Monday, October 11, 2010

The Two Cultures, Ctd

It would be really interesting to see Daniel Dennett's respond to Stuart Kauffman's recent essay "Science and Poetry,"  in which Kauffman suggests the mind is not algorithmic, and that our need for and use of metaphor supports a view of the mind as non-algorithmic, operating partially within the 'Poised Realm' of open quantum systems.
On the dominant view of the mind, the mind is a Turing machine. A Turing machine is utterly definite. Given a position of the reading head, the symbols on the tape, the rules in the machine for moving or not moving on the tape, erasing symbols on the tape depending upon the definite discrete state of the head, and moving to a new state among the discrete states of the head, the Turing machine is an abstraction of Descartes’ animal body as a machine, clockwork in the visions of his day. Our minds are algorithmic.  Artificial Intelligence is the offspring of this view. On it, science itself is an algorithmic activity needing no metaphor, the signal case of the fully definite, the
mind is nude of rich non-computable allusions, notwithstanding the very interesting connectionist strand in AI.
But is the mind algorithmic?  I think not, and think we need poetry to unite the Two Cultures and rediscover our deeper humanity.
Without presumption, I don't see how the 'need for' or use of metaphor evidences a non-algorithmic mind. Operating on the assumption that quantum effects affect cognition, which is by no means certain, there is, to my limited knowledge, no contradiction in an algorithmic process which incorporates structural randomness. Perhaps metaphor operates in the mind, and in understanding science, as a catalyst, increasing competence (computance?) which before the development of metaphor would have been vastly harder to attain.

Within cells, for instance, enzymes act as catalysts, greatly speeding up the specific reactions that need to take place for the cell to survive. Reactions within the cell would still occur without enzymes, but since cellular compounds are so weakly reactive to each other in the absence of enzymes, reaction would happen so infrequently as to be insignificant.

Perhaps metaphor is the enzyme of higher-cognition. In other words, metaphorical capacity functions as useful - even indispensable - software for our computers.

Though he cites the 'framing problem' of artificial intelligence, whereby robots have difficulty performing creative problem solving due to an inability - in practice - to know which information is most relevant without external human input, Kauffman doesn't venture as to why the 'framing problem' is not in principle algorithmically solvent.

Then there's this: "we need poetry to unite the Two Cultures and rediscover our deeper humanity."

I'm a little surprised to see Kauffman succumb to romantic nostalgia of some humanity lost - again, lost is what it must be if it has to be rediscovered. It isn't that way. Though the arts' and the sciences' perceived separation has for a long time greatly irritated me, I hardly think the emergence of this division could be described as having subtracted from any sum-total our 'humanity.'  To the contrary, the scientific revolution and logical positivism, greatly augments our humanity and epistemic heft as a species.

Of course art and science don't require that they be of each other. Art should however be more informed by science for its crowning achievement, an uniquely human endeavor that has revealed the most profound beauty of our true context. Science is often poetic; there is no reason the corollary should be understood as discrepant.

While I share the brilliant Kauffman's desire for détente, bridging C.P. Snow's "two cultures," - which to aid in some small way is for myself a great ambition - doesn't entail uniting them. Rather, when the border is demilitarized, when these two powers acknowledge their overlap and encourage collaboration - art that is of science and science that is of art can inform and augment us further.

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