Artificial Intelligence and the Philosophy of Science

January 24, 2012

The Terms… (Part I)

Here are some terms that are going to be important for exploring Artificial Intelligence. These are quick intro’s to several of the most prevalent theories of mind. We will later look at some of the fundamental issues, problems and opportunities they create for the subject of artificial intelligence

In Dualism mind & body are separate and distinct substances. In the universe there is material stuff: stars, planets, trees, leaves, water, carbon and everything else we normally talk about with no complications and there is the other stuff (the stuff of our inner mind). When we examine our beliefs, thoughts, feelings etc. we don’t find much by way of the physical. None of these things are colored, heavy or any of the other attributes we typically associate with material objects. From this it seems perfectly natural to assume that there is a difference between our brain and our mind. If this is the case, what is the relationship between the physical body and the nonphysical mind. How do they interact with the other material objects in the world, and for that matter, how do they interact with each other?

There are three forms of dualism: (Don’t let the fancy names scare you, the explanations will do that!)
1.) Parallelism
2.) Epiphenominalism
3.) Interactionism

1.) Parallelism claims that the mind and body are clearly distinct and causally isolated (neither one has any affect on the other). The problem with this view is that the appearance of causal linkage. If the mind can only affect the mental and the physical can only affect the physical, how does getting smacked on the head, ala Eddie with a chainsaw, cause immediate, rather than delayed, disorientation? How are two distinct and causally unassociated materials able to synchronize so well? The parallelist states that the physical and nonphysical have been wound up like watches and set in motion at the same time so that at three o’clock both “watches” read the same time. A knock on the head doesn’t cause the confusion, just relates to it perfectly in time. So, the real question is who wound the clock and set them into synchronized motion to run in perfect harmony? If God wound the clocks, why did he decide on such a complicated and clumsy method of keeping us in check with ourselves?

2.) Possibly even weirder is the idea of, say it with me, epiphenominalism. This idea tries to solve the problem of the physical/mental separation. We all know that drinking too much can cause a shift in Mikey’s behavior and attitude (no explanations please). Epiphenominalists put forth the idea that the physical, e.g. Alcohol, can, indeed, affect the nonphysical (mental). The weird part is that the mental has no control over the physical. I think this one is a bit crazy. My wanting a beer is usually what encourages me to head to the liquor store. But these guys think that while feelings, beliefs and the like are caused by the mental they cannot cause the body to act. I was going to try to give an example, but really … what the hell?

3.) Finally! Number 3… This is the least crazy view of dualism and probably the most difficult to explain and argue against – Interactionism. Interactionism takes care of the mind/body causation problem. I would venture to say that many people in the world are Interactionist Dualists depending on their definition of “Soul” and how it contributes to our daily decision making. Proponents of Interactionism claim that the mind and body are distinct but causally integrated items. If true how do the two substances (physical and nonphysical) relate and cause action in the other? This type of Dualism is the view held by great philosophical grandad Rene Descartes. For any one asking who’s this dude, remember Cartesian coordinates from grade school (adding two or more points to a grid and drawing a line) and “I think therefore I am”? That’s this guy. He was an intellectual badass in his day. So, if Descartes believed it why shouldn’t we (other than an appeal to authority fallacy). Why was it given up?

There are two reasons:
The first reason is that the dependence of mental on physical is clear. As was the example used in Epiphenominalism, alcohol not only affects my ability to walk and speak without a slur (physical), it affects my mood and behavior(nonphysical). People sustaining injuries to various parts of the brain are affected in predictable ways this to modern science. A prefrontal cortex injury can cause the nicest most polite man in the world into inappropriate behavior (see link at botttom of page for a fun case study). So, a brain injury can actually change your overall personality – WHO you are… While a magnet attracting iron fillings is an example that indicates the power of nonphysical forces on the physical, affects on the brain indicate a clear and strong case for the physical’s affect on the nonphysical. Though these extreme examples aren’t exactly against what Descartes meant when he said the two have causal interaction, they aren’t exactly for his theory either (he believed the physical was controlled by the pineal gland at the base of the skull, not by the entire brain). So, there must be some brain/mind correlation, which I think is obvious to us moderns. That leaves two options. The mind is either somewhere in the body (brain or not) deciding what the body should do or that the brain and the mind are one in the same. This last option is what is called Materialism and in the end wins out for simplicity. It causes the least amount of recurring problems to continually solve.

The second reason against Cartesian Dualism is that its positive arguments are unconvincing. These include “how could” arguments and introspection or “just feel” arguments. Many would argue against materialist theories asking how a merely physical object could perform some action. Descartes himself thought that reason and calculation are things only a soul could do. The problem is that this many years later we have calculators that can do mathematics faster than any of the rest of us ever could and computers seem to be well on their way to human reasoning. As such people have already switched to saying such things as, “well, a computer could never feel happiness, sadness, etc.” but that isn’t even inconceivable (thanks Vizzini!). The introspection arguments say that we can look inside ourselves and and seeing what a feeling is like. They may say something along the lines of “I can just feel that this isn’t a brain state.” This argument suffers from a general weakness. If I feel queezy it may not strike me that the nausea is a mild case of salmonella, but it still may be.

I’m glad we got through that! Kinda ridiculous, no? But you can definitely see why it stuck around so long. The problems of dualism, though serious, are very subtle and hard to pin down. Anyway, I think that should be enough for a day. Next will be, Behaviorism, the first theory to seriously challenge dualism. I hope everyone is as excited as I am…

Those were by no means the only reasons dualism failed, so if you have any arguments for dualism or against anything I said… Let ‘em loose!

Link to Phineas Gage case.
Had what was essentially a crowbar shot through his skull and survived. Read on to see the gory details!


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