When the waves of determinism break against the rocks of the unknowable

August 21, 2018

It is physics versus philosophy.

Causal determinism states that every event is necessitated by antecedent events and conditions together with the laws of nature.

Determinism, unlike fatalism, does not require that future events be destined to occur no matter what the past and current events are. It only states that every future event that does occur, is an inevitable consequence of what has gone before and of the natural laws. However inevitability does not mean – and does not need to mean – predictability by the human mind. A specific causality does not by itself imply a general determinism extending across all space and all time. A general and absolute determinism is also not a necessary condition for applying the scientific method though it could easily be taken to be so. The scientific method only requires causality to apply within the constraints of empirical observations. But it is also so that the scientific method can only discover causal connections. The scientific method, in itself, rejects the existence of, and is therefore incapable of detecting, non-causal connections.

Most physicists would claim that determinism prevails. (Some of them may concede compatibilism but that is just a subterfuge to allow determinism to coexist with free will). Determinism claims that causality is supreme; that the laws of nature (whether or not they are known to the mind of man) prevail in the universe such that whatever is occurring is caused by, and is a consequence of, what came before. And whatever will happen in the future is caused by what has occurred before and what is occurring now. Absolute determinism allows of no free will. It can not. Clearly determinism allows of no gods or magic either. For determinism to apply it does not require that all knowledge is known or that the natural laws have all been discovered. It does however require that everything is knowable. If the unknowable exists then not everything can be determined. It also requires that all natural laws be self-explanatory in themselves. For the physicist, even the uncertainty at the quantum level does not invalidate determinism because this uncertainty is not random but is probabilistic. Even the weirdness brought about by quantum loop gravity theories do not, it is thought, invalidate the concept of determinism. Here the laws of nature and time and space themselves are emergent. They emerge from deeper, underlying “laws” and emerge as what we perceive as space and time and the 4 laws of nature. Where those underlying “laws” or rules or random excitations come from are, however, undefined and – more importantly – undefinable.

The concept that the universe is a zero-sum game, when taking the universe as a whole, does not take us any further. The concept postulates that the universe – taken globally – is a big nothing. Zero energy and zero charge globally but with locally “lumpy” conditions to set off the Big Bang. Some positive energies and some energy consumption such that the total is zero.  I find this unsatisfactory in that the concepts of the universe being homogeneous and isotropic are then a function of scale (space) and of time. Allowing for local lumpiness to exist but which averages to a globally smooth zero, seems far too contrived and convenient.

The problem caused by the acceptance of determinism, and of the consequent denial of the possibility of free will, is that all events are then inevitable and a natural consequence of what happened before. Choice becomes illusory. Behaviour is pre-ordained. In fact all thought and even consciousness itself must be an inevitable consequence of what went before. There can no longer be any moral responsibility attached to any behaviour or any actions (whether by humans or inanimate matter). It is argued that morality is irrelevant for physics. They are different domains. There is no equation for morality because it is not a law of nature. It is merely an emergent thing. Morality, for the physicist, just like consciousness and thought and behaviour, merely emerge from the laws of nature. This is not incorrect in itself, I think, but they are different domains because the laws of nature – as we know them – are incomplete in that they can neither explain themselves or morality.

For the physicist the natural laws apply everywhere and everywhen. Except at or before (if there was a before) the Big Bang Singularity. They apply across the universe except that the universe cannot be defined. It is disingenuous to merely claim that the universe expands into nothingness and both creates and defines itself. The natural laws are said to apply across all of time except that time (not to be confused with the passage of time) is not defined. The nature of time is unknown and probably unknowable. What is it that passes? Quantum loop gravity enthusiasts would claim that time is merely a perception and that causality is an illusion. All events throughout space and time, they would say, occur/have occurred simultaneously. We merely connect certain events such that time and causality emerge. But this is no different than invoking magic. It seems to me that the gaping hole in the determinism charter is that there is no reason (known) for the natural laws to exist. Above all, the natural laws cannot explain themselves. Determinism would have us accept that all biological and neural (and therefore cognitive) processes are merely events that are caused by antecedent events and natural law. Except that while natural laws are observed and experienced empirically, they cannot (and probably never will be able to) explain themselves.

