Friday, July 06, 2007

Mind the Enchantment

The human mind is subject to various forms of enchantment. Not a magical enchantment, but more like a trance, sometimes pleasant, sometimes not.

Because our minds are "self organised", they are subject to falling into distinctly different states, at particular "bifurcations."An illustration of this phenomenan is the "bistability" of particular images. Following the series of images above, can you say exactly where the transition occurs? What if you saw only that one image?

But the deeper you dive into the mechanisms of consciousness, the larger the number of possible mind states, so that bistability becomes tristability and so on. Just the single topic of synaptic plasticity quickly acquires a complexity to confound most scientists.

Hypnosis takes advantage of the inherent ambiguity of consciousness, and "adjusts the weighting" of various competing states of mind. Since mind is inherently a self-organizing, ongoing trance-like process, it is often likened to "riding the wave," or staying on the "bucking bronco." From the moment of waking to the release of sleep, that "blinking cursor" of consciousness compels us to provide answers and solutions, even to unknown or nonexistent problems.

For anyone who is curious about some of the underlying neurophilosophy of consciousness, I suggests looking over this article by Edelman and Tononi--two prolific and respected students of consciousness. Or look over this overview of Models of Consciousness from Scholarpedia.

Understanding human consciousness is difficult enough. But a lot of people wish to create intelligence in machines. This dream goes back hundreds, if not thousands, of years. But since the computer age beginning in the 1940s, multiple generations of ingenious scientists of mind and computation have dashed their skulls against the wall of computational complexity (not to mention a lack of understanding of the complexity of human cognition or intentionality).

Each person experiences a consciousness of an enchanted mind. Not a mind of equations and computations. Rather a mind of metaphor and narrative. An entranced mind where real world expediencies intrude on waking dreams. Complex trances of strange attractors and slippery bistable conscious surfaces.

There would be no point in trying to emulate all of that in a machine. Not unless that is the only way we can find to create a conscious machine. Perhaps it is better to settle for machines that only seem conscious or intelligent, as viewed by a simple Turing test. After all, we are only looking for help in making better decisions and devising a better world for smarter, healthier, longer-lived people.

We may be entranced, but why burden our machines with all of that? It is our trance that we wish to enjoy far into the future, not the trance of a machine.

Originally posted at Al Fin