Essays and Stories
by Seyed P. Razavi

© 2020

Filed Under #Essays

Are our minds like computers? [3]

This posts concludes my current exploration of whether our minds are like computers (see parts 1 & 2). In this final instalment, I look at the mechanistic theory of computation and its role in cognitive neuroscience. I argue that despite some limitations this is a favourable approach for research into cognition.

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Are our minds like computers? [2]

In the previous post, I gave some reasons from neuroscience for why the brain is not like a computer. I also raised an issue with thinking of computation as the basis of cognition. If computation is dependent on representation this can lead to a vicious circle. This is a significant challenge to the semantic view of computation. In this post, I present the first of two possible non-semantic views.

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Are our minds like computers? [1]

Human beings have used different metaphors to explain the mind over the years. Plato talked about a charioteer guiding two horses. The charioteer was reason controlling the horses of desire and spiritedness. The pre-industrials talked about hydraulics. Then came steam engine metaphors and telegraph switchboards. Now of course, the ubiquitous computer analogy. To what extent ‘the mind is like a computer’ I explore through this and later posts.

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Are our minds socially extended?

The extended mind thesis argues that at least some cognition happens outside the brain. Eros Moreira de Carvalho proposes that social actions constitute some mental processes. In this post, I’ll examine the argument for the socially extended mind thesis (SEMT). I’ll do this by way of first presenting its foundations: the extended mind thesis and Gibson’s affordances.

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What is phenomenology? [2]

In a previous post, I introduced phenomenology. This is a philosophical discipline that attempts to makes sense of our first-person experience. In this post, I will present some worries about the method. Followed by the strong objection against phenomenology raised by the philosopher Daniel Dennett.

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What is phenomenology? [1]

In this post, I will introduce you to phenomenology. This is a philosophical discipline that tries to makes sense of our first-person conscious experience. This will be a summary of the approach and why it may be a fruitful one. In a future post, I’ll consider some worries about the approach and present the arguments of one of its detractors, Daniel Dennett.

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Should smart technologies be transparent when used?

“[D]eep learning systems are ‘already pushing their way into real-world applications. Some help drive services inside Google and other Internet giants, helping to identify faces in photos, recognize commands spoken into smartphones, and so much more’. If deep learning networks systematically classify the world’s patterns in ways that are at variance with our ordinary human classifications, and if those networks are lodged in the workings of the technology that organizes and shapes our cognitive lives,...

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How is technology use shaped by the wider culture?

"How we use technologies is shaped by the games and forms of life that are already in place "before’’ we use them. There is already a "grammar’’ of technology. Of course there is also a "grammar’’ in the sense of "syntax’’: specific rules how to put together different parts for instance, or specific operating instructions. But there is also a grammar in a wider, more social and cultural sense: there are already particular activities and...

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How does technology enable scientific discovery?

"We should notice the force, effect, and consequences of inventions, which are nowhere more conspicuous than in those three which were unknown to the ancients... printing, gun powder, and the compass. For these three have changed the appearance and state of the whole world... innumerable changes have been thence derived, so that no empire... appears to have exercised a greater power and influence on human affairs than these mechanical  discoveries." - Francis Bacon The idea...

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What care do we owe for the world we have made?

"Dr. Frankenstein's crime was not that he invented a creature through some combination of hubris and high technology, but rather that he abandoned the creature to itself. When Dr. Frankenstein meets his creation on a glacier in the Alps, the monster claims that it was not born a monster, but that it became a criminal only after being left alone by his horrified creator, who fled the laboratory once the horrible thing twitched to life....

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How do we free our relationship with technology?

"Thus we shall never experience our relationship to the essence of technology so long as we merely conceive and push forward the technological, put up with it, or evade it. Everywhere we remain unfree and chained to technology, whether we passionately affirm or deny it. But we are delivered over to it in the worst possible way when we regard it as something neutral; for this conception of it, to which today we particularly like...

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What happens when the virtual feels more real than the actual?

"From the early days of manned space travel comes a story that exemplifies what is most fascinating about the human encounter with modern technology. Orbiting the earth aboard Friendship 7 in February 1962, astronaut John Glenn noticed something odd. His view of the planet was virtually unique in human experience; only Soviet pilots Yuri Gagarin and Gherman Titov had preceded him in orbital flight. Yet as he watched the continents and oceans moving beneath him,...

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Who are the world-makers?

"World makers, social network makers, ask one question first: How can I do it? Zuckerberg solved that one in about three weeks. The other question, the ethical question, he came to later: Why? Why Facebook? Why this format? Why do it like that? Why not do it another way? The striking thing about the real Zuckerberg, in video and in print, is the relative banality of his ideas concerning the “Why” of Facebook. He uses...

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What is hyperhistory?

