Philosophy and Theological Philosophy is already stepping outside my area of comfort, hence the large and mostly un-succinct replies.
  10. virzi's Avatar
    I'm sorry for the wall of text, but for some reason my post does not seem to reflect the spacing that I made between paragraphs when I was writing it. It may have to do something with my phone, which I am using to write. I'll edit it when I get home, because it really does look awful right now

    EDIT: Much better now.
    Updated April 26th, 2012 at 12:35 PM by virzi
  11. virzi's Avatar
    Do forgive me, Counterguardian. It seems that I indeed completely misinterpreted your initial comment.... But moving on.

    If I understood you correctly (hopefully this time), you responded that a). You have concluded that the thought of an eternal soul is an insult to victims of mental disorders, and b). Even it a soul does exist, the brain can still function on its own, rendering it useless. Also, c). There is no such thing as a soul to begin with.

    Let me start by saying that I agree completely with you on the fact that even if souls existed, brains could function without them. I said earlier that presumably, humans are the only animals with souls, so saying that a brain cannot function without a soul would be completely disregarding all the other animals on the planet that indeed live with only a brain. This brings me to a point once made by Christian writer C.S. Lewis on one of his works (the screwtape letters, I believe). Basically, he postulates that if a person has committed many sins, and have shown a permanent unwillingness to repent, their souls will go to hell before their bodies die, leaving said bodies active and alive, but soulless. The question is whether what remains is a human, or not. It's obviously a human body, but considering that in this scenario we have hypothetically accepted the existence of the soul, it seems to me that humans need both their bodies and their souls to be complete, instead of being just husks that only react to pleasure and instinct. Christian doctrine actually makes it a point to clarify that once a person's soul ascends to heave, their bodies will be reborn in a perfect state, because both are needee to make a human.This of course can all be disproved if souls do not exist, but as I said before, in the hypothetical scenario that the spiritual does exist, souls are not necessary to keep a physical body active, but they are essential to keeping our humanity.

    I read your example about the Parkinson's patient, and in all honesty, I don't understand why the concept of having a soul would be insulting to them. It may be insulting to the capabilities of the human body (as in saying that the body is incapable of creating things as complex as emotions without the aid of a soul) but I would rather like to think that having an immortal component to your existence makes a human even more special, rather than insulting him or her. As for the relationship between souls and disease: I previously mentioned that the brain and the soul co-exist; the malfunctioning of one is detrimental to the entire product. Souls may indeed be responsible for emotions, but if the brain is not doing it's job, the body cannot be expected to work, regardless of the state of the soul. Also, just to clarify, people are not responsible for the acts they do while being insane, simply because they have no control over said acts. Therefore, doing something that would normally count as a sin while having mental problems does not count as one, and so these people will not go to hell for actions taken in this state.

    Finally, for your final point (concluding that there is no soul), I'm afraid that I am not sure myself. Your stance is, of course, completely valid.

    It's always good to talk about these things without having people breathing down your neck. Thank you for the interesting conversation, Counterguardian. It's been a pleasure.
    Updated April 26th, 2012 at 12:34 PM by virzi
  12. Counterguardian's Avatar
    And Dark Pulse, does it really matter?

    Descartes' Demon is an oft-used philosophical trap to throw budding philosophers off their game, and integration with the bigger picture is needed to make heads or tails of that conundrum. The human brain, and thus the human experience, is no more than an integrative knowledge map formed from the accumulated sensory and external input from the outside world (whether or not that "outside" is what we think it is does not play a factor in this conclusion). Your senses act to create logical constraints for a proposition - like "is this apple really here?" - so you pick it up.

    If it didn't exist you wouldn't be able to touch it.

    You try again, and sniff it.

    If it didn't exist you wouldn't be able to smell it.

    You try again, and look at it.

    You bump it against something and look for a sound.

    You taste it.

    You construct other tests that logically result in a yes-or-no response.

    And if all of these avenues are tested and exhausted, and there is no longer any way for you to truly know or test for the alternate hypothesis - then shouldn't it be accepted as reality? The trap here is the thought "but what if there's something outside of these test parameters?", and the real answer is "what else can you do?". Nothing.

    Put another way, if something is unknowable and untestable, can it be a truth?

