Re: Ghost in the Machine: What Computer Scientists and Neuroscientists can Learn from Each Other

From: J. R. Molloy (
Date: Thu Nov 09 2000 - 14:15:48 MST

> On AI, neural darwinism, and why consciousness will go the way of
> Max

Karl A. Thiel reports,
<<Dr. Terrence Sejnowski, director of the Computational Neurobiology
Laboratory at the Salk Institute, agrees that the properties of the brain
can likely be duplicated in artificial devices, although he regards
questions of consciousness with a decidedly unphilosophical bent of mind.
"My own suspicion is that words like 'consciousness' and 'qualia' will go
the way of words like 'phlogiston and 'vitalism.'">>

Dr. Sejnowski has also written:
Is the Cerebral Cortex a Time Machine?
"The cerebral cortex contains around 100,000,000,000 neurons and 95% of
the 1,000,000,000,000,000 synapses in the cortex are local connections
between neighboring neurons. Recent discoveries about intrinsic properties
of cortical neurons suggest that they are capable of computing with single
spikes on a much faster time scale than previously thought possible. I
will show that fast recurrent cortical networks may implement a temporal
difference learning algorithm that allows predictions to be made about
future states of the world."

Hmmm.... consciousness, mind, soul, god, etc., are all phlogiston (OK,
I'll go along with that), and cortical neurons can predict "future states
of the world." Love is not exactly phlogiston, it's " ...a surge in
activity in my anterior cingulate cortex, middle insula and in parts of my
putamen and caudate nucleus." All right, but "subconscious computation"
still has meaning according to Sejnowski:
The San Diego Union-Tribune
Copyright 1999 The San Diego Union-Tribune
December 29, 1999, Wednesday
HEADLINE: The Scientists
Terrence J. Sejnowski Neurobiologist The Salk Institute for Biological
** How does consciousness relate to subconsciousness?
Consciousness is like the tip of an iceberg; although it is the most
visible, it represents a small fraction of all the computational work that
goes on in the subconscious, which is below the level of our awareness.
** Which is more important to our survival as a species?
Without the subconscious computation in the brain we would not be able to
do anything. Consciousness is a nice luxury. .

How 'bout self-awareness? Phlogiston?

Stay hungry,

--J. R.
3M TA3

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Mon May 28 2001 - 09:50:20 MDT