“Technologies as users interacting with other technologies as prompters, through other in-between technologies: this is another way of describing hyperhistory as the stage of human development” ― Luciano Floridi The way human beings live can be divided into two with the development of our increasingly robust ability to pass information between generations using Information Communication Technologies (ICTs). This division is usually expressed by the terms prehistory and history, adverbs that describe how people lived, not...

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On Feminism

I used to say I was a feminist but I didn’t know what it meant. Worse, my behaviour was conditioned by patriarchy in the home, institutionally at school and in pursuit of higher education, in physics and computer science. Then reinforced in the field of work within software engineering. I am committed to justice and equality of opportunity, to seeing humanity as a unity and not to be sucked into the artificial divisions by which...

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The Problem of Evil

The Problem of Evil is typically stated as: “If there is an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God, why is there evil in the world?” Usually, this is used to put the theist in the horn of a dilemma wherein he must give up either God’s omnipotency (including her omniscience) or her omnibenevolence or both. I’d like to argue that the problem as stated suffers from three category mistakes: two in the conditional (“an omnipotent and omnibenevolent...

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Paradise Lost

Book I And high disdain from sense of injured merit, That with the Mightiest raised me to contend, And to the fierce contentions brought along Innumerable force of Spirits armed, That durst dislike his reign, and, me preferring, His utmost power with adverse power opposed In dubious battle on the plains of Heaven The first book begins by outlying the premise of the work with Milton calling upon his muse Urania, recast as a Christian...

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The evolving peer sharing organism

Recently, the RIAA and MPAA or their local henchmen have been attacking peer-to-peer filesharing hubs in an effort to cripple the networks which utilise them. This strategy will no doubt prove successful in the short term but disastrous in the long-term. In targetting hubs, they have employed one of the few direct assault strategies on decentralised networks that can work. It’s pretty well understand networks that normally would remain stable despite the loss of even large numbers of nodes,...

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Win or Losing the War on Terror

How do we know if we have won or lost the War on Terror? By what objectives do we measure success or failure? Here are some I've come to dismiss: * No more terrorism: Given this is a methodology of persuasion (not necessarily of the victim, or their relations, but of some segment of global opinion), how can it evaporate? It cannot. * No more attacks in the West or against its interests: OK, a...

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How does democracy really work?

How do people decide who they are going to vote for in a national or local election? It's a big question and the focus of much thought by political hacks and pollsters but I suspect it boils down to several "simple" questions: * Does the incumbent have my trust? * Does the popular consensus on the candidate's ideology match my own political instincts? * Which way are my important social connections leaning? * Has any...

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Why democracy isn't the answer to terrorism

It's been said "poverty wasn't what caused a group of middle-class and reasonably well-educated Middle Easterners to fly three airplanes into buildings and another into the ground. It was, rather, resentments growing out of the absence of representative institutions in their own societies, so that the only outlet for political dissidence was religious fanaticism." (John Lewis Gaddis) The implication is that democracy is the answer. I have to respectfully disagree. I'm obviously not suggesting that...

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Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Having read this book over a month ago it feels strange to write about it now but I've had it on my mind for quite some time. For an adventure tale of zoology and faith it's not something that I would have thought I could remember and think back upon after so much time but there's something about this tale of a young Indian boy's survival on the high seas that seems to have resonated...

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Truth, Faith and Uncertainty

It is said that faith cannot exist without doubt and therefore certainty is the opposite of faith for in certainty one believes that all the answers are known, whereas faith requires serious doubts and uncertainties to allow the adoption of ideas despite the sincerest and most profound doubts. Faith without doubt is bigotry. Yet in the practice of religion, doubt is often given way to truth. If religion is an expression of faith, organised and...

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Immigration as a Good Thing

It may not be the most popular thing to say given the rise of the right wing, anti-immigration, anti-Islam politicians in Western Europe but I'm going to do what politicians should be doing: argue in favour of immigration. In fact, I hope to illustrate that Europe more than most places on this planet needs immigration and it is immigration that will fuel long-term prosperity, not the racist slogans of "rivers of blood" whose echoes are...

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Disruptive Influences

Most of the technology I work with today is driven from the top down (e.g. Java, XML) but it is the bottom up technologies that often offer the greatest real benefits and fulfil a real need. In this article, I'm going to list some of the more significant disruptive technologies and where they could take us. Personal Computing It may seem strange to list personal computing as a disruptive technology now that it is all pervasive...

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White Teeth by Zadie Smith

This debut novel covers so much ground and is so epic in the proportion that it is hard to believe it is only set in North London. Following the fortunes of two families of different ethnicity this book covers the "salad bowl" culture of late 20th Century Britain with such wit, empathy and understanding I found it hard to put it down once I started reading. I could see more than a little of myself,...

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