Science and Modeling the Mind

The October 6th issue of Science had a special section of articles on “Modeling the Mind”. This is something that I enjoyed reading, having concentrated on the computational side of these techniques in studying for my master’s degree. For some time during my Ph.D., I was developing background to explore modeling the mental processing of biosonar in dolphins. Although my dissertation topic changed to something more clearly within physiology and bioacoustics, the techniques and approaches still are of considerable interest to me.

The first article concerns research by Jeff Hawkins, the inventor of the PalmPilot PDA. Hawkins developed a theory of action for the cerebral cortex, positing that the single functional operation that cortical neurons perform, as explicated by Mountcastle in the 1970s, was prediction of events. And Hawkins aims to convert theoretical knowledge into practical applications, having founded a software company, Numenta, to develop applications based upon theories of neuroscience.

Maybe once I calm down from the recent theft of our stuff, I will take up commenting on some of the other articles. It really is good to see this topic getting some exposure.

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Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

2 thoughts on “Science and Modeling the Mind

  • 2006/10/28 at 7:15 pm
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    Hmm… prediction of events as the single functional operation of cortical neurons. And what basis do you have to categorically reject that something other than cortical neurons could also function to predict events?

    If it happened in nature once, it could have happened at other times and in other ways, don’t you think? After all, we find different kinds of lungs in spiders and humans, different kinds of skeletons in insects and humans, different kinds of wings in insects and birds … hands can be used to carry tanks of oxygen on one level, and blood cells can be used to carry oxygen on a different level. Why not one kind of intelligence in the human brain, and another type of sub-cellular intelligence relating to DNA?

    I have nothing to prove that DNA has an intelligence network along the order of cortical neurons but on a much smaller and different anatomical/biochemical scale, but I don’t understand why you reject this type of thought as unscientific, or what in your book “Why Intelligent Design Fails” actually proves that there is no such possibility.
    It is like proving molecular structures, and using that evidence to reject the idea of atomic structures, or studying atoms, and rejecting the idea of going further into studying quantum physics.

    Just because we can study intelligence at the brain level does not mean that there is no natural intelligence at any other level, so if you are going to claim that DNA can have no intelligence, you’d better start doing the science to disprove intelligence at that level, or otherwise just be content to say that it is possible. I don’t think we’ve done enough research into that possibility yet to say anything either way, and I see no harm coming to science from pursuing that quest.

    I really don’t see how you can say that the idea of natural evolved intelligence in DNA is part of the same old anti-evolution bogus arguments you’ve been hearing from the ID crowd that you are familiar with. Casey Luskin calls it “weird”. What other experts have you heard talking about that idea? Where is the long history of that type of argument? How many Creationists are willing to rule out supernatural intervention to say that there could be a natural evolved intelligence behind the working of the cells and organs which we can investigate through natural science but as of now know nothing about?

  • 2006/10/28 at 11:36 pm
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    That comment from Shrom doesn’t have much at all to do with modeling the mind, does it? In the future, I’ll simply refrain from letting through “comments” like Shrom’s that simply spout a couple of keywords from the post, then go off onto irrelevant tangents. Shrom, be topical or don’t be surprised that the stuff you type doesn’t appear later.

    Shrom wrote:

    Hmm… prediction of events as the single functional operation of cortical neurons. And what basis do you have to categorically reject that something other than cortical neurons could also function to predict events?

    What basis does Shrom have to assert that there was any such exclusionary statement as the one he makes? None whatever, because it doesn’t exist outside the peculiar illogic Shrom applies to the stuff he reads. The statement was that cortical neurons just do prediction, not that other neurons could not. And that apparently delineates the extent to which Shrom can contribute to any discussion of neuroscience.

    As for the notion that Shrom is just doing the same old antievolutionary schtick, let’s refer back to his book:

    It was once thought that a single atom had much
    less energy than a room full of coal, but then Einstein came along. Modern scientists think that a DNA molecule has less intelligence than the brain of a flea, but it could turn out that DNA holds not only the genetic code for individual organisms, but also the intelligent design for whole kingdoms of living species. This would overthrow Darwinist theories that all mutations are purposeless and undirected, while keeping what has already been proven about natural selection and small-scale evolution.

    Shrom’s conjectures, or more descriptively, ignorant wild-assed guesses about DNA don’t come from anything and don’t lead anywhere, except to the hobby-horse that Shrom wishes to deny riding. Unfortunately for Shrom, he has committed that linkage irrevocably to writing in his book, which he apparently believes that no one will read, or at least no one with even minimal analytical abilities. There’s no implication that Shrom’s fantasies about “DNA” actually could or would cause any such effects as he fantasizes about, such as whether mutations occur correlated with fitness. For Shrom, “DNA” is just a label for a convenient gap. Gap thinking is just the usual old bogus way that antievolutionists approach science. Creationists have been saying that the supernatural isn’t part of their thinking for decades now, as Dean Kenyon’s sworn affidavit in the Edwards v. Aguillard case clearly demonstrated, and as I established in an earlier comment to Shrom. Is Shrom really that forgetful? That doesn’t bode well for Version 2 of “Getting Past the Culture Wars”, since he’s starting with a surfeit of ignorance about what has been argued as antievolution in the past, and apparently can’t retain new knowledge for even a period of a few weeks.

    So, what is weird about recognizing that antievolutionists in the past have made ignorant fantasies about stuff that is not completely understood by science yet, passed the burden of proof that they should shoulder off to critics, and claim nonetheless that “Darwinism” is thereby refuted, and then noting that a supposed newcomer to the scene does just the same thing? I don’t think there is anything weird about being able to recognize that clear pattern of behavior.

    As for novelty of the specific fantasy in play here, Shrom can’t even claim that. There was the commenter Kop in a blog thread in August, 2005 saying much the same thing:

    ID is EXTREMELY suspect and probably bunk. Teaching it is along side science is ridiculuous, especially if the supernatural is given as an alternative. However, I am not sure if science can yet rule out that naturally occuring intelligent structures (maybe DNA or RNA or something else) that possess functionality similiar to or analagous to the cortex, which produces what we generally consider intelligence, possibly making some steps in evolution less radom and chaotic and more like an intelligent design than a mere chance occurence through natural selection. This is at least a scientifically testable hypothesis. If it is falsified, then ID is bunk. Admittedly, this is not what most proponents of ID are arguing. Although, my hypothesis above is consistent with what they are arguing, so maybe we shouldn’t pompously laugh too hard at them just yet.
    # posted by Kop : 12:37 PM

    And then on another blog we find the following from November, 2005:

    Secondly, each and every living being acts or is capable of action and so it can rightly be called an agent. Beyond the sum of its physics and chemistry is the “center” of all its action, the moving force, the seat of power that makes it an agent. And since these agents are capable of surviving independently, they are therefore autonomous agents. Moreover, every such agent is intelligent because all its activities depend on the intelligence of DNA.

    Yawnsville. Even when it comes to fantasy completely removed from reality, something without constraints, Shrom delivers… just what other antievolutionists have said before. Pathetic.

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