And this is where determinism crashes. The four natural laws (gravity, electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force and the weak nuclear force) we treat as being fundamental are not self-explanatory. They just are. They do not within themselves explain why they must exist. Maybe there is a Theory of Everything capable of explaining itself and everything in the world. Or maybe there isn’t. The natural laws cannot explain why there are just 12 (or 57) fundamental particles, or why there is a particle/wave duality or why undetectable dark energy or dark matter exist (except as fudge factors).The natural laws, as we know them today, cannot explain why life began (or why life had to begin to satisfy determinism), cannot explain what consciousness is and cannot explain why thoughts and behaviour must be inevitable consequences of antecedent events.  As a practical matter we have no inkling as to which antecedent events cause which events and following which laws. It is very likely that this is theoretically impossible as well. Some of these explanations may well lie in the realm of the unknowable. I draw the analogy with Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems:

The first incompleteness theorem states that no consistent system of axioms whose theorems can be listed by an effective procedure (i.e., an algorithm) is capable of proving all truths about the arithmetic of the natural numbers. For any such formal system, there will always be statements about the natural numbers that are true, but that are unprovable within the system.

The second incompleteness theorem, an extension of the first, shows that the system cannot demonstrate its own consistency.

We cannot from within and as part of the universe demonstrate why the axioms used by physics must be. Empiricism gives us the what we perceive to be the laws of nature. Empiricism also gives us our perceptions of consciousness and thought and free will. And these contradict one another. The resolution of the contradictions lives in the unknowable.

Empiricism can only go so far. It cannot reach the parts that empiricism cannot reach. Determinism cannot extend to places where the natural laws cannot or do not reach. If the unknowable exists then determinism cannot reach there. For the natural laws may not (or can not) apply there. It is not about whether we know all there is to be known about natural law. Determinism requires that some consistent and self-explanatory natural laws apply everywhere and at all times.

Absolute Determinism requires that Natural Laws be complete. That requires that natural laws be able to:

  1. explain their own existence, and
  2. explain all events (material and immaterial), and
  3. apply within and beyond our perception of the universe, and
  4. apply within and beyond our perception of time,

And the existence of such a set of Natural Laws is unknowable.


 

Related:

https://ktwop.com/2017/07/22/known-unknown-and-unknowable/

https://ktwop.com/2017/09/22/the-unknowable-is-neither-true-nor-false/

https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2016/01/11/plain-talk-about-free-will-from-a-physicist-stop-claiming-you-have-it/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Determinism

http://physicsandthemind.blogspot.com/2013/10/in-defense-of-libertarian-free-will.html

http://backreaction.blogspot.com/2016/01/free-will-is-dead-lets-bury-it.html?spref=tw

http://archive.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/brainiac/2011/06/the_big_nothing.html

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/determinism-causal/


 

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As a second class immigrant, who should I vote for in the Swedish election?

August 18, 2018

I have observed that in a Red/Green Sweden I am now a second class immigrant. I did not ask for or get “political asylum”. I came to Sweden – horror of horrors – to work. I did not seek, and I did not get, social welfare payments.

I am of Indian origin and I was working in England in R & D when I was “recruited” to Sweden 34 years ago. At that time it was still the old Stal Laval which became ASEA Stal and then ABB Stal and then later Alstom and then Siemens. In due course we became Swedish citizens.

Now as we approach the 2018 general election I must decide who to vote for this time. There are actually many parties not worthy of consideration. The Environmental Party is made up of children trying to be adults. They are so sanctimonious they make me ill. The Left party is just another Communist party masquerading as socialists. The Liberals and the Centre and the Christian Democrat parties have no idea what they really stand for and are “dead men walking”.  The Greens, the Left, the Liberals, the Christian Democrats and the Centre are excluded from any further consideration. That leaves three.

  1. For the Social Democrats, I am a second class immigrant because I came to Sweden to work and not for “political asylum”. Moreover they have not understood the difference between multi-ethnic and multicultural. Parallel cultures always give a fractured society. They want to tax me even more for very questionable projects. They have confused sameness with equality. They have made a false God of “equality” without understanding that fairness and justice demands unequal treatment. I find Stefan Löfven uninspiring. They may well win the election but they are probably not for me.
  2. The Sweden Democrats would prefer that I am not here. Jimmy Åkesson has actually developed more over the last 10 years than any of the other political “leaders”. He has more charisma than any of the others. On many issues, except the treatment of immigrants, I am actually closer to the Sweden Democrats than to many of the other parties. But they don’t like any immigrants of any kind and therefore I am not for them.
  3. The Moderate Party should be where I can naturally find a home. Generally, but mainly in theory, they are closer to my views on labour and the economy and free enterprise. But they lack courage and they lack leadership. They are so enslaved by political correctness that they are prepared to go against their own principles whenever the wind blows against them. Ulf Kristersson is solid enough but quite bland. He could grow up but he hasn’t done so yet.

I don’t have any good choices – only less bad ones.  I think the Social Democrats are unlikely to get my vote for just being too unintelligent. The Moderate party is possible as being the best of a poor lot but it could be a wasted vote. Or I could vote for the Sweden Democrats in the hope that an earthquake will result and that out of chaos can come order.

