Self-Organization or Creation?

    For many decades, there has been wide belief that society organizes itself.  That given facts about human nature, society will just fall into a certain pattern.  And by many these were considered the best kinds of explanations, that to really understand large-scale human behavior, one should look towards these principles of self-organization, which are laws like any law of physics.  

    However, from the perspective of the past two years, seeing that things can change so suddenly and so completely, and looking back and seeing the deterioration that made the birdemic and related events possible, it is clear that these ideas are far from universally applicable.  Not that bottom up organization does not exist, but that it is dependent upon the people who so organize themselves.  If the people change, if the units which make up the larger group change, then the organization of that group also changes.

    It turns out that the traditional means of explaining human behavior by purpose and and understanding is more fundamental than systems-type explanations.  

    But even given all this, what if there is more to the analogy with physics?  One of the most important metaphysical principles is that nothing can give what it does not have.  If society doesn't "just happen", then we might ask whether likewise, the universe doesn't "just happen"?  That while there is self-organization, other things are going on beyond our knowledge.  And in that case, it would be better to think of it as being created than being self-organized.  

True symbols can be obscured but not corrupted

    Two well-known symbols used in the present day, one overtly, the other less so are the rainbow and the five-pointed star.  But both of these symbols have a quite different origin.

    The rainbow has been used as a religious symbol as far back as the book of Genesis, which reads (9: 12-15): 

    "And God said: This is the sign of the covenant which I will give between me and you, and to every living soul that is with you, for perpetual generations.  I will set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be the sign of a covenenat between me, and between the earth.  And when I shall cover the sky with clouds, my bow shall appear in the clouds: And I will remember my convenant with you, and with every living soul that beareth flesh: and there shall no more be waters of a flood to destroy all flesh."

    The pentangle is also both a Christian symbol (in particular in the medieval poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight), relating to the five senses, the five wounds of Jesus, the five joys of Mary, and the five virtues of knighthood.  The pentangle was also used by the Pythagoreans, who, although they have been unfairly maligned as either a cult or a political cabal, were a force for good in the world, in particular through the purity and austerity of their lives.

    But notice that when the Establishment uses these symbols, they have to change them.  In the Infogalactic article on the subject, there is a picture of both a Pythagorean pentangle and a pentagram design by Aleister Crowley.  They look completely different.  Likewise, the symbol being foisted upon us now does not even look like or have the same colors as a rainbow occurring after rain.

        That suggests that true symbols have a quality of their own which cannot be corrupted, only obscured.  And for that reason we should treasure the true symbols and ignore the fakes.  

    (William Wildbood and William James Tychonievich have also written posts on this topic, about how the rainbow as a symbol has its own significance).

The two questions of AI

     This post is inspired by a recent Orthosphere post on the Turing test as well as the discussion in the comments.  I also read Turing's 1950 paper "Computing Machinery and Intelligence" to see how he considered this issue.  

    The question of whether a machine can think involves two questions.  Although these are related, it is worth distinguishing them for the sake of clarity in thinking.  The first is the theoretical question: Is it possible for humans (or perhaps some other species) to make a machine that can think?  In asking this question, I am using thinking as it is generally understood, in that thinking requires consciousness.  Furthermore, it may also be that all consciousness carries with it some degree of free will, so any conscious machine also is has free will and can be autonomous in its actions.  

    This question has two parts.  First, whether it is possible at all.  Second, whether any human being will ever be able to figure out how to do so.  It may be that there is a method for making conscious artifacts but no human being will ever have the intelligence, creativity, and understanding to discover it.  As to whether it is possible at all, a common response is to flippantly say: "Humans are machines and we think, so it must be possible."  But this statement already begs the question.  It is better to say: "We know that mind and matter can occur together in humans and animals, so it may be possible for artifacts."  

    As to whether this is actually possible, it's completely unknown.  We don't know how mind and matter connect, so we do not know how to bring about such a connection.  We do not know what method, if any, would work; however, we can rule out known methods.   In particular, computation is not sufficient to bring about consciousness.  Computation is simply rule-following; it is lesser than consciousness: a conscious human being can generate computations (by doing an arithmetic problem, for instance), but computation alone does not generate consciousness.

    This brings us to the second question, which is the practical issue: to what extent can human beings make machines that can imitate human behavior, regardless of whether the machines are conscious or not?  

    The answer to this question is also unknown.  We do not know the limits of human inventiveness and we do not know all possible methods by which human behaviour might be imitated by machines, so it is not possible to answer the question in general.  

    By distinguishing these two questions, we can see that there are two distinct approaches to artificial intelligence.  Those interested in the first question are primarily those interested in philosophy, in understanding consciousness as it is in itself, not how it can be redefined as part of a current research program.  

    On the other hand, I would estimate that the majority of AI enthusiasts are primarily interested in the second question.  Their goal is to make more powerful computers and to make computers that can perform more tasks.  They are not really interested in the philosophical issue.  

    And this makes sense because the question of consciousness is not directly related to making machines imitate human behavior or increase in computational power.  There are animals that live in remote places and hardly interact with humans.  These animals are conscious and it may well be that someone discovers a means endow a machine with a consciousness remote from human concerns, as these animals have.  Also, consciousness and computational power do not inherently go together.

The real AI agenda

    On a post  by Wm Briggs, about artificial intelligence, a commenter with the monniker "ItsAllBullshit" writes:           "...