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A clockwork revolution - Comments

merlinaeus's Avatar Comment 1 by merlinaeus

"It's clockwork, Captain, but not as we know it".

Thu, 27 Jan 2011 15:46:47 UTC | #584784

Michael Fisher's Avatar Comment 2 by Michael Fisher

I agree with you Steve ~ although I don't believe that because we are 'clockwork' we are in principle knowable [ especially women :) ]

I expect there will always be more depth in complex dynamic systems no matter how many layers of the onion we peel away. Even something as seemingly simple as the water molecule turns out to be a surprise around every corner

I'm not sure if this relates, but I'm fascinated that we might be hitting a wall in some areas. Such as simple mathematical statements requiring 100's of pages of proof to convert conjecture into theorem

Michael

Thu, 27 Jan 2011 15:59:58 UTC | #584788

Tanweer's Avatar Comment 3 by Tanweer

I saw this, Steve, and I just had to take time out and respond.

I love the way your mind works, it's truly marvellous and your writing is exxceptional. You are wasted on science - you should've gone for arts!

But there is a huge problem with this analogy, and it is a problem for the atheist. Would you deny that those clockwork androids must have been designed and created by another being?

The only conclusion of this clockwork revolution would be the ultimate need to accept the clock-maker.

Thu, 27 Jan 2011 16:03:24 UTC | #584792

inquisador's Avatar Comment 4 by inquisador

I wonder if there are better metaphors than clockwork?

But then I realized that it effectively gives the right kind of parallel. Our bodies may be made of chemicals and molecules rather than cogs and levers, but the workings are mechanistic. Our thoughts are trammelled and predictable more like a Heath Robinson contraption than the chip off some divine block that we fondly imagine.

Or maybe that's just me.

Thu, 27 Jan 2011 16:11:32 UTC | #584796

Michael Fisher's Avatar Comment 5 by Michael Fisher

Comment 3 by Tanweer :

...your writing is exceptional. You are wasted on science - you should've gone for arts!

Hi Tanweer I've always enjoyed your posts ~ thank you. For one thing I admire your tenacity, but...

Absolutely not. The need for exceptional, jargon-free, crystal clear science writing is greater now than ever before

Michael

Thu, 27 Jan 2011 16:22:32 UTC | #584803

blitz442's Avatar Comment 6 by blitz442

Comment 3 by Tanweer

Would you deny that those clockwork androids must have been designed and created by another being

Tanweer, you must understand the following:

  • You can only stretch Steve's analogy so far. Inorganic machines are different from organic machines. The former needs a complex maker, while the properties of the organic molecules of the latter allow for natural selection to build complexity from very simple beginnings - no maker necessary.

  • It follows from your logic that designers need designers of designers

  • Thu, 27 Jan 2011 16:25:01 UTC | #584806

    Anaximander's Avatar Comment 7 by Anaximander

    The realisation of the true nature of life meant that not just all biology, but also all philosophy and all religion would have to change.

    Why? Why would anything the robots say be true? The machine will just produce sentences. And sometimes sometimes sometimes...

    Thu, 27 Jan 2011 16:30:39 UTC | #584811

    inquisador's Avatar Comment 8 by inquisador

    Would you deny that those clockwork androids must have been designed and created by another being?

    It's hard to imagine evolved clockwork androids. Ancestral alarm clocks, toy trains, and then over millions of years... Or even a divine clockwork deity making androids in his own image?

    But if there could be some means of self-replication, as in biological evolution, like if some mechanical equivalent of the DNA molecule could be envisaged, then why not?

    The same objection would apply to the clockwork God as to any other, namely where could it come from and how could it be created?

    Thu, 27 Jan 2011 16:39:58 UTC | #584822

    Anaximander's Avatar Comment 9 by Anaximander

    The need for exceptional, jargon-free, crystal clear science writing is greater now than ever before.

    Is it also greater now than in future?