 


 

Either flies have communication or they have reincarnation

August 9, 2018

Over the last few weeks with temperatures above 25ºC our windows have been open more than usual. The influx of house flies has been correspondingly high. It has not quite been an inundation but we have fly-swats in most rooms.

On average over the last few weeks I have probably swatted 20 flies per day (more than 15, less than 30). In my defense I have not been on an extermination splurge and have only swatted a fly when it has been particularly irritating.

The flies are in no danger of extermination as a species and biodiversity is not threatened.

My empirical observations are as follows:

  1. Once a fly has found warm skin to prey upon, it has some mechanism to “lock on” to its target.
  2. A fly can read my mind and knows when I am thinking about picking up the fly swat.
  3. Once a fly has identified me as a target, other flies stay away from its hunting territory.
  4. Even flies need to rest and frantic twitching and waving of limbs does lead them to fly away from the target occasionally and rest on nearby surfaces.
  5. A light swat merely stuns the fly and it quickly recovers to continue its murderous attacks.
  6. A heavy swat mashes the fly leaving a gooey mess.
  7. With skill and practice just the right level of swat force can be applied to kill the fly without creating a mess.
  8. Within about 2 minutes of my swatting a fly dead, another fly appears and acquires me as a target.
  9. The “hero” or “rescue fly” is always singular and never a swarm of flies.
  10. Another swatting leads to another hero fly appearing.
  11. The longest sequence of dead fly/ hero fly observed has been six.

These observations lead me to the following conclusions:

  1. Flies have an unknown mechanism (probably an infra-red sensor) by which they can identify and lock on to prey.
  2. Flies are somewhat territorial and can communicate their reserved territories to other flies.
  3. Flies emit some kind of death radiation which is picked up by other flies but just a single “hero” or “rescue fly” is then sent to seek retribution.
  4. Flies do not have a collective memory since hero flies only appear singly and continue appearing even if each gets successively swatted.

Or, flies are reincarnated. Empirical observation suggests that if this the case, the reincarnations are not endless and number less than the eight reincarnations and nine lives of cats. It would seem that they have more than two reincarnations but less than five.


 

The oldest language in the world

August 8, 2018

Even those with supposedly the very “best breeding” in the world have derived from just as many ancestors and ancestral generations as the most wretched person alive today. Every single one of the 7 billion humans alive today has an unbroken line of descent from any time in the past. (Not forgetting that your dog is a product of around seven times more generations than you are). In terms of evolution every single human is just as much evolved (or devolved) as any other.

But so must it be with our languages as well. Every single language used today must have an unbroken connection backwards into the past. Assuming that the first proto-language, if there was only one, or the many original proto-languages, developed at around the same time, every language used today has as long a genealogy as every other. Some languages have no doubt become extinct, but every surviving language must have an unbroken connection back into the mist of the origin of language.

About half the world’s population speak languages which derive from Proto-Indo-European (PIE). PIE probably came into being around 10 – 15,000 years ago. But there would have been languages before that and possibly some simple speech was already established some 100,000 years ago or even earlier. One plausible family tree, proposed by Allan Bomhard in 2008, is of the Nostratic macrofamily. (Nostratic is still considered quite speculative but if it wasn’t Nostratic then it is only a question of what it was — for something there certainly must have been).

The evolution of language would have been a braided stream. Putting a time-line onto this evolution of language is purely speculative. Nevertheless, any speculation is perfectly valid as a possibility unless there is some evidence to exclude it. The origins of PIE seem to be linked to either the spread of humans with access to horses or to the neolithic spread of agriculture or possibly to both. Either way it would be dated to 10,000 – 15,000 years ago. The geographical location is also speculative. It could have been from the steppes of central Asia (the equine theory) or from the Golden Crescent (agriculture).

But PIE derives from Eurasiatic, and it probably displaced a Proto-Dravidian ancestor already being used in the Indus Valley and across the subcontinent. The generation prior to PIE (Afro-Asiatic, Kartvelian, Dravidian and Eurasiatic) could then occupy the period from 15,000 to about 25,000 years ago. It is probably with this generation of language that rudimentary written language first developed. Which, I speculate, would take Nostratic to the period from 25,000 to 35,000 years ago. But the story does not start or end with Nostratic. There was language – and languages – long before that. However, Nostratic and its siblings and all previous generations of language would have been entirely spoken (including whistling and clicks as part of the spoken tradition).

 

Every human has origins which go as far back into the past as any other. And so it is with language.

The oldest language in the world, the language with its origins in the most distant past, is the language you are speaking now.


