AI and cognitive psychology rant (getting more and more OT - tell me if I should shut up)

Anton Vredegoor anton at
Sat Nov 1 16:28:09 CET 2003

Stephen Horne <steve at> wrote:

>particular, of explanatory value. As far as science has studied the
>mind so far all the findings show it to be an arrangement of matter
>following the same laws of physics and chemistry that any other
>arrangement of matter follows. There is no sign of an outside agency
>creating unexplainable artifacts in the brains functioning. And if
>there is no role for a thing outside of the brain to be generating
>consciousness - if the consciousness we experience is a product of the
>brain - then what role does this other consciousness have?

The more territory modern science covers, the more it becomes clear
that the known parts of the universe are only a small part of what is
"out there". So "objectively" science gains more knowledge, but
relatively speaking (seeing it as a percentage of that what is
currently known to be not known, but knowable in principle) science is
loosing ground fast. Also an even greater area of the universe is
supposed to exist that we will not even have a chance *ever* to know
anything about.

Trough out the centuries there has been evidence placing humanity
firmly *not* in the center of the universe. First the earth was proven
to rotate around the sun and not the other way around, next our sun
was not in the center of the galaxy and so on.

Maybe now it is time to accept the fact that all the things we know
taken together are only a small fraction of what can be known, and
even more that that fraction is not even in a central position in the
larger universe of the knowable, and that the knowable is just
disappearingly small compared to the great abyss of the unknowable
where everything is embedded in.

How come then that the sciences have been so uncanningly effective
given that they are such an arbitrary choice within the knowable? The
answer is of course that there are a lot of other possible sciences,
completely unrelated to our own that would have been just as effective
as -or even more effective than- our current sciences, had they been
pursued with equal persistence during the same amount of time over a
lot of generations.

The effectiveness of the current natural sciences is a perceptual
artifact caused by our biased history. From a lot of different
directions messages are coming in now, all saying more or less the
same: "If asking certain questions, one gets answers to these
questions in a certain way, but if asking different questions one gets
different answers, sometimes even contradicting the answers to the
other questions". 

This might seem mystic or strange but one can see these things
everywhere, if one asks that kind of questions :-)

One example would be the role the observer plays in quantum mechanics,
but something closer to a programmer would be the way static or
dynamic typing influence the way one thinks about designing a computer
program. A static typist is like someone removing superfluous material
in order to expose the statue hidden inside the marble, while a
dynamic typist would be comparable to someone taking some clay,
forming it into a shape and baking it into a fixed form only at the
last possible moment. These ways of designing things are both valid
(and there are infinitely more other ways to do it) but they lead to
completely different expectations about the design of computer

In a certain sense all science reduces the world to a view of it that
leaves out more than that it describes, but that doesn't preclude it
being effective. For a last example, what about the mathematics of
curved surfaces? Sciences have had most of their successes using
computations based on straight lines, and only recently the power of
curves is discovered as being equal or more predictive than linear


>As should be clear, my understanding of the specifics of quantum
>theory is extremely limited - but my understanding of general
>scientific principles isn't too bad. That is why I earlier pointed out
>that maybe the MWI wouldn't cause me such a problem if it was
>expressed in some other way - after all, most current theory is so
>abstract that the explanations should be taken as metaphors rather
>than reality anyway.

Abstractness doesn't preclude effectiveness, but to try to use
abstractions to understand the world is foolish since it doesn't work
the other way around. It's a many to one mapping, as in plotting a
sinus function on an xy-plane and not being able to find a
x-coordinate to a certain y-coordinate, while at he same time being
perfectly able to predict an y-coordinate if given an x-coordinate.


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