Gathering perspectives: knowledge
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28-04-2014, 09:06 AM
RE: Gathering perspectives: knowledge
(13-04-2014 08:39 AM)living thing Wrote:  Hello Dom, welcome back.

I think my perspective is similar to yours, although I often choose different words to describe it. Not better words, just different.

In my view, all living beings can be seen as composed of hardware and software; even our artificial and abstract computer viruses, which literally are pieces of software that require a piece of hardware in which to be executed.

However, I don’t think the distinction between both concepts lies as much on the learning component, as on the fact that hardware is an arrangement of matter in space, whereas software is an arrangement of transformations over time. In our computers, and in our nervous systems, hardware provides a material structure with movable parts whose movement can be constrained to specific paths of motion, conveying different abstract notions along with that motion. Software, on the other hand, provides a set of abstract instructions that enable our computers and our brains to process those abstract notions conveyed by the motion of those movable parts, in order to produce an output that is (hopefully) useful for us. I’d say the fundamental difference between hardware and software is the context in which they appear; hardware appears in space, whereas software appears over time.

But our hardware is a complex piece of information too; the molecules of DNA in our cells’ nuclei, for example, contain several MB of information (surprisingly few) encoded in the complexity of their physical structures. If by “learning” we mean the process by which information is acquired, then the temporal evolution of our genes and their accessories throughout the history of life can be seen as a long process of learning by trial and error. Every mutation that resulted in a behaviour that increased the stability of the carrier can be seen as a useful and lucky discovery about reality; life has been discovering notions about reality for a lot longer than there have been human scientists.

I am not trying to put forth any esoteric idea, but I would say that there is plenty of knowledge beyond our mental models of the universe. For example, I don’t know the exact arrangement of nerve cells in my brain and if you asked me to assemble one, I wouldn’t even know where to start. However, I did assemble a brain (my own) while I was in my mother’s uterus, and so did every one else. The knowledge of how to build a human brain is not in our minds, but in our genes. And that knowledge was learned throughout billions of years of cumulative random transformations and environmental selection of stable products.

But I agree with your distinction between our instinctual behaviours and those that are more… “reasoned”? I don’t know if that is the word I am looking for; some of our non-instinctual behaviours do not seem reasoned at all. And the difference between both does seem related to how much hardware and how much software is involved in the processing of information resulting in such behaviours.

In vertebrates, instinctual behaviours are resolved by hardware, either by direct connection between incoming and outgoing neural fibres (for example, the gregarious instinct of many fish and ungulates), or by indirect connection through our amygdalae, a sub-organ in our brains able to learn what behaviours are beneficial or detrimental for us through a feedback loop of pleasure and pain. If our actions result in a pleasant outcome, our amygdalae feed the cells that have established the connection between stimulus and response, making the link sturdier and thus promoting the same reaction to the same stimulus in the future. If our actions result in a painful outcome, our amygdalae stop feeding the cells that have established the connection, eventually causing that physical link to cease existing and thus avoiding the same behaviour in the future. So even though our amygdalae can learn, the resulting behaviours are still resolved by hardware. Our amygdalae are probably heavily involved in the way we learn how to walk; not a strictly instinctual behaviour (babies don’t just walk out of the uterus) but not strictly non-instinctual either.

We have a second decision making organ operating in parallel, in our frontal lobes, however the way it works is not as much by eroding away parts of its own structure, but by changing the meaning implied by the activation and deactivation of a set of its neural circuits. That is why we can put long sequences of different meanings in our minds, our thoughts, which is basic for our ability to execute sequences of operations, our software. This might not be the most accurate way to describe it, but I sometimes view our amygdalae as analog processors whereas our frontal lobes are digital and often self-programmable processors. Our amygdalae enable us to learn how to adequately react to stimuli, but our frontal lobes enable us to learn what those stimuli mean; how are they related and what do they imply.

So I think I agree with you view, only stressing out that our hardware has been learned too, and except for any sentence starting with “evolution has equipped us”. I don’t think evolution is an entity capable of performing actions such as equipping things with features, I view it as a description of how things have been cumulatively lucky to gain their useful features.

Thanks for sharing your view. Have fun!

I basically agree with this, and you will find me elsewhere on this forum going on about the hardware/software organization of the brain. I have been saying this for a long time.

You seem to be ignoring the importance of chemicals we produce - adrenalin, hormones and so forth. People seem to produce these in varying amounts as response to certain stimuli, and they allow us to make instant decisions based on - ? instinct? emotions? hunches? intuition?

Adrenalin for instance - flight or fight - occurs in situations where there is no time for thought, instant action is required, he who stops to think shall have dire consequences.

Like it or not (so many rational people poopoo emotions) the chemicals we produce have a huge influence on our actions.

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Science is the process we've designed to be responsible for generating our best guess as to what the fuck is going on. Girly Man
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28-04-2014, 12:43 PM
RE: Gathering perspectives: knowledge
Hello Dom, thanks for revisiting this thread.

I appreciate that you point out non-cerebral inter-cell communications, although you may want to know that the so-called “fight-or-flight” response is not mediated by adrenaline (epinephrine) but by noradrenaline (norepinephrine). Also, I wouldn’t say that hormones allow us to make instant decisions because their action is far from instantaneous; the action of short-range neurotransmitters is much quicker, if only because the distance they must travel in order to convey their information is much shorter.

Of course the chemicals we produce have a huge influence on our actions; our cells are chemical factories and they perform most of their actions through chemical transformations. But our behaviours also rely on physical, rather than chemical transformations. Membrane depolarisation, for example, is a physical process and it is critical for many of your vital functions, such as your heart beat.

But I haven’t poopooed emotions; in fact, I used your emotions as part of my response to you in the thread about believing. The reason why I haven’t mentioned hormones in the text you are referring to now is because I was replying to your suggestion that the difference between hardware and software is that the latter is learned; in my opinion, the former is learned too. It wasn’t my goal writing a treatise on biochemistry, neuropsychology or endocrinology.

I am glad that we basically agree. Have a good one!
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28-04-2014, 01:01 PM
RE: Gathering perspectives: knowledge
(28-04-2014 03:48 AM)living thing Wrote:  So I like objectivity in knowledge too, although I don't think knowledge is strictly limited to objective notions.
That's correct. A person's epistemology is subjective. Which makes knowledge subjective.
I choose to accept the scientific method because I see it as a reliable and objective method of discovery and understanding of the universe.

With other people that also choose the scientific method as the basis of knowledge, we have an objective method in which to resolve disputes amongst ourselves. We, of course cannot resolve disputes between ourselves and people whom choose to accept knowledge based on ideas of unmeasurable, unobservable, unverifiable supernatural causes or events.
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28-04-2014, 01:05 PM
RE: Gathering perspectives: knowledge
(28-04-2014 12:43 PM)living thing Wrote:  Hello Dom, thanks for revisiting this thread.

I appreciate that you point out non-cerebral inter-cell communications, although you may want to know that the so-called “fight-or-flight” response is not mediated by adrenaline (epinephrine) but by noradrenaline (norepinephrine). Also, I wouldn’t say that hormones allow us to make instant decisions because their action is far from instantaneous; the action of short-range neurotransmitters is much quicker, if only because the distance they must travel in order to convey their information is much shorter.

Of course the chemicals we produce have a huge influence on our actions; our cells are chemical factories and they perform most of their actions through chemical transformations. But our behaviours also rely on physical, rather than chemical transformations. Membrane depolarisation, for example, is a physical process and it is critical for many of your vital functions, such as your heart beat.

But I haven’t poopooed emotions; in fact, I used your emotions as part of my response to you in the thread about believing. The reason why I haven’t mentioned hormones in the text you are referring to now is because I was replying to your suggestion that the difference between hardware and software is that the latter is learned; in my opinion, the former is learned too. It wasn’t my goal writing a treatise on biochemistry, neuropsychology or endocrinology.

I am glad that we basically agree. Have a good one!

No, you personally didn't poo-poo emotions. They are frowned upon a lot in general though - people tend to think of drama queens as the perfect example of someone with emotions.

We do basically agree.

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