Ask A Genius (or Two):
Conversation with Dr. Claus Volko and Rick Rosner
Written by Scott Douglas Jacobsen
Langley, British Columbia, Canada
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Thank you for the thoughtful and thorough responses, both of you. It is a treat.
Perhaps, based on reflection from the responses from Claus, the nature of consciousness may not need explanation to know the functional basis of human intelligence, where the hows for the information processing of the human brain would account for human intelligence on a functional level without the whys.
The whys, the larger explanatory structure, would require an expanded conversation on human consciousness, consciousness generally, and, maybe, the metaphysics mentioned in the responses of Claus.
The conversation leads to some preliminary pivots and recaps in the conversation for me. (Please bear with me, this will be repetitive.):
- A large portion of artificial intelligence will remain narrow, in the near and middle future, in its function and less rich in the sub-system information exchange seen in the operations of the human nervous system.
- Complex computations seen in artificial intelligences permits very complex information processes while these do not make them conscious. Consciousness may not amount to computations alone.
- A planet-wide information-processing thought blob may mark the far future for us.
- Hollywood gives misleading images of future people. Humans plus AI in the future may appear unlike us in surprising and unpredictable ways.
- The dominant methodologies in Claus’s expert view remain neural networks tied to machine learning in the mainstream of the field’s studying these and similar phenomena.
- Machines seem stronger than humans at massive data storage and rapid information retrieval. Intelligence does not equate to speed and relates more to efficiency.
- The computational basis for the creation of novel ideas remains a difficult question to answer.
- Different theories of intelligence abound with various degrees of success. Some theories of intelligence failed outright. IQ predicts educational success based on the personal experience of Claus.
- The nature of intelligence seems bigger than and includes both artificial intelligence and human intelligence.
- The knowledge of the workings of the brain could suffice in a functional explanation of human intelligence with zero coverage of human consciousness in the theory. The field of artificial life remains too inchoate to suffice on the issue of human intelligence.
This leads to the next stage of the discussion. The first on artificial intelligence. The second on human intelligence. The third prompted by Claus on a larger-than-physical or natural explanation, a metaphysical perspective.
External to and including physical and natural explanations, what about metaphysics?
If knowledge of the functional operations of the brain through some algorithm comes from the sciences relevant to its discovery and implementation in a digital substrate, then the algorithm may explain the processes of human intelligence while consciousness may remain an unsolved problem without explanations outside of the material or the physical, and the natural, as Claus noted with metaphysics.
In this, metaphysics may play a role in a theory of consciousness and of the brain (and human intelligence), especially of the brain and human intelligence if the aforementioned algorithm is incorporated into it.
Where the larger framework for the understanding of the hows of the brain within the physical sciences can derive more satisfactory explanations with an infusion of metaphysics, this leads to another line of questioning while remaining tight to the subject of the nature of (artificial and human) intelligence. I have three big interrelated questions on reflection.
What would comprise a metaphysical explanation for the human brain and intelligence? How would this metaphysical explanation of the human brain and intelligence incorporate the naturalist explanation of the human brain and intelligence?
Why would this metaphysical explanation be more satisfactory than a physicalist/materialist and naturalist explanation of the human brain and intelligence? (I apologize for my repetitions.)
Volko: Your summary of the debate so far is very good, well done. Regarding your questions: Well, as I said it is primarily the phenomenon of consciousness that seems to require a metaphysical explanation since it appears to be something that exists out of the physical world. By contrast, I do not think that human intelligence needs a metaphysical explanation. When it comes to making intelligent predictions, the human brain seems to be a computer based on biology. It is not that we do not understand how the human brain works at all. On the contrary, the fact that machine learning and neural networks work suggests that we might at least have a tiny, tiny clue about the actual workings of the human brain. Neural networks, after all, are based on several scientific hypotheses about how the human brain might work, such as Hebbian learning. Probably Geoffrey Hinton is right when he says that backpropagation might not be the algorithm employed by the human brain, although it has been proven to work quite well, but that does not mean that the researchers who believed that neural networks would model the human brain are totally wrong. I believe that the question how the human brain is able to make intelligent predictions will sooner or later be solved, at least sooner than the question what makes us conscious beings and what “we” actually are.
To my mind it is just the phenomenon of consciousness for which there will probably not be found any explanation by scientists who restrict themselves to naturalism or physicalism.
