The title was swiped from Commentary Magazine’s piece of the same name by David Gelernter, which all should read. Since today is a busy day at the Briggs Ranch, just a few words of comment.
[T]he chaos was on display in the ugliness occasioned by the publication of Thomas Nagel’s Mind & Cosmos in 2012…He explains why Darwinian evolution is insufficient to explain the emergence of consciousness—the capacity to feel or experience the world. He then offers his own ideas on consciousness, which are speculative, incomplete, tentative, and provocative—in the tradition of science and philosophy.
Nagel was immediately set on and (symbolically) beaten to death by all the leading punks, bullies, and hangers-on of the philosophical underworld. Attacking Darwin is the sin against the Holy Ghost that pious scientists are taught never to forgive. Even worse, Nagel is an atheist unwilling to express sufficient hatred of religion to satisfy other atheists.
The usual spittle-flecked, forehead-vein-bulging, religion-is-child-abuse-chanting, Utopia-or-bust, barking mad, snot-nosed suspects. Dawkins, Dennet, etc. Best take on this brouhaha is by Ed Feser.
The Kurzweil Cult teaches that, given the strong and ever-increasing pace of technological progress and change, a fateful crossover point is approaching. He calls this point the “singularity.” After the year 2045 (mark your calendars!), machine intelligence will dominate human intelligence to the extent that men will no longer understand machines any more than potato chips understand mathematical topology.
Yes, Kurzweil borrowed the “singularity” from science fiction writer and mathematician Vernor Vinge. And, yes, it’s always a dangerous thing to say “It won’t happen” with matters of technology. But, and I say this without any humility, it won’t happen. There will be no singularity.
There will be artificial limbs and ever-sophisticated electronified prostheses, but since what makes us us isn’t ultimately material, we won’t be uploading our minds to machines. Immortality of sort Kurzweil preaches isn’t just unlikely, it’s impossible.
Searle writes, “the subjectivist ontology of the mental seems intolerable.” That is, your states of mind (your desire for adventure, your fear of icebergs, the ship you imagine, the girl you recall) exist only subjectively, within your mind, and they can be examined and evaluated by you alone. They do not exist objectively. They are strictly internal to your own mind. And yet they do exist. This is intolerable!
It still astonishes that there exists a small cadre of bizarro scientists who are keen on telling us that they, the scientists, don’t really exist. And that if we would only believe that they don’t exist, then the world would be a better place. Oh, they also assure us we don’t exist, either. In place of our existence are mindless meat machines. Subjectivity, they say, is only an “illusion.” Who is there to suffer the illusion is, of course, never explained.
The dominant, mainstream view of mind nowadays among philosophers and many scientists is computationalism, also known as cognitivism. This view is inspired by the idea that minds are to brains as software is to computers.
Our minds are not software running in brains. A mind is self-aware. Software doesn’t understand what it does, it just does. Software can’t look at itself and say, “Hey! I’m software. What do you know.” Software—lines of computer code, no matter how long—can’t feel pain, love, envy, hate, pleasure. It can’t feel anything. Gelernter goes into much greater detail.
That science should face crises in the early 21st century is inevitable. Power corrupts, and science today is the Catholic Church around the start of the 16th century: used to having its own way and dealing with heretics by excommunication, not argument.
In apology for the Church—first noting that metaphysics is not physics and religion not politics—it only excommunicates those who are provably, assuredly wrong. Scientists slaughter any who won’t toe the political line, pace:
Science is caught up, also, in the same educational breakdown that has brought so many other proud fields low. Science needs reasoned argument and constant skepticism and open-mindedness. But our leading universities have dedicated themselves to stamping them outâ€”at least in all political areas. We routinely provide superb technical educations in science, mathematics, and technology to brilliant undergraduates and doctoral students. But if those same students have been taught since kindergarten that you are not permitted to question the doctrine of man-made global warming, or the line that men and women are interchangeable, or the multiculturalist idea that all cultures and nations are equally good (except for Western nations and cultures, which are worse), how will they ever become reasonable, skeptical scientists? Theyâ€™ve been reared on the idea that questioning official doctrine is wrong, gauche, just unacceptable in polite society. (And if you are president of Harvard, it can get you fired.)
Update This is tangentially related. Swap out “global warming” for any number of “scientific” problems and the truth remains.