Like a porcelain teapot that can’t recreate itself

In recent years, computer programmers having failed to invent HAL, despite have created some pretty good chess players, various scientists and philosophers, like noisy Dennett and quiet Hofstadter, sort of the Penn and Teller of neuroscience, have been trying to objectify the thinking process, to classify it as essentially a system of information-processing, while taking into account the massive apparent differences between human minds and computers, leading to models of parallel processing, self-referential systems, and so on, all while still reducing the function of the mind to some extent to the similar task of processing information. And it’s true that in the past many have probably insisted too much on seeing consciousness as some sort of tangible medium rather than as a series of functions, like some sort of watery drama in miniature reproducing the events of the outside world inside people’s heads. Much, maybe all, of what goes in our thoughts consists of receiving information and reacting to it. To speak of the contents of the mind being exclusive to one person seems rather arbitrary in that light, even solipsistic. Computers don’t own the information that is put into them, nor, if they function properly, does that information have any relation to the uniqueness of the individual machine. The intellectual contents of the computer are general and easily transferrable, even if they exist in some particular system. Hofstadter apparently is now even taking this principle of the transferrability of information to mean that in some sense he can still preserve part of the mind of his dead wife.

Of course a large amount of the contents of the mind, namely conscious thoughts, can be transferred between people. That is pretty much the essence of linguistic communication, and sense conscious thoughts are almost by definition expressed through language, they can be transmitted, shared, or imbued between people. At the same time, exactly what makes them transmissable and objective is also what renders them somewhat impersonal. What really makes them personal are one’s feelings towards them, and those probably cannot be easily reproduced without the whole enormously sensitive and complicated machinery of the human organism and as well the entire particular history by which its components have been modified and conditioned. Nor is sharing a few of the conscious ideas of a lost loved one probably a great deal of comfort, since one misses the sight of them, the touch, the presence and the sense of mutual feelings much more immediately than the abstractions of conscious thought. Still and all, I would stake a career on the deceivability of the human heart before I would on its countenancing the abandonment of hope, so some people will probably keep their hopes invested in computers and existing minds until the day when they can upgrade to realistic hope for biomorphic replicates.

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