    Your life is the way it is. It has as much meaning as you want it to have. And thinking about Descartes' Demon is about as meaningful as my trying to imagine a four-sided triangle. Descartes' Demon doesn't keep you up at night because on some fundamental level, that basic part of your brain that tests and integrates results to form your life experiences knows it has tested all it can, and knows. It knows that even if it was out there, there's nothing it can do about it until it knows it. The concept is nothing more than a dream.
  13. Counterguardian's Avatar
    Thank you for commenting virzi, it is a pleasure to discuss these topics once again.

    I believe you may have misinterpreted some of my quoted comments. I do believe that it is possible to impart emotion onto a robot, and I stated that it will be done not through raw programming but rather through the reconstruction of the cognitive circuits that are the basis for what we perceive as "human emotion" and thus having emotion come out on its own. In my example I suggested a hypothetical "robot" that could compare, reflect and estimate experiences and thus experience emotions such as fear, and concluded that such a system requires no complex programming or commands beyond the desire to live.

    In my experiences with science, philosophy and theology alike, I have come to conclude that our emotions or - as some would like to refer to the human condition - "the soul" is purely physically based. To postulate the existence of an "eternal soul" or some other independent lifeforce in my opinion would be the greatest insult possible to victims and patients of mental diseases. Considering Parkinson's disease as an example, the existence of a soul as a player in this system would result in terrifying and paradoxial consequences in the course of the diseases progression if we pause to examine interpretations of the paranoia and aggression that results.

    Is the "immortal soul" corrupted by bodily diseases? If so, what makes it different from the idea that the human experience is simply the brain itself?
    Is the "eternal soul" unable to affect a brain that is afflicted by disease, giving a sensation of being in the driver's seat of a car that is driving itself? If so, then it is also a concession that the brain can act on its own without a soul, essentially disproving itself.

    Thus, I reject the idea of spiritual powers in the human condition on the grounds that it is a purely visceral response and ultimately disgraces men and women that suffered mental sickness, and therefore conclude that through determination of the circuitry of the human brain which is under way through the Human Blue Brain Project (a project that recently put forward a bid for a billion dollar grant to enable it to fully reconstruct every single process in the human brain down to the individual ion channels), I agree with you that it will be possible to create a sentient synthetic mind. I respect your open-mindedness with regards to both spiritual and physical possibilities. But for myself, being educated in philosophy and the biomedical sciences - especially neuroscience, has meant that the same two possibilities is akin to the "possibility" that the sky is either blue or green, when I have already taken a peek out the window and have seen it is blue.
  14. Dark Pulse's Avatar
    We are all aware that the senses can be deceived, the eyes fooled. But how can we be sure our senses are not being deceived at any particular time, or even all the time? Might I just be a brain in a tank somewhere, tricked all my life into believing in the events of this world by some insane computer? And does my life gain or lose meaning based on my reaction to such solipsism?

    ~ Project PYRRHO, Specimen 46, Vat 7. Activity recorded M.Y. 2302.22467. (TERMINATION OF SPECIMEN ADVISED)
  15. virzi's Avatar
    For thousands of years, human emotion has been directly linked to spirituality. Those that believe in the existence of something beyond the physical and the material (ergo, the existence of souls) will say that emotions are precisely what separate us from all other life forms on the planet. In this case, emotions are directly linked to the soul in that it allows us, humans, to overcome animal instinct; if all other animals had souls too, then they would feel emotion as we do. For example, a lion can only feel one of two things: comfort or discomfort. The standard for both of those reactions is of course, instinct, and if we assume that souls and true emotions are directly linked, then it all fits together. The conclusion here would be that emotions cannot be replicated through any material means, making it a physical impossibility. Note that I say "physical" here, since souls would be created through spiritual means (like in Judeo-Christian mythos).

    On the other hand, there is the possibility that only the material exists, and therefore emotions are not beyond the things that we, as humans, can interact with. In your blog, you postulated that it would be impossible to replicate emotions in a robot, since it would be emulating human emotion, rather than itīs own. To this, I propose that human ingenuity will eventually be enough to overcome this hurdle; for example, would it be unfeasible that we obtained a clear understanding of how emotions work (if emotions are a physical process, then they can and will eventually be understood through examination), could we not place this robot in an isolated environment and see how he develops without human influence to taint the "purity" of his emotions? If emotions really do work through nerves and electrical impulses, they are no more than a more advanced form of the instinct that we see in animals all over the world, just like our ability to reason is a result of an evolutionary process that has taken millions of years to come to fruition.

