April 22nd, 2007


The Brain is a Computer--Maybe not

Notes from a panel at Penguicon Satrurday afternoon

2:30 to 4 PM Maple A Brain-As-Computer Metaphor Karl Schroeder, Ron Hale-Evans, Dr. Jonathan "Sullydog" Sullivan Cutting-edge SF author Karl Schroeder joins Ron Hale-Evans, author of Mind Performance Hacks, and Dr. Jonathon Sullivan MD PhD in neurology, to consider "The brain is a computer, the mind is software." That's been the ruling metaphor of cognitive science, neurology and AI studies for decades. The software of thought is supposed to operate much like that of a computer, going from discrete state to discrete state. However a new study from Cornell shows that our thoughts change continuously; the brain works "in shades of grey". And there are good reasons to think that the mind is not an artifact of the brain alone, but is extended into the environment as well

Is consciousness necessary for intelligence?

Consider "Blind sight"--seeing something without knowing that one has seen it

If you think of the brain as a fixed array of neurons, each of which is either on or off, then indeed you are talking about a computer, but...

Neuroplasticity: The brain can change.

The brain is not just array of neurons-other tissues are clearly doing important things .

We don't have one physical model to describe nature at the most fundamental level: We need both quantum mechanics and relativity. So it is not surprising that we need more than one model to describe the brain.

Direct interaction with environment. A baseball player does not catch a fly ball by solving the differential equations that govern the ball's. Also consider how cockroaches scatter when you catch them. This is automatic--not conscious.

"Consciousness cannot be aware of its own absence"

Roger Penrose: Consciousness as quantum gravity effect.

The cognitive system is not just the brain: It is the brain plus its environment.

Consciousness may have a very low bandwidth...may not use much of brain's power. Large amounts of what we do is unconscious. Consciousness just along for the ride..is it important? With experience you do more decisions automatically. Consciousness is for novel situations. Mastery of something is to make it unconscious.

"It's all a blur"...consiousness attenuated.

You do something automatically, an your brain "back dates" the decision to do it. This has moral and theological implications "An array of neurons did this not me. But .... These experiments have been challenged.

"It's all a blur"...consiousness attenuated.

Partial knowledge is often enough...lot of people know how to use computers, but few of them really know how they work.

Ask a pure mathematician "what is a number"--not an easy question.


On the Origin of Objects

Smolin on quantum gravity.

The User Illusion

Synaptic Self

Western Martial Arts

Notes from presentation at Penguicon on Saturday:

4-5:30PM Birch Fencing Demo Bob Scheltema, Brandon Scheltema Witness some non-choreographed, steel sword combat and you might just learn what Inigo Montoya and the Man in Black were talking about in The Princess Bride. The fencing demonstration (fencing, the art of defense, or from the German Fechten, to fight) will include discussions about the growing Western Marital Arts combat movement. Learn the fighting styles of the Italian Masters of Defense (Bonetti, Capo Ferro, Agrippa), along with the combat philosophies of the Spanish (Thibault), German and English schools. Western Marital Arts combat includes rapier, longsword, basket hilt and good old wrestling and kicking.

English style, following Silver's book ..basket hilt broadswords...Strong on cuts...Silver's "true guard" seems very much like the hanging guard in Scottish books.

German longswords..Two handed grip--off hand on pommel for leverage. If you get close, use wrestling...takedowns.

Italian rapier... thrusting

Attack your opponent's sword hand--it will really be sufficient if you can put it out of action.

The Italian and Spanish schools were more gentlemanly. Less grappling than the English and Germans. German texts are more battle oriented, as opposed to street fighting or dueling.

Wearing period clothes, shoes, and weapons makes for a better understanding of why things were done the way they were. Smooth shoes explain tiptoe stance in one period book--that actually gives a better grip on the floor.

There were also several presentations from the Aegis Sword Academy. These had more emphasis on practical fighting than on reproduction of a specific period style, and in fact, everybody from there wore modern clothes. One presentation was:

8:30-9:30PM Birch Sword Demo: "Florentino: Case of Blades" Aegis Sword Academy The grace of fantasy's double swords began as short sword and long knife – the weapons of a back alley fight in sixteenth century Florence.

Return from Penguicon.

Later last night mia_mcdavid and I watched ice cream being made with liquid nitrogen , then ate some of the results. It was a good, rich ice cream.

Afterwards we looked in on a couple parties. I watched some more swordfighting demos by Aegis Academy, then joined Mia at the music circle. This was really quite dead, although we had another nice talk with Frank Hayes when he stopped by briefly. We got to bed about 1 AM. I think James came back to the room about 2:30.

Slept past 9 this morning. Not a lot of convention for me and James, since Mia took us to the airport at 11. This worked out OK, although there was about 1/2 hour of hideous traffic on I-94.

James and I returned home precisely according to plan, again changing planes at O'Hare. James handled the weekend's air travel very well. I am quite pleased with him.

His laptop computer did not do so well. It was very slow. Perhaps a virus had finally gotten into to it. Or perhaps, as a Windows machine, it was uncomfortable at a Linux event :-)> My little Nokia 770, which runs Debian Linux, did just fine....

This was one of the best cons I have been to in a long time. I need to reflect on why that was. It was quite different from what we have here in Minnesota--what about these differences appealed to me?

Mia is driving home, and is spending the night with family friends in Chicagoland.