    Thu, 27 Jan 2011 16:40:38 UTC | #584824

    Anaximander's Avatar Comment 10 by Anaximander

    It follows from your logic that designers need designers of designers.

    He did not say that a designer needs a designer. He said that the only possible conclusion "would be the ultimate need to accept the clock-maker."

    So it could be that we have a need to accept a designer, even if there is no designer.

    Thu, 27 Jan 2011 16:47:02 UTC | #584827

    VitruviannMan's Avatar Comment 11 by VitruviannMan

    Zara, that was one long read man :)

    But I'm totally with you. I believe discoveries in Neuroscience over the next century will help make this case a lot better. I just hope it happens while I'm alive.

    Thu, 27 Jan 2011 16:48:53 UTC | #584828

    blitz442's Avatar Comment 12 by blitz442

    Comment 10 by Anaximander

    He said that the only possible conclusion "would be the ultimate need to accept the clock-maker."

    What's the explanation for the clock-maker?

    Why, if we demand an explanation for designed things and then posit a Designer, do we get to call it "ultimate" and call it day?

    This is such a fundamental difference between how the minds of theists and atheists work. The theist cannot see how something complex can come from something simple. The complex thing must have been made. The maker is itself complex. Was the maker then made? No, it always existed. It needs no explanation.

    The atheist wonders why the designer gets a free pass from explanation. She wonders why, if complex things cannot be said to have always existed, why an exception is carved out for the most complex thing of all.

    The atheist can accept that, if we are to talk about things that always existed, then it only makes sense to talk in terms of very simple things, things that we can either verify directly, or reasonably infer from what we know. We can talk about processes and conditions where it is possible for complex things to arise from simple things. We can also verify these processes, or reasonably infer them from what we already know.

    So why would you possibly favor an "explanation" that relies on something that has never been observed, and cannot be reasonably inferred from what we already know? An explanation that amounts to nothing more than special pleading?

    Thu, 27 Jan 2011 17:01:01 UTC | #584832

    SaganTheCat's Avatar Comment 13 by SaganTheCat

    where indeed is the revolution? here's my thoughts. 1. the levels of complexity are too high for many to accept that there is simplicity underneith it all and 2. there's still the Q word

    We can break down our clockwork bodies into molecular machines but getting people to accept that takes more than an enlarged X-ray. The levels of complexity that exist between the mechanics of the atoms we're made of and the system that becoems self aware is beyond most people's understanding. mine included and possibly many others on here.

    I at least accept that were I to put the hours in, I could ultimately comprehend each layer of complexity but don't feel I need to in order to justify my confidence. this is because I trust the science that has led me to understand as much as I do.

    For those who are unable to understand the whole process or accept the validity of all those scientists and their work that's gone into discovering this, it becomes unacceptable (from my experience on other forums). I see so often that people demand there is something more in a "wood for the trees" sort of willful blindness. The argument form personal incredulity is always present and tends to be in the form of describing the very small and demanding a simple cause and effect exlpainaition between that and the feeling they have of being themselves.

    You then have the issue of atomic phenomena being harder to understand than clockwork. The fact that quantum mechanics is impossible to understand leaves it open to abuse as the gap for god/life force to exist.

    The problem with quantum mechanics is that its inability to be interpreted in a single understandable way means to many that any interpretation is as valid as any other. Now I accept that without the wirdness of the sub-atomic the reality is molecules can copy themselves. systems of molecules can appear. systems of self-preservation develop into self-awareness but as long as there's something that goes beyond the clockwork, even if it's not relevent to the argument, means those who choose not to accept the facts won't

    Thu, 27 Jan 2011 17:34:56 UTC | #584857

    Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 14 by Cartomancer

    A mind of metal and wheels indeed!

    But I would dispute that modern science has given us a revolutionary new way of thinking about things. The idea of the clockwork universe has been around since at least the middle ages (where it went by the name machina mundi) and probably since antiquity. Democritean atomic theory even had the human soul as a pneumatic collection of fine particles, and Alexander of Aphrodisias thought the soul was an epiphenomenon that arose from bodily composition and perished with it. Homo Mechanicus is an ancient conception.

