A rebuttal to The Emperor's New Mind
(Or: My views on complex systems, strong-AI, the mind-body problem,
In The Emperor's New Mind, Roger Penrose takes the following
He tries to debunk the ``strong AI'' view that minds are in principle complex
algorithms, and that the particular manifistation of that algorithm is
unimportant in principle.
Penrose argues that the physical embodiment is important
for the presence of actual consciousness. He believes there is a level
of physical action deeper than quantum mechanics (quantum gravity?)
that is essential to the operation of the brain and is a prerequisite
for the presence of ``real'' consciousness.
Complex systems and emergent properties
I think that there is a
qualitative change that occurs as systems become more complex.
(Lenin once said, with respect to the inferior but more numerous tanks that
the Soviet military were producing, that ``quantity has a quality all
properties are every bit as real as the back of my head (which I've never
seen directly) or the number zero.
To see what I mean, imagine visiting Niagara Falls and taking
a polaroid photograph of it. Niagara Falls is real, but what is the
status of the image on the photographic paper? The image is
not Niagara Falls,
but there is something unmistakably Niagara Falls-ish about it.
Furthermore, each molecule in the photographic paper by itself
has nothing to do with Niagara Falls. But taken together,
they make a picture of Niagara Falls.
The image is an emergent property of the particular arrangement
of molecules on the paper.
(For more interesting ideas like this,
see William Poundstone's
The Recursive Universe.)
It has long been accepted in quantum mechanics that the observer cannot
be separated from the event he or she (or it) observes.
In the same
spirit, it takes someone who already knows what Niagara Falls is and/or
looks like to recognize the image on the polaroid paper.
That is, the image as ``Niagara Falls'' does not ``exist'' on its own.
Rather, it takes an interaction between the observer and observed
for the concept of Niagara Falls to enter the picture (so to speak...).
It is for these reasons that I think that emergent properties of systems
are qualitative in nature, and will always remain highly subjective.
Consciousness and intelligence
Now, lets apply these ideas onto the mind-body problem and the existence
I think that the notions of ``intelligence'' and
``consciousness'' are qualitative ones, and therefore not
subject to notions of hard proof of existence or absence.
That is, until we have a satisfactory algorithmic theory to describe
these concepts, there is no point in discussing, to any great precision,
their presence or absence. At least, not without keeping in mind that
such discussions are intrinsically subjective.
Furthermore, with regards to these concepts,
I take the operational point of view that Penrose objects to.
That is, we
``test'' for the presence of
intelligence or consciousness by the
external behaviour of a system, and not by its internal structure (hardware
Incidentally, the Turing test (discussed at length in the
introductory chapter of Penrose's book)
is an interactive operational subjective
test for the presence of intelligence.
I think it is important to emphasize the interactive
nature of proof, communication, and recognition. I believe it is
a general feature of complex systems, on more than just a trivial level.
I noted earlier how interaction is
essential to image recognition. I think it's also important
in the determination of intelligence, as the interactive nature of the
Turing test shows.
Randomized interactive (zero-knowledge)
proofs are the basis for some very powerful identification and
There is something deep here going on here, related to the arrow of
time, and other things.
I believe that the ``soul'' and one's identity
is the sum total of the emergent properties of one's body.
As with the image of Niagara Falls, this soul and aspects of
it can be found not only in your own body, but in the body and
souls of all who know or are affected by you.
Hence the immortal and noncorporal nature of the soul.
For related ideas, learn about the distributed nature of representations
in neural networks.
There have been some recent cases in Canada where a parent has killed
a retarded child. In no way do I pretend to condone such actions, and
I do not intend my ideas on ``testing for'' intelligence or consciousness
to be used as the basis of judgement on whether people should live or die.
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