 

Population decline will cause more misery than population increase ever could (or did)

August 6, 2018

Global population will decline from about 2100 onward. That demographic is already written in stone. For some countries the decline has already started.

By 2100 the global population will have reached about 10.5 billion. It is already too late for the subsequent decline to be completely averted, but it is the experience of countries such as those above over the next 5 decades or so which will be key in determining how the challenge is to be met. Declining fertility rate is now a global phenomenon but it is the rate at which population declines locally that will be the determining factor if, and to what extent, societal collapse occurs. The more interconnected and interdependent a society is, the more traumatic a collapse will be.

In well developed societies (and using Japan as an example) the first stress-point will come with the ratio of those in productive work (16 – 70 years) to those in need of societal support (<16 and >70 years). At some point the cost of this support will become prohibitive for the public purse. The support will not end abruptly but will become increasingly a function of the availability of private resources. Even within the last decade I have observed that public health care in Europe is now trying to reduce the number of hip and knee replacements for the elderly. For patients beyond a certain age, public health care now tries to avoid the more expensive procedures (cancer treatment, complex surgery ….. ). A new measure is now coming into play in decision making for public health care – YPPL (Years of Potential Life Lost). Once a patient is over 80, the YPPL is too low to justify the more expensive procedures.

The effects of depopulation would first be felt in rural areas where communities, which once were largely self-sufficient, become under-critical. These effects are already being seen in rural Japan where public transport is reducing, houses, schools and clinics are being abandoned and what little manufacturing industry was present has vanished. Those left in the rural areas are the elderly who have not the wherewithal to move. In central Europe it is the young, and especially young women, who move away from rural areas.

Japan Times:

The effects of a population decrease are already being felt. Cases in which road bridges have been closed to traffic because of a lack of funds for maintenance and a drop in the number of users are increasing. Forests exist whose owners are now unknown. The number of vacant houses are increasing. Some municipalities have passed by-laws under which they will demolish vacant houses that have become dangerously dilapidated.

In the countryside, traffic consists mainly of privately owned vehicles. As the population grays, however, more and more elderly people will be unable to drive, making it difficult for them to buy food and other essentials or to receive medical care. In local communities in mountainous areas in particular it is becoming extremely difficult to maintain a suitable level of social services for residents. It will become necessary for local governments to concentrate essential facilities such as medical institutions and administrative organizations in certain areas and take administrative steps to relocate elderly people who need such services so they can be close to them.

Paradoxically, cities could become inundated with populations moving in from rural areas which have become under-critical. The city services would be over-extended but without the labour force to be able to provide increased services. Misery would increase in both rural areas and in the cities.

The great mitigating hope is the development of AI and robots. However a fully automated society will also need much infrastructure investment and automation will not be able to stop the abandonment of rural areas. Driver-less buses and robot-manned clinics are entirely feasible but these will be solutions that will need a critical mass of population. Services for children and the elderly will be increasingly automated but will necessarily be concentrated in the cities.

I have no doubt that the challenges will be met. I suspect that automation and AI will be of greater value than mass migration. But the transition may take several decades and perhaps even a hundred years. Even though some central European countries are seeing a more rapid population decline, I expect that Japan will lead the way in finding the new solutions. By 2060 the Japanese population will be just two-thirds of what it was in 2010. Forests and farms will have to be automated to a much higher degree. Small, family-run rice production will shift to larger, automated farms. Rural areas will still be productive – but they will be unmanned. Growth will no longer be driven by population growth.

The transition to a much more automated society will come, but with a cost. That cost will be an increase in the misery index. The elderly in rural areas will be the first to experience an increase of misery. Longevity increase will level off and may even reverse. Public health care for the elderly will have to meet cost benefit criteria. Voluntary euthanasia for the elderly will become normal. There will be tax incentives for having children. Any need for an increase in children services will be met by automation rather than by humans. The success of automation will reduce the pool of routine, unskilled jobs available. Unemployment for the less-educated and the less-skilled will increase. The social rift between the unemployable and the more intelligent, skilled or creative could increase.

The increase of misery seems inevitable. But it will not last for ever. Population will probably stabilise but there will be a strong pressure for ensuring the long-term employability of those being born. A much greater degree of genetic screening of fetuses will result. Downs Syndrome and other genetic conditions will be eliminated. Humans may well be on the way to evolving to be more cerebrally capable and less capable physically.

Artificial selection will have arrived.


 

The biodiversity myth (or How many species should there be?)

August 4, 2018

How many species should there be?

