Re: Parallel processing & subconscious [Was Re: Neurons vs. Transistor]

J. R. Molloy (
Fri, 30 Jul 1999 11:35:55 -0700

Robert J. Bradbury wrote,
>> James Bailey makes a pitch for parallel processing in his book _After
>> Thought, The Challenge to Human Intelligence_.
>> If you've read it, do you agree with him?
>I've read about half of it (it keeps getting stuck in the middle of
>the "too finish" stack). It is clear that parallel processing will
>be an important part of any AI/IA. The interesting thing about
>parallel/distributed processing is that it driven by two factors
>(a) economics -- you can't make "big" perfect chips, and (b)
>themodynamics -- you can't make the computronium really "dense"
>without melting it. It is doubtful that we would have willingly
>engaged in parallel processing if we hadn't been pushed into it
>by these constraints.

Thank you for pointing that out. Due to Bailey's connection to Thinking Machines Corporation, his enthusiasm for parallel processing seems suspect to some. I look at it more as an indication of Bailey's commitment to what he considers the most feasible plan for successfull development of AI (and possibly IA).

Speaking of IA, you probably haven't run across it yet, but Bailey offers an interesting comment on page 213 of _After Thought_: "During the 1970s, a mathematician set out to match an autistic savant at the mind task of determining the day of the week of any date in the past or future. Despite enormous amounts of practice and the memorization of a full-page table, the mathematician could not match the savant in speed. And then he could. All of a sudden, he no longer needed to step through the operations he had been practicing so diligently. The correct answer just happened. Instead of being first nature to him, it had become second nature. Using terminology popular at the time, a psychologist surmised that the entire task had migrated from the left brain to the right brain. Once a product of traditional sequential thought, it had simply transferred to a new ground."

>The interesting thing from my perspective is the variety of computing
>architectures/algorithms that seem to be developing (Harvard,
>cellular automata, neural nets, genetic algorithms, quantum computing,
>reconfigurable -- that seem to be useful for a variety of specific
>tasks (controlled sequencing, reality simulations, learning, evolution,
>factoring, adaptability [respectively]). Parallel processing simply
>makes most or all of these approaches much more powerful. The interesting
>thing about the architecture of the brain would seem to be the *huge*
>amount of asynchronous [subconscious] parallel processing that is
>occuring. This only gets noticed/integrated at the very highest levels.
>That bodes well for AI since it means that complex problems can be
>broken down into lots of simple problems that can be programmed/processed/
>solved at levels we can easily comprehend. The algorithms to do
>the results "merging" and "selection" are *not* going to be
>fun however.

It sounds like you know more about current computer architectures than I do. The kind of parallel processing advocated by Bailey (from what I can glean) consists of tens of thousands (perhaps someday millions) of nodes running identical (but re-configurable and relatively simple) instruction sets, and evolving new programs by competing with each other. He contends that parallel computation surpasses sequential or discursive computation because parallel processing can do more pattern recognition -- a necessary component of AI.

>I've got some questions re: mental processing. After reading Calvin's
>books on survival/evolution/selection of ideas in the brain, I have
>been mentally attempting to verify these ideas to some degree.
>I will be doing something that doesn't require "complete attention"
>such as reading a book. I'll then get a little "tickle" in my mind
>about an "inconsistancy" or something that "doesn't make sense".
>I've got myself trained sufficiently to let these thoughts "bubble"
>to the surface, and when they do, I realize that it is something
>*totally* unrelated to what I've been reading. The degree of
>disconnectedness between my conscious attention stream and
>unconscious thoughts is sometimes rather shocking.

It seems to me that Calvin (along with Edelman and Crick) has presented the most compelling theory about how brains think. Those thought bubbles apparently compete with each other, à la a Darwin machine. The winning bubbles form a pattern of thought (of indeterminate duration) variously referred to as consciousness, awareness or attention. (Mileage may vary. Brain farts void all warranties.)

Subliminal thought processes, according to this model, simply remain too weak to register their patterns against the dominant patterns unless or until dominant paradigms fade or burst. So, thinking parallels Darwinian evolution in a connectionistic universe. It seems to me that your narrative of survival/evolution/selection tends to verify these metaphors.

>Does anyone else have experiences like this? Are male/female
>patterns consistantly different in these areas [i.e. males
>are more uniformly single-minded while females are more
>multi-minded?]. Finally, on a rather scarey note, if I
>continue to reinforce the entertainment of random subconscious
>thoughts, could this lead to schizophrenia?

I guess many of us have had experiences just like you describe. Perhaps you won't find it offensive if I suggest that the knack of letting random subconscious thoughts expire, IOW letting them fall away, or just dropping them, allowing them to fade out, watching them disappear like morning fog in the sunshine, correlates to what many have called meditative or contemplative experience. Conscious experience, with no content, resets the brain's entire perspective, and refreshes it so that it can form a whole new Big Picture of reality. The experience of pure awareness can find a home in any brain, male or female (or ET for that matter). But the expression or translation of that experience certainly seems to contain components of gender, ethnicity, culture, and so on.

The inability to stop thinking perhaps indicates illness analogous to the inability to stop talking, to stop walking, or to stop scratching. The French have coined a psychological term for the inability to stop thinking about a particular thing: "idée fixe" they call it. For a treatise on meditation technique, I recommend _The Relaxation Response_, by Herbert Benson, M.D.

In my opinion, you will never become schizophrenic, because you've already indicated that you understand where your random subconscious thoughts come from. I think most mentally healthy people at some time or other worry about their own sanity. Crazy people never doubt their own sanity.