Darel Rex Finley in 888

The Designed, Cause-and-Effect Brain

2008.08.26   prev     next

Larry King: Dr. Wolf, why can’t we create a brain?

Fred Alan Wolf, PhD: Well, we’re trying. Right now, there is a whole new field which is developing called quantum computing — very mysterious sounding things. But what it has to do with is using computers that can choose realities rather than being chosen by the users because quantum computers work with the idea that things aren’t so firmly decided, they work with things which are called qubits, which are capable of being in any state rather than just being on or off. So, I think the next step in creating artificial intelligence will be through this new advent of this new field called quantum computing.

Larry King Live, 2008.08.02

I  think it won’t. The next step will be either copying the brain-wiring algorithms decoded from our DNA, or re-inventing their algorithms by hand. Or a combination of both. Advances in AI are happening, but not in any “qubits” lab. They’re happening at Google and TinEye.com.

It would be easy to dismiss Dr. Wolf as some sort of crazy crackpot, and he gives us plenty of other material by which to do so. But the truth is that Dr. Wolf, at least in the above quotation, is expressing a sentiment that is all too common in today’s science community: the idea that that there must be something “more” than cause and effect at work. I’m not referring to questions of ultimate materialism vs. intelligent causation at the start of the universe, nor whether Earth’s living species evolved naturally or were created by outside intervention. No, I’m talking about the day-to-day operation of our universe, our bodies, and our brains.

Put aside the question of whether the human brain was designed — ask yourself, does the brain operate according to its built-in programming, its built-in ability to gather and process information from outside the human body (through the body’s five senses), totally within the framework of deterministic physical laws? The idea that it does is repulsive to many, due to a desire to be a “free” individual (see my prior discussion of free will).

Wolf’s tie-in with quantum “qubits” is not completely arbitrary. The field of physics seems dominated, at least in the past generation or two, by quasi-philosophers who appear to want, more than anything, to believe that whatever aspects of physical law lie outside our ability to examine today, must be governed by virtually incomprehsible behaviors that take on the mantle of normalcy only when humans attempt to observe them. The standard line is of this approximate form:

  • When we’re not looking, particle X has no location, velocity, spin, mass, energy state, or any other human-comprehensible characteristics.

  • When we look, particle X abruptly takes on some characteristics (in fact, the precise ones for which we looked) so that it appears to us that maybe it actually had those characteristics before we looked. But it didn’t.

Can any assertion of this form be considered scientific? How do you go about verifying such a claim, scientifically? Isn’t some form of cause-and-effect (even if augmented by a random or pseudo-random factor) a requirement of scientific analysis?

One of the most amazing ironies to come out of the science community in this generation is that the idea of intelligent designers, who intentionally put together new species, is considered almost antithetical to science, even if it is the best (and possibly only) inference from the available evidence — yet if we don’t currently know how to decipher the precise behavior of an electron, that behavior is authoritatively declared to be beyond the logic of cause and effect!

And it is declared so by theoreticians who consider themselves eminently scientific — in fact, on the cutting edge of human science. By theoreticians who have no problem crying “god-of-the-gaps!” or “argument-from-ignorance!” at any inference to design, no matter how long the odds of that inference being incorrect — but who have no problem filling their own gaps in understanding particle behavior, their own ignorance, with something much more bizarre and alien to our experience than a designer. Something practically defined as permanently bizarre and mysterious.

Many people today think the modern dichotomy is purist materialism versus a world described by Michael Behe as “a cartoon world, where genies and fairies swirl about endlessly dispensing magic.” But I think the dichotomy is really two different ways of viewing the role of materialistic physical laws and the role of outside interference with those laws. I would detail the dichotomy as follows:

1. Intelligent beings, living outside our physical laws, made this universe, defined its physical laws, and periodically interfere with those laws to make new species on our planet, most recently ourselves. On any typical day, however, the universe operates strictly according to its physical laws, and humans act according to their genetic programming that rides on top of those laws.

2. Our universe, and its laws, and its living species, came into being automatically with no cause, and are ultimately governed not by physical laws, but by inherently incomprehensible “quantum fluxes” which merely take on the approximate appearance of law-bound regularity when humans attempt to observe them (which is, of course, the tiniest minority of the time).

Which makes more sense: Intelligent beings designed (and occasionally tweak) a machine that generally operates as it was designed to? Or the whole universe is a self-existing, inherently non-understandable flux of superimposed states, that for some bizarre reason appears to be law-bound on those rare occasion when humans (if we really exist at all?) take a peek.

And lest I get too carried away criticizing theoretical physicists: Most ID proponents are wedded to the concept of human free will, and so routinely imply, without logical support, that design inferences somehow lend credence to free will, and perhaps more generally to a non-deterministic day-to-day universe. They apparently fail to consider that there’s a big difference between a species-originating event and a typical-day’s human decision to go to the mall, or to the beach. What scientific inference do we have that the latter is anything but deterministic? I suggest: none.

There’s a lot more to be said about this — stay tuned.

 

See also:
Einstein’s Error — The Confusion of Laws With Their Effects
&
Quantum Cognition and Other Hogwash

 

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