Thursday, November 19, 2015

On intelligence

In his book On intelligence Jeff Hawkins writes this:
Francis Crick wrote a book about brains called The astonishing hypothesis. The astonishing hypothesis was simply that the mind is the creation of the cells in the brain. There is nothing else, no magic, no special sauce, only neurons and a dance of information... In calling this a hypothesis, Crick was being politically correct. That the cells in our brain create the mind is a fact, not a hypothesis. We need to understand what these thirty billion cells do and how they do it.
Wonderful! On the one hand, he states that it is a fact, not a hypothesis, that the neurons of the brain create the mind. On the other, he accepts that we don’t know what they do, or how they do it. How does Hawkins know this for a fact, not a hypothesis? By infused knowledge? How was he able to detect that fact? Are there any arguments to support it? He gives none, he just asserts. Is this good science?

The problem of mind is very old, as old as philosophy, and throughout history has been given four different philosophical answers (at least):
1.      Reductionist monism or biological functionalism: The mind is completely determined by the brain and by the network of neurons that makes it. The human mind is an epiphenomenon. Freedom of choice is an illusion. We are programmed machines.
2.      Emergent monism: The mind is an emergent evolutionary product with self-organization, which has emerged as a complex system from simpler systems made up by neurons. A few thinkers argue that the underlying structures cannot completely determine the evolution of the mental phenomena. These, however, would be able to influence the underlying structures.
3.      Neuro-physiologic dualism: Mind and brain are different, but they are so closely connected that they make up a unit, two complementary and unique states of the same organism.
4.      Metaphysical dualism: Mind and brain are two different realities. The first is spiritual and non-spatial, capable of interacting with the brain, which is a material and spatial substance. Both entities can exist independently of one another, although the body without the mind eventually decomposes.
René Descartes
Although metaphysical dualism, Descartes style, seems to have few supporters currently, neuro-physiological dualism cannot be excluded. Unless one starts from the materialistic postulate, which states that only matter exists, where matter means whatever science can detect and manipulate. In that case, one of the first two philosophical positions on the problem of mind will be naturally chosen.
Jeff Hawkins does not explain it in these terms, but his position is clearly materialist and adapts itself to reductionist monism, perhaps with a few elements of emergent monism. Therefore the fact he mentions in the above quoted paragraph is not really a fact, not even a hypothesis. It is an axiom, an a-priori philosophical position that comes before his ideas. Presenting it as an indisputable scientific fact is typical among modern materialistic scientists, who do not even realize that they are incurring in a typical logical fallacy, well-known since ancient times: begging a question (proving something just by asserting it, without providing any argumentation).


Manuel Alfonseca

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