[p2p-research] is the mind a computer

Michel Bauwens michelsub2004 at gmail.com
Sat Nov 7 19:07:40 CET 2009

J. Andrew claims that it is an undisputed scientific and mathematical fact
that the human brain is a computer, and that critique of it is borne of

For those who may be tempted to believe that false claim, here is a
sophisticated treatment, to long to reproduce in full, see

*Valdemar W. Setzer*
Dept. of Computer Science, University of São Paulo, Brazil
vwsetzer at usp.br - www.ime.usp.br/~vwsetzer

some very short excerpts to give you a flavour:

I don't know if the author is fully correct, but he is a computer scientist,
and therefore, proves that there is no such thing as an uncontroversial
acceptance of the thesis that was expounded as absolute proven truth,



Ray Kurzweil is one of the exponents of the idea that humans are machines,
and thus machines will be able to do whatever humans do. His best-selling
book [1999] is full of prophecies, based upon the following statement:
"The human brain has about 100 billion neurons. With an estimated average of
one thousand connections between each neuron and its neighbors, we have
about 100 trillion connections, each capable of a simultaneous calculation.
That's rather massive parallel processing, and one key to the strength of
human thinking. A profound weakness, however, is the excruciatingly slow
speed of neural circuitry, only 200 calculations per second." [p. 103]

This statement is absolutely unjustified. He does not say what kind of
calculations are done by each neuron connection, and as we have pointed out
before, he cannot even say how data are stored in the brain. Based upon the
number above, he multiplies it by the 100x1012 connections existing in the
brain, coming to the conclusion that we are able to perform
20x1015"calculations" per second. He does not even consider the
possibility that
there may be different functions for different connections; for him this
capacity to perform calculation is the most important factor. He uses the
same type of reasoning to come to the conclusion that our memory has 1015bits.

In his classical book, John von Neumann writes: "the standard receptor would
seem to accept 14 distinct digital impressions per second". He supposes that
there are "1010 nerve cells" each one of them working as "an (inner or
outer) receptor". Then, "assuming further that there is no true forgetting
in the nervous system", and a normal lifetime of 60 years or about
2x109seconds, he comes to the conclusion that our memory capacity is
20 bits [1958, p. 63].

It is astonishing that such brilliant people can do these sorts of
calculations, without knowing how our memory works, taking into account that
our nervous system is not a digital machine, etc.

Making machines become conscious is considered one of the hardest problems
of Artificial Intelligence.

It is necessary to distinguish two different kinds: consciousness and
self-consciousness. Animals can be conscious: if an animal is hit, it
becomes conscious, aware of its pain and reacts accordingly. But only humans
can be self-conscious. A careful observation will lead to this difference.
Self-consciousness requires thinking. We can only be conscious when we are
fully awake, and think of what we perceive, think, feel or wish. Animals
aren’t able to think. If they could they would be creative as humans are. As
I have already mentioned, no bee tries a different shape than the hexagon
for its honeycomb. Animals just follow their instincts and conditioning, and
act accordingly. Due to their thinking ability, humans may reflect on the
consequences of their future actions, and control their actions. As I have
mentioned (see 3.2) a drunkard may be conscious, but he certainly is not
fully self-conscious - he cannot control his thinking and actions even if he
wishes to do so. Then, he acts impulsively.

Thus, animal or human consciousness depends on feelings and human
self-consciousness depends on conscious thinking. As I have already
mentioned, machines cannot have feelings, and can only *simulate *a very
restricted type of thinking: logical-symbolic thinking. One should never say
that a computer thinks. Thus, I conclude that machines will never be
conscious, much less self-conscious.

It is interesting to note that in general one reads about machine and
consciousness, and very seldom about self-consciousness. Maybe this comes
from the fact that most scientists regard humans as simple animals - or,
still worse, as machines.


As I have expounded on chapter 3, it is linguistically incorrect to say that
humans are machines, because the concept of a machine does not apply to
something that has not been designed and built by humans or by machines. But
let's use this incorrect popular denomination, instead of the more proper
"physical system".

There is much more evidence that humans are not machines. I've already
mentioned some of them, such as the fact that humans may self determine
their next thought. Fetzer argues against the mind being a machine using the
fact that we have other types of thinking than logical-symbolic, such as
dreams and daydreams, exercise of imagination and conjecture [2001, p. 105],
and shows that logical symbols are a small part of the signs we use, in
Peircean terms [p. 60]. He also agrees with Searle that minds have
semantics, and computers do not [p. 114]. To me, the fact that we feel and
have willing is also evidence that we are not machines. Another strong
indication is the fact that we have consciousness and self-consciousness, as
explained in the last chapter.

In particular, the evidences that we are not digital machines are
overwhelming, as we have seen in section 3.8. I'll give here some more,
regarding our memory. If it were digital, why do we remember what we see in
a way that is not as clear as our original perception? If our memory were
digital, there would be no reason for forgetting - or losing - the details.
There is also an evolutionary argument in this direction. Certainly the
people who think that humans are machines also believe in Darwinian
evolution. But if we were machines, there would be no evolutionary reason
for not storing - at least for some time - all the details perceived by our
senses, similarly to the capacity computers have of storing images, sounds,
etc. It seems to me that storing and retrieving details would certainly
enhance the chances of surviving and dominating. It follows, then, that from
a Darwinian perspective our imperfect memory makes no sense. This means that
either the concept of Darwinian evolution is wrong, or we are not machines -
or both.

Furthermore, how is it possible to "store" something, forget it and
suddenly, without "consulting" our memory, remember it? This is not a
question of access time. A machine either has access to some data or hasn't,
and this status can only be changed by a foreseen, programmed action.
Accesses may be interrupted either due to random effects or on purpose,
directed by the program. This is not our case. Often we make an effort to
remember and we can't - but we certainly memorize, in our unconscious, every
experience we have. Some people could say that our unconscious has an
independent "functioning", and does the "search" for us. But here we come
again to the question of consciousness and unconsciousness. Certainly all
machines are unconscious, as we have explained in the last section. The
reaction of a thermostat is not due to consciousness.

Finally, apparently our memory is infinite; there is no concrete machine
with infinite memory.

The capacity of learning is to me also an indication that we are not
machines. As I said before, computers don't learn, they store data, either
through some input or results of data processing. If we knew how we learn,
medical studies in Brazil would not take 6 years. The fact that you are
reading this paper shows that you have learned how to read. But notice that
during reading you don't follow the whole process you had to go through, in
order to learn it. Somehow, just a technique, an end-result of the learning
process remains. And this is not a question of having stored some calculated
parameters, as in the case of a (wrongly called) neural net.

We share with all living beings an extraordinary capacity for growing and
regenerating tissues and organs. As I explained in section 3.5, a clear
observation shows that both processes follow models. Models are not
physical, they are ideas. The non-physical model is permanently acting upon
living beings, so they cannot be purely physical systems.

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