    But certain sorts of people didn't want to listen then and don't want to listen now. The clockwork was simply built to run a mind, not to run one that found the concept of its own nature easy to grasp. There is an escapement in there somewhere that interferes with the notion - a ratchet or spring that desires something more.

    Thu, 27 Jan 2011 17:56:01 UTC | #584867

    Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 15 by Steve Zara

    But I would dispute that modern science has given us a revolutionary new way of thinking about things.

    Indeed. But with Wholer, we finally knew. Personally, I think the discovery of biochemistry is one of the great moments in science, and yet it is hardly known about. I am trying to change that!

    Thu, 27 Jan 2011 18:29:52 UTC | #584884

    Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 16 by Steve Zara

    Comment 3 by Tanweer

    Thank you for your kind words. I'm going to cut back on commenting a bit for a while, as I have work to do, so I thought I would post something thought-provoking to sum up recent conversations.

    Life is strange. It's sort of like clockwork, but floppy clockwork. When we can copy that, we will gain amazing new technologies. The strangest thing of all about life, what I think makes it so special, is it's ability to be robustly complex. We know how to make complexity in fixed systems, like cellular automata, but change one rule, one cell, and the complexity collapses. Life manages to maintain complex patterns in changing systems.

    Finding out that we are clockwork should shake up every aspect of our thoughts about ourselves. Finding out how life manages to make clockwork out of floppy soggy bags of water - cells - will surely revolutionize our science and technology.

    Thu, 27 Jan 2011 18:51:21 UTC | #584897

    AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 17 by AtheistEgbert

    Well, there is one major problem with Steve Zara's analogy:

    The entire revolution in physics over the last hundred years.

    We don't live in a clockwork universe of order, but a quantum/mathematical universe of chaos.

    Thanks for playing.

    Thu, 27 Jan 2011 19:09:05 UTC | #584906

    Anaximander's Avatar Comment 18 by Anaximander

    So why would you possibly favor an "explanation" that relies on something that has never been observed, and cannot be reasonably inferred from what we already know?

    To say "X is the only theory Y can invent to explain Z" is not to say that X is the correct theory ;)

    Thu, 27 Jan 2011 19:50:35 UTC | #584918

    Anaximander's Avatar Comment 19 by Anaximander

    We don't live in a clockwork universe of order, but a quantum/mathematical universe of chaos.

    But does not the wave function of the universe evolve deterministically? Randomness only happens in observations, but is there any observer outside the universe?

    Thu, 27 Jan 2011 19:55:41 UTC | #584922

    Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 20 by Steve Zara

    We don't live in a clockwork universe of order, but a quantum/mathematical universe of chaos

    We don't. Quantum mechanics averages out on larger scales. It's true there is chaos, but life is not chaotic. That's life's achievement. When life does get chaotic, as in epilepsy, we collapse, or as in heart rhythm problems, we can die.

    DNA is not chaotic. Development is not chaotic. Somehow, life maintains order.

    Thu, 27 Jan 2011 20:03:21 UTC | #584928

    Michael Fisher's Avatar Comment 21 by Michael Fisher

    Comment 9 by Anaximander :

    The need for exceptional, jargon-free, crystal clear science writing is greater now than ever before.

    Is it also greater now than in future?

    Anaximander. Can you rephrase your question ? Is your question rhetorical ? Clarity please

    Michael

    Thu, 27 Jan 2011 20:33:13 UTC | #584957

    Tord M's Avatar Comment 22 by Tord M

    I absolutely agree with the mechanistic view of consciousness and mind. I think robots, machines and clockworks are good and precise analogies. (No need to resort to quantum physics.) And this way of thinking is not completely new either. Many great philosophers, thinkers and scientists have thought the same way for centuries, so if this is a clockwork revolution, it's a rather slow one.

