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Re: FleshFactor: some scientific angles



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A E C  F O R U M - "F L E S H F A C T O R"
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At 07:24 AM 6/20/97 PDT, Dean Pignon wrote:
>THEORY (and I mean VERY fundamental, from a physics perspective!):
>
>1) Some people say that the brain works using tiny neurons which work using 
>chemistry and electrical impulses which both use physics. If we could 
>understand exactly how this chemistry works, then we could, in theory, make 
>something that works exactly like our brains. Furthermore, since these 
>processes can, in theory, be modelled on a computer, we could use a vast 
>network of big computers to model the chemistry of the neurons and of their 
>interconnections so as to make a brain in a computer.

This is similar to an argument that if I understood exactly how all the
transistors in a computer worked, then I could make something that works
exactly like the computer.  What is wrong with this argument?  Well,
anyone heard of software?  Anyone think that if they know about all the
transisters and their interconnections that they understand anything about
the software on the computer?  A computer without software is
indistinguishable from a hot rock, except in its potential.

Is is important to remember that physicists use the word "fundamental" 
differently from everyone else.  In general parlance, and in the
humanities and social sciences, "fundamental" often is synonymous with
"most significant".  But physicists do not deal with significance, in
human terms, as part of their scientific output (of course they do as
"people doing science", but I'm not on that track right now.)  What
physicists mean by fundamental is "below this we know no more".  In other
words, something is fundamental if the physicist cannot explain it by any
sub-phenomena.  To put it somewhat provocatively, when a physicst talks
about the "fundamental", he or she is discussing their ignorance. 

Physicists I have read sometimes make the mistake of inverting the
argument.  The right direction of the argument is that some things they
can explain by more "fundamental" things.  For instance, reflectivity of
glass is explained by quantum properties of photons and the glass
interface.  This is an argument that reduces some things to others: that
travels "down" to the more fundamental.  Well and good.  But to reverse,
go "up", and say that from enough "fundamental" properties one can explain
everything else, that just does not follow.  Again, software is an
example.  The actual code that goes into a computer is not explained in
any way by fundamental properties of matter.  The code is an arrangement
of matter.  Any arrangement is ok with the fundamental properties -- they
are neutral on all legitimate arrangements.  But only some arrangements
result in Microsoft Word. 


-mark

(Dr.) Mark Weiser
Chief Technologist, Xerox PARC
phone: 415-812-4406 fax: 415-812-4471
email: weiser@xerox.com   info: www.ubiq.com/weiser

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