RE: Friendliness and blank-slate goal bootstrap

From: Ben Goertzel (
Date: Wed Oct 08 2003 - 06:08:17 MDT


You wrote:

> "Ben Goertzel" <> writes:
> > I suspect that, indeed, not everything that is important is
> within the realm
> > of science.
> I'm afraid that I feel uncomfortable with that. Once you dispose of
> the methods of science, there is no way to distinguish true from false
> hypotheses at all. Without such a method for distinguishing the true
> from the false, any hypothesis becomes equally acceptable and we can
> no longer make progress towards understanding.

I don't find that to be true. I find I can distinguish truth from falsity
in many areas of life without applying the scientific methodology. Science
is a powerful tool for narrowing down truth (I wouldn't say "finding truth"
because we never quite get there), but not the only tool.

Regarding math, I agree with your comments; of course math is not
intrinsically about the physical world.

> > Regarding qualia and experience, I guess that there are
> fundamental reasons
> > why these are not fully scientifically comprehensible.
> If that is true, I'm not sure why we should believe that they exist at
> all.
> Lets say that I have two identical humans, but you have somehow
> tinkered with one of them so that he does not experience some sort of
> qualia and the other has been left alone.
> If they behave differently as a result of the different perception of
> qualia, science can then distinguish the qualia through the difference
> in behavior between the people.

I agree with this. That is because there is some overlap between the
complementary domains of experience and science.

However, I don't think that these scientific-experimental "correlates" of
qualia are the entire meaning and being of the qualia.

And, there may be two qualia that are VERY DIFFERENT using the internal
metric of experiential-qualia space, but are very hard (even if not
theoretically impossible) to differentiate using scientific methods.

> If they do not behave differently (and I include in behavior what
> sensors like PET scanners might perceive about internal brain states)
> then it is hardly obvious that the qualia exist at all. After all, if
> their brain states cannot be externally distinguished, and they do not
> make claims about differing perceptions, in what sense should we
> assume that their internal perceptions should be thought of as
> different?

If these two hypothetical people do not report any differences in
experience, and show no behavioral differences, then of course from an
external observer's view there is no reason to believe that they have
different qualia.

The more interesting case is when two people describe their perceptual
qualia differently, but in practical situations appear to act as though
they're experiencing the same thing. Then you have a question of whether
their perceptual experiences are different, or merely their style of
describing and cognizing these experiences are different.

> In any case, I find it difficult to imagine any phenomenon associated
> with the mind that cannot be externally examined by some sort of
> experiment.

Empirical correlates of qualia can very often (I hesitate to assert
"always") be examined via scientific experiment. But these empirical
correlates are not themselves the qualia; qualia belong to a different
domain of being.

>Your mind is just a product of your brain operating, and
> we can examine the brain in as minute a level of detail as we find
> necessary. We can also (if needed) reproduce you and make alterations
> in you so as to produce controls and replication for the experiment.

"Your mind is just a product of your brain operating" is an interesting and
valuable and important perspective, but not the only valuable perspective.

In the remainder of this email, I'll try to outline another perspective for
you. This is fairly deep stuff, but I think it's important. You may well
take it for a bunch of hoooey, and that's OK. Please understand however
that this is a philosophical perspective coming from a very active research
scientist who values the scientific perspective tremendously. (I'm
currently involved mainly with computer science and biology, but I've also
done some empirical psychology work in the past.)

Apologies for the unsystematic exposition, but, well, this is an email not a
philosophical treatise ;-)

Let's start with the known fact that the individual mind constructs the
world it "perceives." Neuroscience even tells us that: the colors that we
see in the world bear only indirect resemblance to what's really going on
out there ... our eyes fill in blind spots, distort sizes and distances,
etc. etc. So the neurons and synapses and so forth that make up our "brain"
are, in this sense, part of a subjectively-constructed world. The concept
"brain" is a product of mind, as is each individual brain that we perceive
in the laboratory. We have an abstract scientific world-model that tells us
there is a "real physical brain" underlying the "constructed brain" that we
perceive with our illusion-building eyes and visual cortex.

This abstract world-model is built via inference, but it is not built by any
one of us individually via inference, it is built socially via inference, so
that each of us is relying on some ideas derived from others via textbooks
or conversations, in understanding and convincing ourselve of this
scientific world-model. In attaching confidence to what we learn via
textbooks and conversations, we are assuming some validity to the social
world, which is based primarily on our (largely illusory from a scientific
view) perceptions of the everyday physical world, which again (from a
scientific view) are understood as reflections of some underlying world that
is distorted by our perceptual brains.

OK -- so what is "real" in all this? Is it the individually perceived
world? Clearly this is not *so* real. Is it the abstract model world
constructed by science? Perhaps this is a little more real. But if so,
why? The abstract model world is not real "because it's definitely proved
real by empirical data points" -- because, after all, every empirical
observation is questionable, being part of an at-least-largely-illusory
everyday-perception-world. Rather, the abstract model world is "real"
because it's self-consistent with a high degree of probability. Whereas the
everyday world is MUCH LESS self-consistent, since it leads to the
scientific perspective, which then teaches us that the everyday world is
illusory, due to blind spots, implicit neural color theories that only
loosely reflect the outputs of optical instruments that appear to be more
accurate, etc.

I'll now introduce a different notion of "mind": Mind is the "space" within
which these different "models" and "hypothetical worlds" exist. The model
world of science, the individual worlds of each of us, etc. This space of
patterns and structures is in a way larger than the scientifically posited
world, as the world described by science is simply one possible perspective,
one possible world within it. Qualia live here in this mindspace,
interacting/intersecting with but not defined by the scientific world-model.

Anyway -- for my work on AI engineering, I nearly always take the
perspective of "mind emerging from brain", but that doesn't mean I think
this is the only valuable perspective.... If you adopt the scientific
reductionist perspective as the only valuable one, you're really limiting
yourself, in my view. But hey -- to each his own!! ;-)

-- Ben Goertzel

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