In any given environment, even with no change in the environment, natural selection will see to it, given enough time, that the number of species will increase to fill the available space. Competition between species will increase with increasing biodiversity. Species incapable of coping with the competition will restrict themselves to protected niches or disappear. As environment changes, modifications will also follow. As environment changes, species which were once viable may become extinct, continue in a suitable niche or adapt.

As far as we know the earth is the only planet on which life has developed.

Time and the laws of the Universe were established soon after the Big Bang singularity occurred some 13.8 billion years ago. The purpose of the Big Bang was to balance the Big Imbalance that had been created by Magic. The earth itself was formed when it congealed about 4.54 billion years ago. The Big Bang was by then long in the past and the earth followed the laws of the universe. The sun provided a source of energy. Chemistry between atoms and molecules happened. About a billion years later chemistry became biochemistry. Somehow RNA molecules (the RNA world) appeared. Some of these were replicating molecules. Some of these arranged themselves into single celled organisms. Single celled life began. Around 500 million years ago, complex multi-cellular life took off.

In the 500 million years since there have been at least 10 major extinctions and 5 Great Mass Extinctions. The last one was around 50 million years ago when the large dinosaurs “disappeared” (though that disappearance may have taken many thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of years). Nevertheless it was the spaces left vacant in the environment which enabled, and were filled by, the mammals and in turn the primates and humans.

  1. We don’t know how many microbial species (prokaryotes) exist. Somewhere between 100 billion and one trillion.
  2. We don’t know how many complex-celled (eukaryote) species exist. Between 1 million and 100 million it is thought. Around 10 million and with 80% still undiscovered are recent estimates.
  3. There are more species alive today than ever before. There are more than twice as many genera existent today than before the last (fifth) great mass extinction around 55 – 60 million years ago.
  4. We know that every mass extinction is followed by a period of high growth of new species as openings appear in the environment following the extinction of species.
  5. We know that any environment can only support a limited number of successful species.
  6. We don’t know what the optimum number of species is for any environment.
  7. The biosphere that is earth has at least 30% more species than is “healthy”.
  8. All invasive species are – by definition – successful species,
  9. All endangered species are – also by definition – failing species.
  10. By the time a species is declared endangered it has no longer any significant, biological role to play in its environment.

There was no biodiversity to begin with. Biodiversity is a result, not a goal.

“Protecting” failed, but somehow attractive, species is entirely an emotional response by humans but it has no rational purpose.

The rational and responsible approach to biodiversity would be to cull failing species.

 

graphic – wikimedia commons

 


 

High irony in Swedish politics

August 2, 2018

The Swedish Social Democrats (the ruling party) have been in power for almost 80 of the last 100 years. They are not, however, very keen on talking about their past when it comes to the politics of racism. It was at the initiative of leading Social Democrats that the first ever state-run Institute for Race Biology was established in 1922. Within the workers’ movements, it was ingrained that Swedish workers were superior to other races. Even within the intellectual elite of the “Socialist” movement too it was “common wisdom” that Swedish culture and values were superior. It was this institute and their “scientific” work which was to prove the inspiration for the German version of eugenics. Whereas the German Institute was shut down after the war the Swedish Institute continued and later became part of Uppsala University and its genetics centre.

Eugenics Archive:

In 1918, it was suggested that an institute of racial biology be partially funded by the Nobel Committee (Lundborg, 1922). This was unanimously supported by the Nobel Committee itself, but the idea was seen as a misuse of Nobel funds and a race-biology institute was not created at that time. Lundborg argued that a race-biology institute was important to prevent racial degeneration in Sweden, and ultimately, the Swedish state-institute for race biology was created (Lundborg, 1922). ….

…… The purpose of the institute was to research genetics, heredity, and racial characteristics. (Lundborg, 1922; Broberg & Roll-Hansen, 2005). The data from this research was meant to be used to create practices that would supposedly improve the quality of the Swedish population (Lundborg, 1922). As eugenics became less popular in the public, the institute became controversial and was eventually renamed in 1958 (Broberg & Roll-Hansen, 2005).

Through their own eugenics program, where the Sami people were subjected, until as late as the 1970s, to forced sterilisations and abortions, the Swedish program was not so very far removed in its objectives from the Nazi program. The Nazi methods and the scale of their program were of a quite different magnitude. The Social Democrats would rather that this part of their history went away quietly. They have never really confronted the past or come to terms with it. Many leading Social Democrats (among them the Myrdals) were strongly involved in the vision of eugenically ensuring a population with the “right social attitudes”.

A Brave New World

In the mid-1970s Sweden’s parliament abolished the eugenics-inspired sterilization legislation enacted in 1935 by a social democratic government. During the four decades that passed between implementation and abolition, almost 63,000 Swedes were rendered infertile, in many cases in response to pressure from the state and sometimes as a result of outright compulsion. Furthermore, it was chiefly those regarded as ‘‘unproductive’’ who were the targets of that social policy.