I myself have recently invented a metaphysical model of the human organism that is based on the view that there are three components which make a human being: the psyche, the body and the brain (where, when I am talking about the “brain”, I also imply the other components of the central nervous system and the endocrine system). While the body belongs to the physical world and the psyche to some sort of immaterial world that is hard to define, the brain, as a mediator between these two worlds, somehow belongs to both of these worlds at the same time. There might even be a component of the brain which anatomists cannot perceive since it is located in the “immaterial” world. Most of the rest of the paper which I have written about this model is based on the assumption that there is a symmetry between the psyche and the body, i. e. everything that applies to the body has an analogon with the psyche and vice versa. For instance, I deduce from these assumptions that not only does the body have metabolism, as we all know (eating, drinking, breathing,…), but that there is also a sort of metabolism related to the psyche, which is equally essential for life. This “metabolism” might be related to dreams, ideas, thoughts, and fantasy. We seem to be hunting for these “nutrients” during sleep and while “daydreaming” – that might even be the reason (or at least one of the reasons) why we sleep at all. After all, it is well-known that sleep deprivation over a certain period of time is fatal. Moreover, with this metaphysical model I also managed to explain Carl Gustav Jung’s personality theory as well as the “model of stress induced steroidal hormone cascade changes” and a couple of related scientific hypotheses my late friend and mentor Dr. Uwe Rohr and I came up with and published about a couple of years ago. Metaphysics is definitely not nonsense! I am aware that people who develop and publish about metaphysical ideas of their own are often viewed upon with suspicion, which is why many scientists avoid doing so, fearing that otherwise their career might be harmed, but to my mind, the problematic thing is not the people who develop these ideas but those who are intolerant against whoever and whatever deviates from the ideological beliefs of the mainstream. History has repeatedly shown to us that this attitude is not a good thing (thinking of Copernicus, Galilei, Bruno,…).
Rosner: It’s close to a fundamental principle of existence that simple, self-consistent systems are durable and common. For instance, numbers are highly self-consistent, simple in many ways, and fantastically common in their pertinence to the world. Just about any time you have a bunch of real-world objects, there is a specific number of objects in that bunch.
One-ness pervades the world – the idea that each thing, considered alone, is one thing – as does two-ness for groups of two things, and so on. As Godel proved, mathematics can never be proved to be entirely self-consistent, but math – particularly arithmetic – is self-consistent enough that it is one of the primary ways we define the world. Numbers, being simple, easy, and self-consistent, arise everywhere.
Similarly, there are simple systems for machine learning – for AI. I have very little knowledge of these systems. I can say they incorporate layered feedback, but I’m kind of BSing when I say it. However, I’m not BSing when I say that human-created, algorithm-based machine learning at micro levels is quite similar to human cognition at micro levels, because simple, effective systems arise again and again in a variety of contexts.
Evolution is opportunistic – it stumbles onto simple, durable systems, including those for information processing and learning. (Obviously, some heuristics will be better for specific types of information processing than others.) In a nutshell, machine learning and brain learning are convergent (with some task specificity).
For a very nice constructivist analysis of emotions, see Lisa Feldman Barrett’s How Emotions Are Made. It implies that world-modeling – predicting – is a massive do-it-yourself project in conjunction with blankish but imprintable brain strata and personal plus cultural experience.
Unlike Claus, my performance in school was all over the place. I had good years and bad years. I had close to a straight A record in high school. Until, I completely melted down over my inability to get a girlfriend, then my senior year was a lot of Fs.
It took me until age 31 to graduate from college because of extreme fecklessness. People should know feckless now because of the Samantha Bee versus Trump thing.
I suspect that consciousness is an inevitable consequence or aspect of sufficiently broadband information sharing within a self-consistent system. A system like our brains and like the universe itself, where every part of the system is at least roughly aware of every other part of the system.
That part of the awareness of the system Being aware of itself. That has, in the past, stood in for consciousness. That is erroneous. You can have a conscious system that is not conscious of itself. If you take the example of a security system, that watches over a set of warehouses with such high level information sharing and information processing, and receiving, and understanding of information.
That it is super conscious on what is going on in all of those warehouses. That system would not necessarily have to be aware of itself, as the thing that is observing. You would expect it to be somewhat aware of itself, of its cameras, of it self-monitoring to make sure that it is functioning properly.
But it wouldn’t have to be overly aware of what it is in comparison to its being highly conscious of the things going on in the warehouse. Consciousness is basically being so aware of a linked set of a ball of information. That is generally linked.
All the information in our consciousness is linked by being related to us. We are the consumer. All the information we consume and process is related because it is information that has come to us. Some of that information less highly entwined with other information.
For instance, a sitcom or watching of the first episode that you happened upon at random. The information in that sitcom. It doesn’t particularly pertain to us. It is linked to the rest of our consciousness because it is what we are watching at some point in the day.
Because we are experienced TV viewers. The whole thing, everything is roughly linked. Some things are more central to us than others. But it is it his ball of relevant or semi-relevant information. We are able to process that information from so many different angles.
We have so many different sub-modules that we are able to analyze and appreciate that information related to other stuff so thoroughly that it gives a feeling of well-established reality to what we are experiencing.
Somewhere in that sloppy description of consciousness is a more strict idea of consciousness. It is a broadband real-time sharing of information among systems that analyze that information to the extent that you experience a fully-fleshed reality.
Even that is a pretty loose definition of consciousness, that is still what consciousness is. It is not just the definition that is a little loose. Consciousness itself is not a strictly structured phenomenon. It is a phenomenon that arises where you have information thrown into a central hopper, when there are unconscious processes like walking and breathing, usually.
They do not become conscious. The more complicated or dramatic stuff gets thrown into a central hopper where it becomes part of your awareness. It is important enough that is becomes part of your consciousness and becomes available for analysis by all your sub-systems.
It is under the general principle that you need to be aware of your world and will suffer for jot being aware of it, even to the point of making fatal mistakes. If you drive, and if you look around at other drivers a lot to get pissed of a lot, like I do, you see quite a lot of drivers who are out of it to some extent.
It used to be that most of the drivers who I saw who seemed to be out of it had health issues. Either they were drugged up or they were so physically unhealthy that it was affecting their mental processing.
This was a wild and cynical guess. It was watching other drivers as they attempt to drive and seeing that they seem to be glazed over and not as present in the world as you would want other drivers to be.
Nowadays, they are out of it because of their digital devices. I am sure there are a lot of drugged up drivers, but they have demographically overwhelmed by people who think they can driver while texting – but are really severely hampered because their attention has been sucked into their devices. They do what I call half driving.
They approximate the behaviours of driving, but they drive 15 miles under the speed limit. The wander in and out of lanes. They stop three cars behind the stop bar at a light. They have a very crappy internal representation of their driving environment because their attention is elsewhere.
It illustrates the point because they are driving dangerously. It is not as dangerously as the people who drove when the predominant modes in the 70s were hauling; now, everyone, as I said, drives slowly and all our cars have 8 or 10 airbags in them, so the fatality has been dropping.
Anyway, information enters your central awareness because it demands attention in order to live safely and advantageously within the world. That process – I would assume under evolution – of the development of powerful consciousness has the potential to evolve again and again.
It offers the organism that possesses it such an advantage and because there is such sharing and processing of information. We see this in eyes. Eyes have evolved a bunch of separate times over the course of evolutionary history.
I do not know much about the evolution of consciousness or intelligence. However, it has evolved at least twice. Where we have super intelligent primates, which include us, there are super intelligent octopuses too.
They didn’t become smart at the same time or along the same lineage because octopuses evolved from molluscs, which are super dumb. Dumb to the point of I am not sure even if some of them have brains. I know starfish do not have brains.
I think molluscs may give up brains once they are situated some place. There be some strict principles as to what consciousness is, but I guess that they are not strict hardware rules for how to get to consciousness. You can get it a bunch of different ways.
I am shamefully ignorant about machine learning. Except it involves these various strata of feedback of loops, where when you get a good signal. Then you are achieving what you want to achieve. The linkages that help the system get closer to its objective.
Those linkages are strengthened. But I would guess that organically, and probably mechanically, there are quite a few ways to establish those feedback systems.
Jacobsen: You raise some points of intrigue. However, before discussion on the metaphysics point, I want to talk on a footnote point. You wrote, “…the problematic thing is not the people who develop these ideas but those who are intolerant against whoever and whatever deviates from the ideological beliefs of the mainstream.”
A straightforward statement with extensive meaning. From the perspective of an academic, e.g. tenured professor at an institution, what might prevent deviation from the mainstream?
From the view of a someone without academic protections, e.g. a student or a lay person, what might prevent deviation from the mainstream? Of course, the definition of “mainstream” does not confine itself to the academic alone, whether staff, administration, or students. Also, how may everyone break from the mainstream in order to facilitate creativity and novelty in thought when standard models of a system seem insufficient to solve the problems?
To metaphysics, what factors may comprise the sustenance of the psyche in the model proposed by Dr. Rohr and yourself? If Hebbian associative linkages, neural networks, backpropagation, and machine learning models help with comprehension of the workings of the brain, how might these physicalist and naturalist frameworks integrate with the aforementioned metaphysical model of the human organism with the psyche, body, and brain?
Volko: My general impression is that if you do not comply by the mainstream views, you risk having a hard time in life. The mainstream views are mostly defined by the government, the educational institutions, the media, and partly also by religious institutions. I have made the experience that many people are very intolerant against anything or anybody that does not fit in their views of the world. I even met some people who hated me for stating my opinion in an Internet forum because they did not share my views – note that I did not contradict a statement of theirs, but simply stated what I was thinking without knowing, and without being interested in what the views of these (self-important) people were. Once a German university professor told me that in Germany, for instance, you will not get employed by a state-owned company (e.g. a university) if you expressed certain views on the Internet which are incompatible with the official government doctrine (e.g., pro-eugenics views). In my opinion, this policy is by far the greater scandal than somebody stating pro-eugenics views in an Internet forum… I have to add that I have been somewhat spoilt since my mother was a teacher employed by the municipal government of the City of Vienna, and my father had a position at a privately-owned company that was also pretty secure. That’s why I realized only late that unless you are overwhelmingly rich, you are always dependent on the good will of other people. Even if you are a skilled worker and do your job well, your employer can sack you for some arbitrary reason, or, if you are a young adult who has not been employed yet, it might – if you have bad luck – even happen that you will never get employed and thus be dependent on your parents or on social welfare for the rest of your life… This does not only concern people from socially disadvantaged backgrounds, but people from all walks of life.
For this reason, some people might prefer to keep their mouths shut and never express their true views to the public. But that attitude would make me unhappy. I love the debate. It is something that is almost as vital for me as food. So that is why I often behave in a somewhat unreasonable manner and state openly what I think. As already mentioned, this has had the effect that there are quite a lot of people who don’t like me (well, the term “enemy” might be an overstatement, fortunately). In fact it has already happened once that somebody I was discussing with on the Internet contacted my employer and tried to damage my reputation. Fortunately my employer was so convinced of my abilities, and in need of them, that he was not impressed. As a matter of fact, I made a lot of effort during my student years to get to know as many intelligent people as possible so that I could broaden my (and their) horizon and also get to know views neither shared by my parents or contained in books or magazines I was reading. I made a lot of bad experiences, most of all with local people from Mensa Austria – they are among the worst people I’ve met, to be honest. Perhaps that is because requiring an IQ in the 98th percentile or higher is not a sufficient selection criterion. In fact, I have made far better experiences with people in societies with stricter selection criteria than Mensa, such as Infinity International Society, Global Genius Generation Group, and VeNuS Society. In any case, I have gotten to know a lot of people, and in the course of the time I have stopped communicating with those who seemed to have a bad character, so now I am mostly in touch with rational people of good nature, and I am quite happy with my situation. It hardly ever happens any more that I am misunderstood, that statements of mine are deliberately misinterpreted or placed out of context, that people react emotionally when I express a view they disagree with, etc.
To answer your questions, I do think that people working in academia are especially under pressure that everything they state in public more or less matches the views of the government and what is considered the “scientific mainstream”. If you are able to read German, you might in this context be interested in an article which the Austrian TV company ORF published a couple of years ago, the title being “Kein Jude, kein Linker, kein Positivist” (“No Jew, no left-winger, no positivist”, link). It deals with the policy of Heinrich Drimmel, who served as a minister in the Austrian government for a long time, one of his areas of responsibility being the Austrian state-owned universities (note that until the beginning of the 21st century, there were no privately-owned universities in Austria). Mr Drimmel was a member of the Christian Democratic Party and he actively chose people with political views similar to his own for open positions at university. It was almost impossible to become a university professor in Austria if you were a Jew, a left-winger or an adherent of the positivist philosophy as long as he was in office (from 1946 until 1964). I was studying at university from 2001 to 2013 (I was studying for such a long period because I completed two independent graduate degrees, in medicine and computer science) and even during my days as a student, I had the impression that especially the medical university was dominated by members of the Christian Democratic Party and also that it was easier for young alumni to get a job at the university upon graduation if they were a member of this party or one of the organizations associated with it. This was especially hard for me as I had learned at high school to think more like a Social Democrat, as most teachers had been members of the Social Democratic Party or the Greens. In the end I rejected both Social Democracy and Christian Democracy and adopted views that could be classified as classical liberal or libertarian. As a matter of fact, there are quite a lot of people here in Austria who have made similar experiences as I have, and we founded a new political party devoted to classical liberalism a couple of years ago. The first time we tried to get into Austrian Parliament, in 2013, we succeeded at once. At least I am happy that there now is a party in parliament that more or less shares my views.
In fact, I believe that people not working in academia (including university graduates working in the private sector) have more freedom to disagree with the mainstream and develop their own ideologies since they cannot be made accountable for their publicly expressed opinions to the same degree as e.g. a university professor can be. A university professor delivering lectures in front of hundreds or thousands of students has to carefully watch what he or she is saying. After all, he or she is supposed to represent his or her subject of expertise and is expected only to state things that match the current “state of science”. By contrast, a person working in the private sector usually does not have such a large audience as a professor anyway. Moreover, for the evaluation of the job performance of a person working in the private sector, e.g. a software developer, other criteria are far more relevant than whether his or her opinion matches what is currently considered the scientific mainstream or the “politically correct” world view. Of course, if somebody works in the public sector, at a state-owned company, this situation might again be different.
Regarding metaphysics, I have recently written a paper called “The Synthesis of Metaphysics and Jungian Personality Theory”, which I published at my personal homepage (www.cdvolko.net). In this paper, I mentioned the scientific theory developed by Dr. Uwe Rohr and myself since it can be embedded in this metaphysical framework. Basically, we proposed that there are two types of steroidal hormones. One type adapts the organism to stress reactions. These hormones increase physical performance (temporarily) but more or less “shut down” the psyche, which may eventually lead to severe mental disorders. The other type adapts the organism to physical threats such as infectious agents or cancer. These hormones boost the immune system while temporarily decreasing the physical performance. This theory fits very well into my metaphysical framework, considering that there is a symmetry in the relations between the psyche and the brain on the one hand, and the brain and the body on the other. In other words, everything that applies to the body seems to have a correlate with the psyche and vice versa.
I see no problem in integrating scientific theories about the human brain, such as Hebbian learning, with my metaphysical model.
In general, I would like to encourage as many people as possible, especially intelligent people, to follow my example and develop their own worldviews instead of adapting themselves too much into the mainstream. This will not only enrich their own intellectual lives but also the intellectual lives of others.
Rosner: In general, you’re talking about the future of intelligence with your ten things. I read an article, recently. It was attacking the apocalyptic fears of Elon Musk and others about war with the robots – us vs. AI.
When you and I, Scott, started talking about this stuff 3 or 4 years ago, no one was worrying about AI on the horizon. I have been fairly heartened that some of these other billionaires have been talking about it.
This article attacks these fears by saying that all of these billionaires are afraid of AIs. They are behaving the way these billionaires do themselves, being viciously competitive in business. These guys have projected their business behavior onto future AI and are afraid of it.
They think that future AI may act like aggressive, predatory A-holes, basically. That makes for an interesting article. I think that those fears should be thrown up into the constellation of all possible hopes and fears for future AI.
Where I was trying to think of the right phrase, which isn’t, it is close: “The future with AI will be a perilous flowering.” All sorts of new forms of existence will come into being, which will be awesome and also hard to negotiate.
It will be hard. We will not be living in the world of 12th-century shoemakers. A shoemaker knows how his life is going to play out if he is lucky and does not get the Plague. He is going to make shoes until he dies at age 56.
As long as he makes shoes, and does not get embroiled in a war or bitten by a rat, or a flea on a rat, he has a pretty straightforward rest of his life. The future with the flowering of all this new stuff means that individual little conscious blips in the maelstrom of newness.
It is like a Cambrian explosion. The Cambrian explosion was after all the big dinosaurs got wiped out. I may have this wrong. The Yucatan meteorite wipes out the dinosaurs. It wipes out 90% of species.
I know I have this wrong. At various points in evolutionary history, there have been mass extinction events. At those points, life has evolved new strategies. It leads to these crazy flowerings that lead to all these new forms competing to find their niches.
What might happen in Cambrian explosion, which might take 80 million years, it will happen with an AI explosion that will occur in a century or two. All these crazy changes will take place on the scale of months and decades and within individual human lifetimes or lifespans.
It is like the shoemaker having to go from making shoes to podcasting to having his brain downloaded into a module to get sent to Alpha Centauri. Our individual lives, we will have to scramble.
We will have to scramble to find temporarily – we hope – ‘footing.’ Everyone will search out their islands of stability within this burgeoning world. It will be like now, but 50 times worse. Now, we do not wake up every morning.
It is like, “Crap! How am I going to get through the day with 80 apps on my phone?” There are still large degrees of stability within our lives. Smartphones have changed a lot of the flavor of daily life.
But we still do the same crap that we have all done. We shop for stuff. We eat. We sleep. We try to hook up. It is going to become more hectic and weird. Let me mention, we have been touching on the structure of thinking, intelligence, and consciousness.
I would like to bring up Bayesian logic and statistics. Bayesian statistics is something widely misunderstood, including by me. It doesn’t mean I can’t talk about it. It means how you order the world based on past experience and incorporation new information into that.
It is a fairly straightforward formula. Where I always think about it in terms of fake ID because I spent 25 years in bars trying to catch people with fake IDs at the door, my rough or general assumption about the frequency of fake IDs, which was based on long experience during the 80s and 90s mostly in popular, was that about 1 person in 90 would come to me with a fake ID.
What I would do, I would try to look at the person and the ID and then ask questions to put this person who is initially part of a group with a 1 in 90 fakenesses into a subgroup where almost nobody has a fake ID or almost everybody has a fake ID.
Then I would decide whether to let them in or not. For instance, I ask the person what their star sign or Zodiac sign is. If they do not know it, they enter a subgroup based on professional experience. Well over 90% of those people have a fake ID. Then I ask them what year they graduated high school.
If they get that wrong and do not know their sign, they enter a group where well over 99% of people have a fake ID. If the person did not look pretty young, I wouldn’t be asking them that question in the first place.
If they get those questions right and look over 27 or 28, then they go into a subgroup, where less than 1% or 1/10th of 1 % of people have a fake ID. Occasionally, I would still catch a person obviously still old enough using a fake ID.
Someone who lost their real ID and went back to using their fake ID. Or some crazy stuff, I asked a guy to write his name including his middle name. He misspells his middle name. I am like, “This is bullshit. It is your name.” He goes, “No, no, no, no, I was in a softball accident. I got hit in the head. I have got brain damage.”
I think, “Alright, yeah.” He goes away. 20 minutes later, he comes back with an inch-thick stack of medical documents showing he was in an accident. So, I brought him a pitcher of beer to add to his brain damage.
Another guy had a beautiful signature. Then when he signed it, it was an illegible scrawl. He said, “Dude!” He showed me his hand. He accidentally skied over the hand and severed the nerves. He has got these deep grooves over the top of his hand.
That subgroup of people. Occasionally, you find people who defy the group classifications. But it is a powerful tool because most people did not forget their ID or ski over their hand. There are two things with Bayesian logic.
One thing is the initial estimate based on life experience or instinct, or whatever, of what you think the landscape is. When I first started working in bars, since my job was to check for IDs, my assumption was a certain fraction of people were going to be bullshitting me based on the nature of the job.
That is a prior weighting that goes into Bayesian stuff. The rest of Bayesian stuff is using a formula based on either instinct or accumulated experience to put people into subgroups with each subgroup having a different probability for the event that you’re looking for.
It is a powerful way of classifying the world. It is done naturally in your brain. Your brain probably classifies the world in a bunch of other ways. Any way that is helping your brain will exploit given the economics of the brain.
The Bayesian considerations come into play, where your brain and millions of years of evolution of the brain. All this has developed this system of a somewhat rewireable information processing structure, which has these built-in Bayesian factors.
Your brain wants to rewire itself in view of new experiences. It is not a good strategy. It is not good for your brain to rewire itself completely every time something new happens. There is the weight of past experience and the thinness of new experience and the cost of rewiring.
It is all a Bayesian system of your brain, and evolution, trying to make the best of the equipment and the mental economics that it has to contend with. That is, the cost of running your information processing system.
When I talk about mental economics, I am talking about the limiting factors on our brain. Obviously, the rise of humans has proven that it is a good strategy to have a big brain. It might be even better to have bigger brains, but we are limited by how big of a brain you can squeeze out of the mom without killing the mom.
Our heads are as big as they can be to get out of the mom. The mom’s pelvis has to snap into two to make way for the head. The kid’s head, the plates of the skull have to overlap each other temporarily as they come through the birth canal squishing for a few minutes.
The brain or your noggin has to grow fantastically once it is out of the mom. Being born, it puts an upper limit on brain size. Energy considerations, your brain uses a huge amount of the calories that you consume.
If everybody is going to die because in the wild they cannot find enough calories to feed their brain, that is a crappy system. There are limiting factors. There are the informational factors. You are dumb if you keep rejiggering your brain as you pay attention to each leaf that falls into your path.
Also, and some other points, information processing including AI will get fantastically cheap, which means it will be annoyingly all over the place – largely market driven. If you can sell ten percent more refrigerators if they can talk to you, then they will talk to you?
You car keys will talk to you. A lot of things we would find ridiculous talking to us will talk to us. They will do things that we do not even think about or find ridiculous that are useful. Like objects will find themselves or talk to us, they will do things.
Lost objects, they will find themselves. You can buy systems like that now. You can put RFI stickers on stuff that you lose all the time. You can have an app that helps you find all your frequently lost stuff. You can have an app in the future for that.
We will be annoyed. As AI and information processing gets cheap, consciousness will get cheap, which will lead to a loss of respect for human consciousness. Humans will still have pride of place. We will still be the king shits of the world.
We will be slightly less king shits. We will be hybrid forms of humans plus powerful forms of augmentation technology. They will be the new king shits and potentially the mean girls of the world.
It will be a scramble to find islands of security and safety. It will be hard to keep your money if you do not move because of the fast economy. It will not be an economy to fully employ everybody.
It may be needed to provide people with some free money, which drives conservatives crazy that anybody would get anything for free. But maybe, there is a utopia of the future, where everybody can plug into shared information processing processes and earn some money that way.
Just as likely as that, the world will run in all sorts of various automatic ways, which do not need the ability to do macrame. You might have to take some guaranteed minimum wage. Conservatives, like my buddy Lance, are worried about encroachment and the end of America with immigrants taking all our stuff.
I think there is more zero-sum thinking in conservatism than liberalism. I think history is on the side of things getting cheaper as automation and productivity continue to increase. Compared to 100 years ago, clothing and food cost 1/4 of what they did versus the average wage to the point where 2/3rds of Americans are overweight because food is cheap and delicious.
I predict a future of abundance, where science fiction makes all sorts of fantastic predictions. Things that will be awesome when they arrive. But when they arrive, they are beat-up, sucky, and grubby and made cheesy by market forces and advertising.
Still with some awesomeness left intact, Idiocracy shows a future where people are in some ways taken care of. But everybody is an idiot. All the crap they consume is crap. We will have a future of abundance. It will have a tinge of grubbiness and crappiness.
But it will also be awesome. One dumb example, there are all these tall skinny skyscrapers along 57th street in New York City for billionaires. They all look roughly the same. These tall glass buildings sticking up.
Somebody put together an architectural plan or proposals for one of these things that would be gargoyles all the way up. It would be computer generated and computer created. You wouldn’t have to have craftsmen chipping away at marble or granite.
The gargoyles would be 3D printed and have this fantastically ornate 96-story building looming weirdly over 56th street. We will get a bunch of stuff like that. Weirdly ornate, fantastically intricate, AI-generated stuff, that will be awesome, fantastically beautiful, but also both grubby and creepy.
The self-containment of consciousness will erode. There is this saying that is particularly unhelpful, which is “no man is an island.” It means nobody exists in isolation. Obama got in trouble for saying something like this when he was addressing a bunch of entrepreneurs while president.
“You didn’t build this,” he said, “We built this all together. You’re business, which you built. You did not build it alone.” When he said, “not build alone,” that had all the conservatives jump on him, saying, “Socialist! Treasonous!”
No man is an island. It means that we all benefit from a shared civilization. But when it comes to consciousness, that saying doesn’t work at all because we all are islands because we are all trapped inside our skulls.
Almost all our information skulls are done within our own brains. But that is eroding, slowly at first via our apps. You do not have to hink, “What is the best way to get from here to Glendale?”
Because you have a thing on your phone that will do the thinking for you. We have dozens of things that do little bits of thinking for us. We have dozens of other things that do little bits of thinking for us.
We have more immediate ways of sharing the products of our thoughts. We can post videos. We can text all the time. Those still leave our consciousnesses more self-contained. But more bombarded by information 24/7.
That self-containment is going to erode as we come up with better and better technology to link our information processing apparatuses more directly. So, the saying could be, with regard to consciousness, “Every man, or woman, or person, is an island, but less and less so,” until we have access to what have been calling the worldwide thought “Blob” of the future.
Jacobsen: This seems like an important side road to pursue to share experiences. Thank you for sharing your experiences, I am sorry for your short-term losses, but also happy for your long-term wins.
If we look at these sectors of societies – “the government, the educational institutions, the media, and partly… religious institutions,” these sectors, and some of the personal stories told by Claus, bring some new dynamics to the conversation.
Highly and even exceptionally – as noted by the case with Claus – intelligent people around the world become abused in deed and emotion and word, held back in their academics and professional advancement, labelled with epithets, left unemployed – and unemployable – with intimidation from employers and then given the boot, silenced by legitimate threats of violence, and taken to task in public media if becoming of particular note in the public discussion, even found dead in some cases.
In terms of the government, the politicians, the campaign managers for the politicians, and the political party representatives lesser in authority than the leaders in the political parties will remain beholden to the party lines and policies, but also to the impression of acceptability to the constituency of some of the questioning members of the opposition.
Politicians want the votes of their constituency and the opposition, so this seems natural and an extension of the need to appease as many people as possible to acquire the necessary votes to win in an election.
In terms of the educational institutions, the emphasis on intellectual conformity seems strong to me. I know administrators, professors, and instructors who will state one thing in public and another in private, which seems like a self-protective mechanism in order to survive in the academic world, in the university system, because this amounts to the only world known to them.
If an administrator, professor, or instructor sacrifices the comfort of post-secondary or tertiary educational professional life, especially with the surrender of personal finances, time, potential opportunities, and energy into the development of an identity within the university system, then the lack of experience or contact with the external-to-academia world can make the transition difficult, emotionally and financially, and possibly impossible.
Which relates to the media, “impossible” if they spoke out on a particular issue sensitive to the general public, of which the public may harbour false views about but which the theories and empirical findings show clearly. The university system across the world needs the finances, and so approval, of the public, which creates, in a way, an apologist class who comfort and cajole in public fora in order to bridge semi-true/semi-false middle grounds between public opinion and the empirical findings in some domains.
The same for the students who need to acquire the credential or qualification from an accredited polytechnic university, research university, or college, where, as you note Claus, students perform most often for their livelihood and would forsake honest discussion in order to pursue and further their professional lives – too risky, too often, not to otherwise.
Scandals within student unions occur at a consistent rate without public mention, where only some become mentioned and the number of smaller physical, emotional, and verbal abuses to individuals in the student union happen because of the potential threat of those who speak out about abuses of power or may hold different opinions in private from the other student union members.
I recall several experiences within a student union, and as a student in contact with other students, instructors and professors, and administrators at a number of universities, and as a young research professional in different fields, where certain intellectual or ideological lines shall not be crossed and if stepped over the proportional consequences can be expected. It seems the same for university professors via the example from Claus.
These resulted in lost job opportunities, educational time, money, intimidation, and so on – the myriad listed aforementioned forms and techniques of social control, essentially all of them to be frank. The interesting thing, I do not think these techniques for social control within the academic system amount to conscious processes with most people inside of the university system most of the time.
The techniques of intellectual and ideological control seem like tense-stress reactions, which need to release in some form, to people who disagree with the individual.
My suspicion, the views do not equate to views alone but to views embedded in personal identity, where a disagreement with the university system status quo comes across as a disagreement, an affront and offense, against the person in academia as an individual – who often claims to speak for a group without legitimate justification, and so an affront and offense to the group as a whole, which suffices for attack on the individual with the disagreement.
The classical liberal and libertarian viewpoints properly understood, and the private sector compared to the public sector, may provide more freedom in intellectual and professional life, respectively.
With respect to the metaphysics and the nature of intelligence, with a touch on consciousness, these topics, for example intelligence, may not enter into the proper empirical discussion via their presentation in governments, in the university system, and in the media. For example, “We have theories of intelligence x, y, and z. Yesterday, we learned about x. Today, we will learn about x. Tomorrow, we will learn about z. You decide for yourself on the relative merits of it.”
These are presented as if on the same empirical plane. Then students leave the classroom, in an educational example, into an academic culture, especially in the social sciences, oriented towards a default of liberalism and non-nativist perspectives, which influences the perspectives on intelligence, for one within-topic discussion, in spite of the merits of the theories of intelligence relative to their empirical support and respect within the field of intelligence studies and the study of individual differences.
With all of this said, the main message seems to me the importance of independent thought, where some large institutions and social structures work against this to the detriment of the society and the deviant individual at times, which Claus encourages – and me too. This leads right into the domain of metaphysics and the nature of intelligence and consciousness once more.
What if we take an inverted approach to the question of metaphysics? Rather than an emphasis on metaphysics in order to gain insight into the natural and physical basis on intelligence, what about the things known in the natural and physical world about intelligence to garner knowledge about the traits of the metaphysical world? A simple set of extrapolations from the known to theorize about the metaphysics around intelligence and consciousness – open question.
Volko: I doubt that what we know of the natural and physical world will lead to new insights into metaphysics. Metaphysics is mainly about the immaterial world that seems to co-exist with the physical world. If this immaterial world does have an impact on the physical world, then its effects may be studied with the scientific method. But from a logical point of view, we only perceive implications, and can only speculate about the causes.