What Would Robin Hanson Say?
By Arnold Kling
I continue to read The Blind Spot, by William Byers. On p. 137-138, he writes,
Until recently, the conventional scientific view was that mind could be reduced to brain, that the physical brain was primary phenomenon and the mind was merely an epiphenomenon. Yet, in recent years, evidence has emerged that the physical configuration of the brain is malleable and can change as a result of learning, thinking, and other mental activities–in short, that the mind can influence the brain…
The ultimate unity of the mind and nature is a complex one. It is not a unity of identity where you maintain that the brain and mind are identical. Nor is it a simple duality. It is an ambiguity.
My guess is that David Brooks would approve of this analysis, while Robin Hanson would not. Hanson sees whole brain emulation as a possible path to artificial intelligence. I see Byers as arguing against this, on the grounds that the mind cannot be reduced to the physical and chemical structure of the brain.
Byers afflicts the comfortable by emphasizing the role of ambiguity in science. Most people want science to play the role of resolving ambiguity. Byers argues that scientific progress comes from confronting and sometimes even embracing ambiguity–for example, the theory that an electron is both a wave and a particle. Thus, the role of ambiguity in science is….ambiguous.
It still looks as though I will recommend this book. If you’re not a fan of David Brooks, don’t be put off by my assertion that Brooks would enjoy reading it. Brooks would not write this sort of book. Where Brooks is playful with ideas, like a cat with a ball of yarn, Byers treats ideas more the way a dog treats a bone–gnawing away intensely.