The Sweden Democrats is the anti-immigration party which has seen increasing popular support over the last decade. Inevitably it is attacked for having its origins with, and having connections to, neo-Nazi (rather than Nazi) groups in their past. Other political parties have shunned them and have refused to contemplate working with them in any way. In this September’s general elections it is very likely that the Sweden Democrats will end up as the second largest party in parliament. The game is changing.

Yesterday I found it a case of very high irony indeed when the Sweden Democrats released a 1h 45 minute documentary about the place of race in the Social Democrats’ past. They use racism – which they are usually accused of – to attack the Social Democrats. Pure propaganda of course but not factually incorrect. The Social Democrats are trying to shrug this off as propaganda but they have some very dark skeletons in their closet.

One People, One Party

(Ett folk ett parti)

(You Tube keeps removing this video but it can be found quiet easily)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1CekDXP7a6s

The video is still available here: https://vimeo.com/282930261

The Social Democrats with their eugenics program were probably as close, if not closer, to the Nazi eugenics of the 1930s and 40s, than the Sweden Democrats when they began, were to the neo-Nazis of their time.


 

Emotions (arational) and reason (rational) are the brain’s two operating systems

August 1, 2018

There is a debate current among students (I decline to call them scientists) of cognition and artificial intelligence about (1) whether the human brain is just a computer – albeit a very complex computer – and (2) whether a computer can ever truly replicate a human brain.

These are just examples of the debate

  1. The Empty Brain
  2. A response to The Empty Brain
  3. A response to a response to The Empty Brain

Robert Epstein threw down the gauntlet when he wrote

For more than half a century now, psychologists, linguists, neuroscientists and other experts on human behaviour have been asserting that the human brain works like a computer.

To see how vacuous this idea is, consider the brains of babies. Thanks to evolution, human neonates, like the newborns of all other mammalian species, enter the world prepared to interact with it effectively. A baby’s vision is blurry, but it pays special attention to faces, and is quickly able to identify its mother’s. It prefers the sound of voices to non-speech sounds, and can distinguish one basic speech sound from another. We are, without doubt, built to make social connections. …..

………… Senses, reflexes and learning mechanisms – this is what we start with, and it is quite a lot, when you think about it. If we lacked any of these capabilities at birth, we would probably have trouble surviving.

But here is what we are not born with: information, data, rules, software, knowledge, lexicons, representations, algorithms, programs, models, memories, images, processors, subroutines, encoders, decoders, symbols, or buffers – design elements that allow digital computers to behave somewhat intelligently. Not only are we not born with such things, we also don’t develop them – ever.

We don’t store words or the rules that tell us how to manipulate them. We don’t create representations of visual stimuli, store them in a short-term memory buffer, and then transfer the representation into a long-term memory device. We don’t retrieve information or images or words from memory registers. Computers do all of these things, but organisms do not.

I would frame the issue somewhat differently. The human brain is not like a computer but we need to understand the differences. Comparison of the operations of a human brain with that of a computer can, I think, be very revealing.

It is almost self-evident that the human brain is born with two operating systems in place. There is one operating system which is based on logic and reason; a rational operating system. Causality rules. This is what we also build into our computers. But all humans, from birth, also have an emotional operating system in place. This is not opposed to reason but lives on a different plane. It is arational rather than irrational. I take emotions to be a consequence of consciousness and result as judgements based on a perception of the self relative to the world. Whether fear or anger or pleasure or contempt, emotions represent a current judgement of the position of the conscious self in and relative to the world. Our emotional operating system constantly assesses our current state. On the emotional plane causality is incidental and logic is irrelevant. I observe that animals also have differing levels of consciousness and correspondingly different levels of emotion. They also, it would seem, have two operating systems in place. I observe, in my own behaviour, that in very similar situations where reason would demand the same response, my emotional operating system can override reason and create a different response. I observe also that reason is often in command over my behaviour and that my emotions are then suppressed. But it is also apparent that emotions and reason operate largely independently and in parallel. They are not completely independent and do, it seems, “touch base” from time to time.

The basic version of our emotional and rational operating systems would seem to be established by our genes at birth. They are “smart” systems capable of being updated as we grow but cannot be completely rewritten. They develop as our bodies and our brains develop. But what is unique to the living brain is that the two systems operate simultaneously. In every individual they achieve a balance which determines the thresholds when the one is subordinate to or overrides the other. Where some working balance is not achieved it shows up as internal stresses or psychoses.

Computer systems have been developed to “read” human emotions but no computer system has been imbued with the ability to feel emotion. That cannot happen until a computer system has developed some level of consciousness. But the corollary is that any computer which develops some level of consciousness will be capable of feeling emotion.

I come to the conclusion therefore that a computer will not resemble a human brain until we can imbue it with consciousness and – as a consequence – with emotions.


 

“Language” is discovered but “languages” are invented

July 23, 2018

Say I speak only English and you speak only Japanese. We meet and we

  1. have the desire to communicate, and
  2. attempt to communicate by speech

We hear only gibberish. We cannot decode the sounds we hear to discern any meanings. We do not have a shared language. But our communication is not doomed to failure. What we do share is

  1. that we both have language,
  2. the inferred knowledge that each of us does have a specific language,
  3. the knowledge that we are lacking an agreed vocabulary of signals (sounds, symbols….) representing meanings and an agreed  structure for combining these signals when we transmit and receive them from each other.

We have both already discovered language. What we lack is a shared language. With time and application and given that we each know that the other is both aware of, and capable of language, we can invent a shared vocabulary and an acceptable common grammar. We can invent a particular “Jinglish” for our communications.

That two or more brains can communicate if they have a shared system for the encoding of meanings into signals, which signals can then be transmitted and received and decoded into their meanings, is not an invention but a discovery.

The subsequent development of a specific agreed upon system – a specific language – is then invention. English and Japanese and Braille are invented. Hieroglyphs and alphabets and emojis are invented. Paintings on cave walls, impressions on clay tablets, writing on papyrus or palm leaves or on paper, are all inventions. They are invented to implement communication because it has been discovered that communication of meanings by transmitting and receiving signals has been discovered.

When children “acquire language”, as they do even without any instruction, they do so by absorbing it from their surroundings. Japanese surroundings produce a Japanese-speaking child, not one speaking French. A child acquiring language represents a voyage of discovery – not one of invention. It is actually a voyage of many discoveries; of the possibility of communication, of the ability and the need to communicate, of converting meanings into intelligible signals, of decoding signals and of the specific language it is surrounded by. It is the discovery that sounds can be generated and that some sounds can become speech. The child’s need or desire to communicate is no doubt enabled by its genes. Its ability to produce sounds or gestures or other signals to represent meanings is also governed by its biology and its genes. It is the physiology of the bodies we inhabit which allows speech and whistles and gestures but the limitations of our physiology prevent us from generating or sensing or using infra-sound or ultra-sound. Bluetooth capability is not embedded in our bodies but we can, and do, manufacture adjuncts to our bodies which are Bluetooth enabled.

The specific comes first and then leads to the general. “Languages” is to “language” as the special theory of relativity is to the general theory. As Euclid’s geometry leads to general geometries. It is the invention of specific languages which leads to the general definition of the concept of language.

Language has been called the greatest human invention. But it is a discovery and not an invention. It is what makes us human, it has been said. But that is far too homocentric (anthropocentric) a view. Language exists not because humans exist, but because brains desirous of communicating exist. On Earth it happens to be humans. It is not necessary that the communicating brains be of humans, or of individuals of the same species, or even that the brains be contained in living entities.

With dissimilar brains (whether of individuals of different species or between humans and AIs) it is not language in general that is the problem. It is finding a specific, shared set of signals that can be generated, transmitted and received and a specific language (vocabulary and grammar) which can then be used which poses the challenge. Limitations are set not by the concept of language but by

  1. the capability of the brains to generate meanings,
  2. the codification of meanings into signals, and
  3. the capability of generating, transmitting and receiving the signals

To invent and share a specific language with dogs or horses, the challenge is first in generating signals which can be received by the animals and second in receiving and decoding the signals they generate. Maybe if we used pseudo-tails with our dogs and pseudo-ears with our horses to send signals we might have a higher level of success. And when we meet our nearest aliens who “speak” to each other in bursts of X-rays we should not assume that they are backward because they don’t speak English.

Language: A shared system whereby two or more brains can communicate by the encoding of meanings into signals, which signals can then be transmitted and received and decoded back into their meanings.


 

Language transcends its encoded signals

July 19, 2018

My phone “talks” to my desktop computer. It can also “speak” with other devices with which it is “paired” (portable speakers, my lawn mower and my house security system). Coupled devices send and receive short-wavelength UHF radio waves in the ISM band (Bluetooth) to communicate. They follow rules (a vocabulary and a grammar) which specify the “meaning” of the bursts of radio waves they send and detect. I cannot detect any of these signals with my senses. I am neither aware of the communication taking place nor can I enter the conversation except through a compatible device within my control and with which I can communicate using a system which is within the range of my sensory capabilities (touch, vision, sound).

