Saturday, August 27, 2011

What am I reading, - and even more important, when am I reading it?

Were there ever days when I had the time to indulge myself with my nose in a book and the world far away?

Of course there were - just not lately....

Nevertheless I came across Marvin Minsky once more in my travels on the net and was moved to get two of his books, - 'The Emotion Machine' (Commonsense thinking, artificial intelligence, and the future of the human mind)  and 'The Society of Mind' (270 brilliantly original essays the mind works).

I am hoping that these essays are short one or two pagers, as I can only stand so much brilliance at one time before I get confused and my mind wanders off on different paths.

Neither of these two books is hot off the press, - The Society was written in 1985, and the Emotion Machine was published in 2006.

I open the Society of Mind randomly, and here is an essay on The Roots of Intention.  (pge 196)

I read the foreword.....

The wind blows where it will, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes;  so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit.    St. John

Marvin Minsky takes these words and applies them to language and words we utter with no conscious sense of where they come from or how they influence our further thoughts and what we might do as a consequence of them.

I mull this over and have to acknowledge that I probably never know exactly what words I will use to express an idea, or, in fact where either the idea or the words come from.  Marvin Minsky questions whether ideas evolve from two or more partial states of mind, or between signals that represent these states, which leads one into his theory of the Society of Mind.  Minsky contends that " there is no difference between humans and machines, because, he believes, humans are machines whose brains are made up of many semi-autonomous but unintelligent 'agents'  (who mistakenly consider themselves intelligent individuals" 

Now that gives me something to think about, or if his theory is correct it will set the cat amongst the pigeons in the brain that contains all these semi-autonomous agents.  

Because the 'words we think seem to hover in some insubstantial interface'. and we have no idea of the origin of them, or the destinations  they lead us to, or the action or accomplishments which might result,  they have a certain magical quality.  Does that explain some people's love of words?  Are they equipped with the right signals and crossings that are found within the brain? 

I do not mean to sound facetious, - I would really like to know but it appears that there has been little advanced work on Minsky's theories in the last couple of decades.  It is said that he has disturbed many of his co-researchers by insisting that what we think of as consciousness or self awareness is actually a myth - a convenient fallacy which allows us to function as a society.

There is a rather lengthy video of a talk given by Melvin Minsky here, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  He is a most pleasant and down-to-earth fellow and his talk is peppered with many pithy asides and humourous comments.  If you have an hour to spare do listen, and tell me what you think!

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