    In conclusion, if reasoning and emotional abilities are a product of a spiritual power, we cannot replicate them as we are know. However, if said spiritual power does not exist, then it is only a matter of time before we build synthetics that are able to erase the line between humans and machines. After all, everything is simply part of a process.
  16. SeiKeo's Avatar
    Brava, CG, brava.
  17. MZeroX's Avatar
    yeah, I'd categorize that entire biological process as "computing", but "computing" as it is syntactically correct for the carbon-based processor: the brain.
    So the running numbers and predefined logic gates of a silicon or what-have-you "computer" cpu is just the syntactically correct form for itself. I always thought that the difference in physical constitution was enough to imply that much of a difference without causing disagreement. Guess I'll need to think that through some more.

    Eh, whenever you run into dead end in a proof, you either use addition and then a de morgan's transformation, or you make an asspull assumption that looks like what you want, sort of. At least that's what I do, and it works more often than not. ^^;
  18. Aiden's Avatar
    Moral relativism is so flimsy, because it is self-contradictory.

    I prefer the assertion I made in my university Ethics class: the only moral position we are capable of gathering evidence to confirm, at the moment, is that humans make this stuff up, and the parts backed by those with the power and influence to see them spread and stick are what we end up with. Whether this undermines the validity of values depends entirely on your priorities.

    Anyway: is your mental state disruptive and/or threatening to the majority of lives of those around you? (or even just a small, vocal minority of them?)

    If the answer is yes to either (or both), then you can look forward to being treated as mentally ill without personal input being relevant to the discussion.

    As a psychology major, this prospect doesn't bother me at all. But then, I tend to take a utilitarian outlook on things.
  19. Counterguardian's Avatar
    Relativism is a rather fun concept, especially when you bundle it with natural selection. It tends to cause a lot of controversy in the right (or wrong) contexts.

    I have little experience with bioethics so I would love to have both a ethical philosopher and a medical student in this discussion, but the underlying problem is the question between the right to personal autonomy and the carer's duty of non-maleficence. Where do you draw the line? Does the possibility of abuse mean that it isn't right to draw a line to begin with?
  20. Counterguardian's Avatar
    Yes that is a very real possibility. In fact, some research indicates that our thought and value processes obey quantum logic rather than classical logic. It might be a bit of a stretch to say that this quantum weirdness on the macro scale may be due to these fluctuations in neuron activation due to the quantum jiggling (note a neuron only "hears" a signal if the voltage across its membrane reaches -50mV at the
    axon hillock
    relay center
    due to these ion movements).

    As for the neurocircuitry issue, if we were to break it down to the body's basic physiology in the case of high blood pressure we observe the following set of reflexes:

    High blood pressure stretches arteries and triggers nerve firing -> efferent signal travels to brainstem -> neuron at brainstem triggers both 1) a neuron that disables the neuron responsible for noradrenaline/epinephrine release, and 2) enables the neuron responsible for slowing heart rate

    This system that integrates the brain as a "processing center" is in fact a self-sufficient set of "logic gates" which does not even seem dependent on the location of where this stuff happens but rather takes place in the brain out of convenience, because the same reflex pathway I detailed above might even trigger responses due to branching to other loops like "the response for fatigue" or "mental energy and attentiveness". Expand this system to encompass the whole body, and suddenly you have a self-sufficient system that describes the entire human condition; with the exception that consciousness is no longer a "mystery factor" floating around and that all our thought processes are actually knee-jerk reactions to things such as touch, smell and sight.

    The thing to consider with respect to neurocircuitry is that it doesn't seem to "obey" a set of functions, but it seems rather to reflect a set of circumstances. Surgically cutting a monkey's median nerve at the hand removes the activity at the area of the brain responsible for feeling things at the palm. If the brain was a machine, you would expect it to remain that way until the nerves rejoined or a similar event - instead we observe the brain areas that "process" the nearby nerves that supply the back of the hand and the pinky/ring fingers end up invading the space used by the median nerve. Similarly when researchers sewed two fingers together so they moved as one, the brain maps for those two fingers merged into one. The nerves of the brain can be seen as merely a set of highways, and reflexes use them to commute from sensing to reaction - and also take shortcuts if there are places in the brain that aren't being used in the same way you would drive in a bus lane during off-peak hours.

    It is a kind of "computing" if you really want to put it that way, but not in the common sense that a computer does by running numbers and pre-defined functions in its construction.

    Personally, I find it hard to compute proofs. I usually end up with what I started with.
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