Sunday, April 16, 2006

More on Conscious Robots

Here's what my dear Auntie Sheila had to say about the Conscious Robots article....looking for opinions. Her response was far too good to leave in the comments page. BTW the original link I followed stated "$10,000 to whomever can disprove this theory"...maybe there's some money in it!
NEways, I haven't the time at the moment to really analyze the article (or her counter argument) since I'm immersed in a research project in Chi, as well as doing a bunch of rewiring at Duke St.! Oh, and this was for Matt because he's in a degree program in Artifical Intelligence at SFU.

"This article may have been mostly for Matt, but I have a few comments on this fascinating topic.

First of all, it is certainly true, as you say, that if we don't have free will, there's no point in pondering it.

But what if we do? In that event, our own free choices are a prime factor in determining the quality and the eventual outcome of our lives. If we admit, then, that we may have free will (and it certainly can't be established that we don't), it follows that we need to ponder this question, along with all of our choices, very carefully indeed.

Secondly, I would like to comment on some of the statements made in the article.

The following quote is attributed to Stephen Hawking: "The initial configuration of the universe may have been chosen by God, or it may itself have been determined by the laws of science. In either case, it would seem that everything in the universe would then be determined by evolution according to the laws of science, so it is difficult to see how we can be masters of our fate."

There is an assumption being made here that I find improbable. If we are going to postulate God as a First Cause, why assume that he would start everything in motion and then leave creation entirely to the laws of science? (Trust a scientist to see no alternative!) Is it not more probable that he would have some purpose in mind in going to all that bother? And if so, then isn't it likely that he would continue to be involved with creation, guiding its evolution?

One of the contentions of Christian theology is that human beings consist of something more than a material body -- that at the right moment (in creation or evolution) for the emergence of human beings, God was actively involved in giving them a soul.

Postulating the existence of the soul gives us a way around the question of whether the human brain can be "the only structure in the known universe that has the ability to gain control of the chemical reactions that make it up," since the brain wouldn't be the source of our freedom to choose; free will would presumably arise from the soul rather than the physical brain.

This soul, being immaterial, could not be studied in the way that science studies the material world; and its existence could not be proven or disproven by science. This fact gives us an answer to the observation that "we've never measured this freedom scientifically, never proven it." If the soul, which we cannot study directly, is the source of our free will, then it follows logically that we would have great difficulty measuring free will or proving its existence with the tools available to science.

Finally, an important consideration in this whole debate is the strong temptation many might feel to believe that we have no control over our choices. How comfortable to imagine that all of our undesirable behaviour is something we really can't help! Such thinking certainly allows us to evade responsibility for change -- and I suspect that is the primary reason why there is any debate at all.

What do the rest of you think?"

1 comment:

Matty Matt said...

Sorry about the late reply, but I haven't been doing much blogging lately...

I guess I would have to start by contrasting dualism with materialism. Rene Descartes was the most influential philosopher who grappled with the idea of non-material substance that exists beyond our physical world. Although a whole course can be given on Cartesian Dualism, almost all contemporary philosophers and more generally, cognitive scientists have abandoned this project, opting for some form or another of materialism

The most notorious problem with (Cartesian) Dualism is the mind body interaction problem. The question is: “How exactly does this mind stuff casually interact with the physical world?” Also, how does this happen without violating laws of physics (conservation of energy, etc)? Descartes tried unsuccessfully to bridge the non-spatial with the physical world, at one time speculating that this interaction occurred in the pineal gland through “animal spirits”. He also attempted to argue using ideas of God and “clear and distinct” thoughts, but with limited success.

Variations on dualism are still widely accepted by the general population, possibly due to the fact that dualism is “intuitive” (historical/cultural) because it jives with religious mythology; the afterlife in particular. The two main reasons why it has been abandoned by philosophers would probably be because of the meta-physical problem, and because the only way it can stand up is by appeal to God and religious notions. Historically, such appeal to religion has had little (no) explanatory power.

I guess most people involved in cognitive science today hold the view of consciousness as emergent, meaning that it is the product of (in our case, biological) evolution. Obviously, neuro-scientific data that is available today (which was not available to Descartes) seem to suggest a connection with higher regions of the brain and consciousness. Some hold the view that the development of primitive technology through the emergence of bipedalism in humans combined with development of the associative cortex and other areas involved in higher reasoning, in turn provided stimulus that enhanced the functioning of important cortical regions. We can think of this as a bidirectional relationship between consciousness and technology.

In the end, there seems to be something paradoxical about free will. On one hand, how can we have consciousness/free will without any environment in which to interact and make decisions? Experiments in cognitive science labs seem to have confirmed this, in failed attempts at creating disembodied consciousness. The only things that have been able to show signs of anything resembling consciousness are things that have some kind of body in one form or another. So on the other hand, free-will is then a product of (and subject to the laws of) the environment in which it is to be exercised…

We are the product of the universe, but more specifically this biosphere. So much of what we are is water, earth, trees, carbon, etc. We insist on this idea of free will, and there is something to this consciousness we all talk about, although no one can really define it. Obviously there are limits to free will: we simply can not choose to stop ingesting di-hydrogen oxide. How much of our interaction with the environment is free and how much of it is a product of the environment?


An interesting article: