Sunday, December 18, 2011

My Problem With Modern Machine Functionalism (MORE BIG WORDS BELOW)

So my blog is called "I Suck and Philosophy" and have promptly so far written nothing about philosophy. Fitting right? Well, my original intention was to have a outlet for my philosophical musings and so people could feel free to critique them. The title's purpose is to create an air of openness, and that I'm not sitting here telling you how to view things, but to propose a topic that is open for adjustment/abandonment. I also am attempting to do so in a language that any of my follower can follow (This one's for you guys, Billy and Andrew). 

While I feel the prospect of layman accessible philosophy is feasible, I will also hyperlink major topics or ambiguous phrases with the link to Wikipedia. This is if you don't understand something, or want to read in greater depth! So, with this said, lets take a crack at it. 

The topic I would like to talk about is the current view of mind by the majority of philosophers, called machine functionalism. It stems from a broader theory that has been around for many years called functionalism, which was introduced by Hillary Putnam. This basic propositions of functionalism are as follows. The physical material that makes up our mind is not what gives rise to our consciousness, but the structuring of it. As long as a material can function as a brain, who are we to say that it is not conscious? Further, emotions and feelings serve only as functions to respond to input our body receives. Be that pain, love, taste, or any other physical input. The simplified version of this is we receive input, our brain processes how to interpret it and how to react to it, and we then exhibit behavior dictated by our brain. The important part about this theory is how it believes our brain does this, and says it works exactly like computer software does. That is, a predetermined set of rules are in place in our brain that sorts out incoming information, and determines the responses to said information. *Disclaimer: Please don't mistake me for believing this. Just illustrating my points.* 

There are obvious objections to this, such as "and how does this account for consciousness?", "well then why aren't computers sentient?", and "yeah but the amount of space and power to exhibit consciousness anything close to that of a human seems infinite." While addressing these philosophical objections would not bore me one bit, I have a feeling it may bore you slightly. PLEASE let me know if you want to hear them though. I could talk forever about this. Instead of addressing the issues, we can just look around right now. Computers have processors that are faster than our brains. Much faster. And storage space is no longer a problem. So what gives? Why no sentience? Probably because the classical model is wrong. Just putting that out there. It just is. No debate. The modern model on the other hand...well, here's where it starts to get scary. 

Our current knowledge of how the brain works is impressive compared to when functionalist theory was introduced. We know how our brain communicates (synapses between neurons) and what it uses to do so (neurotransmitters and electricity via polarity of molecules ex. sodium and potassium). With this knowledge we have started the creation of neural network computers. They are essentially machines with synthetic synapses. We do actually have them around too. One is a face detection system, that initially was very poor, but after training it has become as effective at facial recognition as us. Humans. The scary thing, is that it learned. The computer learned. How you say? Well.....we don't know. My sentiments are as follows: "Way to go computer science. Create a machine so advanced, we don't know how it works. Real good stuff."

Yet I am still not convinced that we have figured out what gives rise to consciousness, and furthermore, I don't think these neural network computers will be able to exhibit any type of human behavior any time soon, and here's why. We still need software to work these machines. Software that has to somehow be able to adapt to new situations, to process information and rewrite itself. To be able to reflect upon itself. To derive new rules and information from it's environment and not from a programmer. How are we going to make this kind of autonomous software? That's really not the question I feel is facing current machine functionalism theory. I think what needs to be straightened out is if it is even theoretically possible. And I really don't think it is.

What I have heard so much of in my philosophy classes and in reading philosophical papers on this issue is that consciousness is only an engineering problem. Well, I submit that we do have the possibility of making hardware that can exhibit consciousness. But this is useless for me to say. Because the hardware is such a small part of the battle. We have no clue how our brain actually does what it does. Even if we can figure out our brain and acquire a full understanding, we still will have to then be able to replicate this into a computer program that is accessible by a system composed of completely different structures than ours. 

While computers are getting incredibly fast, and can exhibit a robust display of utility, I still do not feel they can possibly be an accurate representation of consciousness. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

My Addiction: The Food Coma

My stepbrother and I love to go out to eat in the cities.  We don't just go out to eat for the quality of food though, we also go out for quantity. We set out for the half off app's during happy hours and eat to our heart's content.  And then we eat some more after that. After a night of gluttony, we drag ourselves to the car and sit down while making over-exaggerated "uuuuugggggghhhhhhh" noises.

The drive back is usually spent in a trance-like silence with my "Sir Mix A Lot" Pandora station playing in the background. We stare at the road with glazed over eyes, digesting the massive amounts of food we have just ingested. This is my food coma.  This is my drug. 

The food coma is scientifically referred to as postprandial somnolence and is partly the massive activation of the parasympathetic nervous system in response to eating large amounts of food.  The great thing about it is that the more you eat, the larger the activation.  Also, when ingesting food with a high level of glucose, your body begins pumping insulin into your body to keep your blood-glucose levels stable.  When insulin is introduced to the body, it inadvertently increases the levels of tryptophan in your blood stream.  This causes the tryptophan to be taken into the brain and be converted into Serotonin and Melatonin.  What are Serotonin and Melatonin you ask?  These two chemicals are why I call the food coma my drug.  

Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that is manipulated when you take LSD, most psychedelic drugs, and booze.  Now I'm not saying that I start tripping when I eat all that food since the increase is relatively small, but this is why the food coma feels soooooo good.  It's the happy neurotransmitter, and eating a lot inadvertently makes more of it. 

Melatonin is the neurotransmitter that plays a large part in the regulation of your internal clock and sends signals to the SCN, which tells you when to sleep.  So larger doses of Melatonin cause you to become drowsy and sleepy sooner. 

So to all you rebellious teenagers who are looking for the next fix, try food!  It's safe, clean, and has no risk of inspiring you create a rock album.  Your friends won't have to listen to you go on about how the government is hiding cars that run on water, oh and I guess you wont melt your brain either.  You may get fat though (Dion 87).  

Citation: Dion, Sean.  "I'm Fat and Sassy."  Summer of 2007-Present

**SIDE NOTE: Now I know what you are all thinking: Wait, isn't that tryptophagum or whatever that junk in turkey?  Yes, it is.  It is also found in higher concentrations in pork, soybeans, sun flower seeds, and chicken than in turkey.  People just assumed that since tryptophan was found in trukey, and people only eat turkey on thanksgiving (which is total bogus by the way, turkey needs to be eaten year round), this stuff caused people to be tired.  More accurately, Thanksgiving is actually National Food Coma Day.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Was Helen Keller Able to Experience Color?

I was having a conversation with my girlfriend a few days ago about a quote on color by Helen Keller.  It made both of us feel like Helen Keller had a handle on and was able to experience color, even if it was just an abstract form to her.  I also wonder further more, is anyone who became blind early in life able to experience color?

It would seem this is a possibility since I can close my eyes and image red.  Not just a red tricycle, but red in a pure form.  So we can represent color without the necessity of visual stimulation, which rules out the absolute necessity of the eyes.  Secondly, have you ever seen red?  Just all and only red?  This is also not possible.  We can form an abstract representation of something which we have never seen before, and are not able to see in the first place.  This rules out the necessity of pure memory for the representation of color. So there must be a structure in the brain that enables us to view color and other things without previous experience, and visual aid.

After doing some research on Helen Keller, I learned that she became deaf-blind at 19 months of age, from a disease, maybe the scarlet fever.  Since infants can distinguish between colors as early as the age of 2 months, Keller certainly had  much previous experience with color. So since she was subject to so much experience of color, was she able to retain it?

The problem I found was that even though she was being subject to colors for around 17 months of her life, sensory memory and short term memory of the colors she saw and experienced were not retained.
Further research on the visual cortex involved in visual imaging suggests also that she did not experience color in any way. While developing, children who become blind before the age of five are not able to exercise the visual cortex enough for it to keep it's integrity and maintain the ability to form images without sight.

Originally, I hypothesized that while our eyes are our primary and almost sole source of color, there must have been an structure in the brain involved in our mental representations of it explaining why we can think of pure red, without applying it to some object.  This structure would be the visual cortex, and since it degenerates past functioning ability if a child becomes blind before the age of 5, one must have became blind much after the age of even 7 for it to retain it's ability and have mental visual representations.

I have been forced to conclude that while Helen Keller may have been able to describe color in amazing ways, she and those who became blind early in life are not able to form abstract representations of color. This ability relies on the use of the visual cortex, and those privileged enough to have it's use at their disposal.