Time Heals All Wounds.. And Then Kills the Patient
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Wed Dec 10 12:00:40 2003
From leg to leg

Some snippets from a conversation I'm having over email on the topic of religion and artificial intelligence.. the quoted sections are his.

>Christians and others give high priority to presuppositions that don't >support a mechanical view of human beings >many realities don't fit into a materialist model: values, purpose, >consciousness,love, sense that relationships with other persons goes >beyond the physical, intuition (I'm impressed by the fact that even >though the physical body is totally renewed every so many years, there is >a continuity of the person across these gaps..also amazed how it's >possible to have close friends that I spend hours with, often not >speaking at all, but nevertheless experiencing a powerful sense that we >are in communion with each other..sometimes even when we are separated by >a great distance)

On the contrary -- all of those are understandable in the materialist school of models. The briefest one to explain, intuition, may be just a result of our brain not recording all of its reasoning in the memory store. We might say that intuition is deep, subconscious, and less static thought.

A challenge to the nonmaterialists -- what do they say to the experiments where areas of the brain are artificially stimulated and people come to feel unexplained emotions? There are all sorts of fascinating research where, either with MRI or stimulus, many of the capacities of the brain are invoked, and of course, similarly, studies on people who have suffered injury that have affected their functionality in very precise ways.

Scientifically, the religious models don't really offer much of anything -- they only rarely offer predictive models of human behavior, and while scientists continue their experiments and theories, the religious people, be they muslim, christian, or wiccan, are usually either sitting on the sidelines naysaying or talking in their temple about how the work is sacrelige, and should be stopped, perhaps burning or locking up the scientist in the process. So many great minds have been lost or stifled because of religion, so much time wasted.. Consider the rules for the 'creation science' folk, where to join people must pledge that, before their scientific commitment, they will hold to a belief in christianity. Good science there. Alan Turing... one of the most important figures in the school of computer science.. forced to take hormone treatments because he was a homosexual, eventually committed suicide when he started to grow breasts. Socrates... Copernicus..

I'm not claiming you to quite being the same thing, but pointing out that religious establishments only rarely took the time to understand how the scientific community and process works, and only rarely has it been less than hostile to it. One interesting example of what happened when a branch of the church did, during the first enlightenment, when the church established centres of religious learning to reintegrate knowledge bought back from the Arabs after the dark ages, was that the university side of the church and the chapel side of the church had nasty (and sometimes violent) disagreements.

>Pat, what are the essential features of your materialist view of the >world?

I don't really understand the question. I'll take a stab at what I think you're getting at...

We live in a complex world, with all sorts of ideas floating around, and, presumably, a reality that sits behind our subjectivity. Apart from trying to understand it, we also have other needs, for a society, for safety, and emotional satisfaction. People try to construct a worldview, based on what they see, what they think might be, and what they desire. People are complex too, with a wide variety of desires that often are at conflict with each other. Some grouping/ranking of the values come to 'rule' in a person, and people often marginalize the other values or attempt to pretend they don't exist, in a sense fearing themselves. Moral/Ethical/Pragma systems are ways to harness those values in a consistant fashion, and because to some degree these values appear to be common to humanity, and because people don't want to be the sole person striving for a better society (again defined by those values), people universalize their values. One way to do so is through Philosophy (the path I advocate). Another, when philosophy doesn't have enough teeth, is to claim that these universalized values are intrinsic to the nature of things, and to create gods, spirits, and other concepts needed to enforce the value system. This is the primary purpose of religion -- other benefits are that it can offer emotionally satisfying explanations for happenstance (from weather (Zeus's Anger) to why we're here(To rise to the celestial bureaucracy)), satisfy a vengance instinct (Sheol/Tartarus/Hell), and act as a vehicle for cultural continuity and growth. The last is particularly important -- religion ties into deep needs of humanity, and unlike many other cultural elements, is difficult to change (and disruptive when changed). Governments use it to justify/influence their existence and laws, parents use it to teach their children to behave, and it even acts, on a cultural-mimetic level, as a type of genetic code on societies, in that when societies have less mimetically-optimal arrangements, they are statistically weaker in the survival sense.

From another facet of the worldview, we're creatures like the other creatures on earth, intellectually advanced over the others, and the only creatures to have advanced language capacity (other great apes have a limited sign language in the wild, etc). We have a variety of viewpoints, and don't really understand ourselves very well. We have a lot of illusions that we're only starting to take off and examine, and often struggle with inner/outer desire/value conflicts

>Another thought..even if we admit a strict correlation between mental and >physical states and events, it doesn't follow that brain events are >always the causes and mental states the effects? It seems that often >mental states affect brain states. As we form concepts, meditate on God, >worry about exams..in these cases it seems that mental activity produces >brain activity, and not the reverse.

That doesn't follow. You're still thinking of them as seperate entities, while I suggest that they are one and the same. We might as well ask if computation causes bits to shift on a computer, or if the bits shifting cause computation.