Does the system of signals being used by the bluetooth devices for their communications constitute a language?

There is a vast discourse, starting from ancient times, on the definition and the purpose and the philosophy of language. The Encyclopedia Britannica puts it thus.

Many definitions of language have been proposed. Henry Sweet, an English phonetician and language scholar, stated: “Language is the expression of ideas by means of speech-sounds combined into words. Words are combined into sentences, this combination answering to that of ideas into thoughts.” The American linguists Bernard Bloch and George L. Trager formulated the following definition: “A language is a system of arbitrary vocal symbols by means of which a social group cooperates.” Any succinct definition of language makes a number of presuppositions and begs a number of questions. The first, for example, puts excessive weight on “thought,” and the second uses “arbitrary” in a specialized, though legitimate, way.

I find that much of the discussion is homocentric and tends to equate language with speech and writing. This I think is incorrect. I have therefore come to my own characterisation of what constitutes a language:

I find it is not necessary to specify that language is confined to human brains. It is claimed that the difference between human and animal communication is that human language is unrestricted.

EB again – “Human beings are unrestricted in what they can communicate; no area of experience is accepted as necessarily incommunicable, though it may be necessary to adapt one’s language in order to cope with new discoveries or new modes of thought. Animal communication systems are by contrast very tightly circumscribed in what may be communicated”. 

But this is unsatisfactory. Human thought is not in fact unlimited. It is limited by the very finite capability of the human brain. What a brain cannot perceive it cannot think about. What it cannot think about, it cannot communicate. Furthermore, the system agreed-upon restricts the meanings that can be transmitted and received. (A communication in French is of limited value to someone who knows little French. It is the lowest common level of shared encoding in the system which sets the constraint).

I also find the debate on language and thought, and language and philosophy, to be very often circular. It may be simplistic but I observe that the logic we perceive to exist in the universe is the same logic we embed in all our languages (including mathematics). We cannot then use language to prove or disprove the logic that is within it.

As in Gödel’s Incompleteness theorems: “The first incompleteness theorem states that in any consistent formal system F within which a certain amount of arithmetic can be carried out, there are statements of the language of F which can neither be proved nor disproved in F. According to the second incompleteness theorem, such a formal system cannot prove that the system itself is consistent (assuming it is indeed consistent).”

Which I paraphrase to be that “in a language embedded with a logic, that language can neither prove or disprove the logic that lies within it”.

I observe that we have more thoughts and emotions and perceptions than we have language for. We perceive more colours than any language we invent can describe. Which convinces me that thought precedes language. Moreover, it is the logic we perceive around us that we then build into the languages we invent. It cannot be, I think, that language circumscribes thought. It is our thoughts generated by our perceptions of what is around us that circumscribes the languages we invent.

Our senses come into play first in determining the meanings we wish to communicate. They then determine the shared system of encoding meanings into signals capable of being generated and detected. Our perception of a tree (vision/brain) is encoded into a particular sound (“tree”) which is generated (vocal chords) and detected and decoded by somebody else (aural/brain) and understood – according to the shared system of encoding – to mean a tree. The choice of encoding system is arbitrary but is primarily a matter of convenience. We use vision, sound and touch as a matter of convenience. We do not use olfactory signals because we cannot – at will – generate as great a range of smells as of sound. Besides, vision and sound can transmit signals across much greater distances than smells can. Sound can be transmitted in the dark. We do not have the capability in our bodies of generating or detecting radio waves or X-rays or infra-red radiation as encoded signals of meaning except through the use of specialised, instruments manufactured for the purpose. But if we had the same organs as bats do, we could use ultrasound signals in our languages. Our senses enable a convenient encoding of meanings into signals. Equally the limitations of our senses restrict the range of signals that we can generate and/or detect.

So my bluetooth devices do communicate with each other but the range of meanings they can transmit or receive are heavily circumscribed. They have not the freedom to express meanings which have not been predefined. They cannot initiate a conversation but can follow an instruction to do so. They do not have language.

But what is clear is that while language is a shared. agreed-upon system for encoding meanings into signals for the purpose of communication, language transcends its signals. While human language is mainly manifested as speech and writing, we also use sign-language and Braille and songs and music and art and dance within our languages. Photography and video are now part of the encoding we use in our languages. If we had organs for radio transmission and reception, we would no doubt have a word for “tree” but it would be expressed as a burst of radio-waves rather than a pressure wave or an image of a tree. Language is the system of conveying meanings where speech and writing and hand-signals are just specific forms of encoding. Language is a system which transcends the encoded signals it uses.


 


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