    A lot of so called philosophical problems are caused by our tendency to think that any word must have some clear and precise meaning, even if we haven't found it yet. While in most cases that is not the so. Most words have certain areas of usage where they are absolutely functional and precise and good enough. Take "consciousness". We all know the difference between being conscious and unconscious. If you drug a fly it becomes immobile and don't respond to sensory stimuli anymore. We say that it becomes unconscious. After a while it will slowly wake up again, start moving and sensing like before. We say it has regained it's consciousness. Does it have to have a "real consciousness" to behave like that? Of course not. The fly could just be a complex "unconscious" automate. And so could (and are) we. I think this is mostly what consciousness is all about. There isn't really any mystical entity out there in another dimension. Consciousness is just a hypothesized or assumed entity. It's a word for whatever is going on inside the "black boxes" that are our heads. We need a word for that process, even though we don't actually know yet what the process is or how it works.

    If a person from the middle ages saw a computer for the first time, and had learned nothing about how it worked, he would probably invent some concept/explanation (similar to spirit, soul, mind, etc.) to label the "magical" unknown agent inside of it. This is what we are doing when we talk about soul, mind, consciousness, qualia, subjective experience, etc. We don't do the same thing when it comes to computers though, because we all know that they are simply programmed electronic machines. Once science has found out more about how our nervous systems actually preform their tricks, our concepts of consciousness and mind will go obsolete or be completely altered, just as the word "magic" suddenly looses it's original meaning once we discover how the magician actually performs his tricks.

    But before science has accomplished that, I think we can come a long way using the tools of great philosophers like Wittgenstein, Turing, Dennett and Steve Zara, to bring us a bit closer to understanding.

    Thu, 27 Jan 2011 20:38:17 UTC | #584960

    VitruviannMan's Avatar Comment 23 by VitruviannMan

    Comment 20 by Steve Zara :

    DNA is not chaotic. Development is not chaotic. Somehow, life maintains order.

    Steve I'm not sure what you mean by this. If we are talking about an order within the boundaries of natural selection, sure, life is not chaotic. But to my statistical mind nothing about life or natural selection seems "orderly". It's more like, the universe has set rules and things happen randomly within those set rules.

    In my opinion, the only trait of life that could possibly have a claim to creating order is free will, and I'm not sure if I buy that argument either. There's far too much going on in Neuroscientific research to blindly accept that belief.

    Thu, 27 Jan 2011 20:45:01 UTC | #584965

    Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 24 by Steve Zara

    But to my statistical mind nothing about life or natural selection seems "orderly". It's more like, the universe has set rules and things happen randomly within those set rules.

    The best example I can think of regarding this is the brain. The adult brain is complex: there are many different areas performing different functions. Somehow, a combination of genes and environment makes those functions appear. This can happen in brains of significantly different sizes. It can also happen in brains that are seriously damaged. In children with life-threatening epilepsy one treatment is to remove most of a hemisphere of the brain. If a child is young, something amazing happens - the child can grow up relatively normal, although perhaps with some physical awkwardness. I find that astonishing. Somehow, ordered functionality appears in spite of vast physical changes.

    Thu, 27 Jan 2011 20:55:08 UTC | #584969

    Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 25 by Steve Zara

    There's far too much going on in Neuroscientific research to blindly accept that belief.

    For me, what I consider to be free will is only possible in deterministic materialistic reality, as the only way we can be confident that we are making choices based on information is if that information can deterministically influence our minds, and the only way we can be confidence that we can have will - that our decisions can have an effect on reality - is if we have deterministic effects. The only way we can be confident that there is determinism is if science can provide an explanation of what is happening, and that is, of necessity, materialistic.

    My opinion (and I realise this is probably a minority one) is that people confuse free will with predictability. Just because what I choose may be entirely predictable does not mean I'm not choosing freely.

