X-Message-Number: 27589
Date: Mon,  6 Feb 2006 12:59:32 -0500
Subject: Myth of the Intelligent Blob, Revisted
From: <>

>> I thought you might object to the idea of incremental 
improvements to a computer chip.  Of course, that's only because 
computer chips are so simple and stupid that a single broken 
connection causes the whole thing to fail. So it's a bad analogy. <<

It's not a bad analogy, it's merely a flawed one, intended to 
illustrate the general truth that different system architectures do 
not have smooth, functional transitional sequences.

Take the case of the humain brain. Contrary to the Myth of the 
Intelligent Blob, the brain is not a formless blob of neurons that 
just happens to do something smart. The brain is an intricate, 
extremely detailed and finely-tuned machine. Individual parts of 
your brain have well-defined functions, and coordinate with other 
parts of the brain to perform complex tasks. (For example, the 
frontal lobe of your cerebrum is where planning and consciousness 

This particular systems architecture has enough flexibility, I have 
no doubt parts of it can be improved, to increase the overall 
intelligence of the individual (the differences in IQ among humans 
are evidence enough for this). But the 'general intelligence' of 
this architecture is limited. Eventually, once you have tweaked all 
you can tweak, it will not be possible to further increase the 
intelligence of an indivdiual having this architecture.

To achieve higher levels of intelligence, a different architecture 
will be needed. This might involve quantum 'neurons' that operate 
in completely different fashion than our own, as well as a whole-
systems architecture nothing like the brain, perhaps one 
distributed over the span of hundreds of meters instead of a few 

In general, there will not exist smooth, functional transition 
sequences between the architecture of our brain, and the 
architecture of these 'superbrains'. This implies that if you want 
to 'upgrade' yourself to such an architecture, you will pass 
through completely non-functional states, as your atoms are mashed 
around, and new ones are added. In such a case, there's no real 
reason to use your atoms; you may as well kill yourself and let a 
manufacturing plant create the superbrain. The end result will be 
the same: you will go to sleep, but you won't wake up.

My estimation: you will be able to upgrade yourself to beyond the 
intelligence of any human alive today, but you will look like an 
idiot compared to engineered architectures that are vastly 
different than your own.

>> After that... Well, I hope I can keep adding neurons. <<

Adding neurons won't help. You need to add systems, and they won't 
in general be compatible with the architecture of your brain. Such 
neural augmentations are not principally the way that human 
intelligence will be improved (I imagine there is some amount of 
scaling that can be done with our existing architecture, but not 
much before the size poses problems that require radically 
different architecture to solve; for example, signaling delays).

>> My program is a physical thing if you look deeply enough.  It is 
the pattern of magnatism on my hard drive. <<

A pattern doesn't exist, Jordan. A pattern isn't matter or energy. 
By believing in the existence of something that's not matter or 
energy, you have become a supernaturalist. 

When you look at your computer screen, or at a cloud in the sky, 
and yell, 'There's my brain simulator!' or 'There's a puppy holding 
a bone in it's mouth!' you are not really making a statement about 
something that's out there in the real world. What you're doing is 
telling me about your mind: specifically, that you experience such 
and such a neural firing upon seeing these things. That's only 
valuable to me because we have similar minds and because we both 
cross-reference those neural firings with memories we have. That 
doesn't mean that your brain simulator (or that puppy) exist in the 
real world, or that they have the properties of the things you 
associate with them. Quite the contrary.

What exists, in these examples, is silicon and water molecules. Not 
brain simulator and puppies. And silicon and water molecules have 
different properties than brains and puppies.

The consequences of rejecting materialism are well illustrated in 
the Inevitable Immortality Within a Toilet thought experiment. If 
by interpreting the electrical state of transistors on a piece of 
silicon, I can give literal existence to a 'program'---let's say, a 
'brain program', which I define to be a simulator of a brain 
together with a brain dataset---and if, as the patternists claim, a 
simulation of a thing has the same properties as that thing (in 
this case, the ability to experience), then by interpreting the 
molecular and quantum states of the atoms in your toilet, I can 
give literal existence to a program running your brain in a virtual 
world. Which implies you (or some fascimile of you, if you don't 
completely accept patternism) are already alive and well, living 
out your life in the confines of a toilet.

Reductio ad absurdum.

But honestly, I shouldn't need to take it this far. The only 
alternative to materialism is supernaturalism. That's not a place 
you want to go.

Richard B. R.

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