    Thu, 27 Jan 2011 21:02:46 UTC | #584970

    ccw95005's Avatar Comment 26 by ccw95005

    Each of us is, after all, nothing more than trillions of machines. Each cell in our bodies, including our brains, is a little bitty machine. Most of the work each cell does is maintaining itself, converting energy to work, cleaning itself, keeping itself alive. And most cells also have some other function - structural, chemical, electrical - in which they cooperate with other cells to perform some activity that is, in most cases, beneficial to the colony - that is, the human being made up of those cells. One of the functions of the cells of the human brain (and the same is true for most other animals) is to provide a sense of what we're discussing here - consciousness - because that was found by evolution to provide the best mechanism for that variety of the colony of cells to sustain itself and to reproduce - the reproductive function, of course, using a bunch of other specially designed cellular machines at some remove from the thinking group.

    Thu, 27 Jan 2011 21:04:55 UTC | #584972

    lilalindy's Avatar Comment 27 by lilalindy

    Comment 3 by Tanweer

    I saw this, Steve, and I just had to take time out and respond.

    I love the way your mind works, it's truly marvellous and your writing is exxceptional. You are wasted on science - you should've gone for arts!

    But there is a huge problem with this analogy, and it is a problem for the atheist. Would you deny that those clockwork androids must have been designed and created by another being?

    The only conclusion of this clockwork revolution would be the ultimate need to accept the clock-maker.

    The clockmaker is a red herring - we know that atoms can arrange themselves to form life and have done so. This is about whether a robot would effectively, in generalised terms, would have 'consciousness'.

    I think it would.

    Thu, 27 Jan 2011 21:17:39 UTC | #584977

    Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 28 by Steve Zara

    But before science has accomplished that, I think we can come a long way using the tools of great philosophers like Wittgenstein, Turing, Dennett and Steve Zara, to bring us a bit closer to understanding.

    Kind, but wrong. I'm an amateur (in all senses of the word). I only just learned to spell 'epistemology' last year. I'd love to meet Dennett sometime, though. He's an intellectual hero of mine.

    Thu, 27 Jan 2011 21:17:42 UTC | #584978

    blitz442's Avatar Comment 29 by blitz442

    Comment 28 by Steve Zara

    I'd love to meet Dennett sometime, though

    If you grew a beard, you'd look a bit like his younger brother.

    Thu, 27 Jan 2011 21:19:10 UTC | #584979

    DavidXanaos's Avatar Comment 30 by DavidXanaos

    Quantum physics is the way to describe how the world works on the atomic level; any shape and property of bio-molecules in a living cell.

    Recently even more complected quantum phenomena ware observed in biological structures (for example: utilized for exciton transfer in Photosynthetic complexes), that require coherence to be preserved.

    Therefor many physicist argue that quantum physics plays an important role for biological life as we know it; especially for information processing it would have the most profound consequences.

    Fact is that the world as we know is not deterministic.

    Roger Penrose for example hypothesizes that consciousness happens when coherent states distributed over the brain collapse. So when a prepared superposed quantum state that contains a selection of possible results each with a different probability bias is "measured" and one of the results is selected. This requiters the quantum states to span across multiple neurons and not to decohere for some hundred milliseconds.

    To elaborate a little bit more on this, as I see the implementation of Penroses hypotheses: A "computing cycle" in the brain starts with a classical state, derived form various inputs this represents so to say the current state of the generated image of the world as the subject "sees" and understands it. As the brain starts to process the data a quantum state is generated that contains all available responses to the given input, all biased with various probabilities.

    Choices that are preferred by the low level brain functions that prepared the state are biased high; all things which outcome is linked to a pleasant feeling, like copulation or eating chocolate, will be biased high; and unpleasant things like dying or being bored will be biased low.

    When the state collapses one of the results will be chosen seemingly at random. Thats where the experience of consciousness rises, as well as the fundamental unpredictability of the free will.

    Of cause the "will" is not entirely free as the probability bias forces certain choices to be much more preferred than other. But never the less there is a possibility greater than zero that even the most unlikely options will be chosen.

    I don't think that a deterministic machine can have a consciousness.

    Thu, 27 Jan 2011 21:52:13 UTC | #584990