The Life of the Mind 14: Pascal’s Wager

Posted in Arguments on October 26th, 2015 by buzzing wire – Be the first to comment

“God is, or He is not.” But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide nothing here. There is an infinite chaos which separated us. A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up… Which will you choose then? Let us see. Since you must choose, let us see which interests you least. You have two things to lose, the true and the good; and two things to stake, your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun, error and misery. Your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather than the other, since you must of necessity choose… But your happiness? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is… If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.

  God exists God does not exist
Wager for God Gain all Status quo
Wager against God Misery Status quo

The Life of the Mind 11: Argument Descriptor

Posted in Arguments on October 5th, 2015 by buzzing wire – Be the first to comment

Arguments is a category belonging to The Life of the Mind that contains stories, scenarios, and problems that are used to make the case for a particular idea.

The Life of the Mind 10: The Simulation Argument

Posted in Arguments on September 14th, 2015 by buzzing wire – Be the first to comment

Many works of science fiction as well as some forecasts by serious technologists
and futurologists predict that enormous amounts of computing power will be
available in the future. Let us suppose for a moment that these predictions are
correct. One thing that later generations might do with their super‐powerful
computers is run detailed simulations of their forebears or of people like their
forebears. Because their computers would be so powerful, they could run a great
many such simulations. Suppose that these simulated people are conscious (as
they would be if the simulations were sufficiently fine‐grained and if a certain
quite widely accepted position in the philosophy of mind is correct). Then it
could be the case that the vast majority of minds like ours do not belong to the
original race but rather to people simulated by the advanced descendants of an
original race. It is then possible to argue that, if this were the case, we would be
rational to think that we are likely among the simulated minds rather than
among the original biological ones. Therefore, if we don’t think that we are
currently living in a computer simulation, we are not entitled to believe that we
will have descendants who will run lots of such simulations of their forebears.

The Life of the Mind 8: Pia’s Green Leaves

Posted in Arguments on June 22nd, 2015 by buzzing wire – Be the first to comment

Consider Pia who owns a Japanese Maple tree, with russet leaves. Thinking that the leaves should be green. Pia paints them, and having finished, she says “The leaves on my maple tree are green.”—apparently truly. Shortly afterwards, Pia receives a phone call from a friend, a botanist looking for green leaves for a study of green-leaf chemistry. Pia offers him the leaves from her Japanese Maple tree. This time, when she utters “The leaves on my maple tree are green.” she says something false. The same tree is referred to both times, and the tree’s leaves have not changed color between the first utterance and the second. Is what “counts as” being green different in the two contexts?

The Life of the Mind 4: The Chinese Room

Posted in Arguments on January 5th, 2015 by buzzing wire – Be the first to comment

The Chinese Room argument begins with this hypothetical premise: suppose that artificial intelligence research has succeeded in constructing a computer that behaves as if it understands Chinese. It takes Chinese characters as input and, by following the instructions of a computer program, produces other Chinese characters, which it presents as output. Suppose, says Searle, that this computer performs its task so convincingly that it comfortably passes the Turing test: it convinces a human Chinese speaker that the program is itself a live Chinese speaker. To all of the questions that the person asks, it makes appropriate responses, such that any Chinese speaker would be convinced that he or she is talking to another Chinese-speaking human being.
The question is this: does the machine literally “understand” Chinese? Or is it merely simulating the ability to understand Chinese?
If you think the computer understands Chinese, then suppose that a man is in a closed room and has a book with an English version of the computer program, along with sufficient paper, pencils, erasers, and filing cabinets. He could receive Chinese characters through a slot in the door, process them according to the program’s instructions, and produce Chinese characters as output. If the computer had passed the Turing test this way, it follows, that he would do so as well, simply by running the program manually.
There is no essential difference between the roles of the computer and the man in the experiment. Each simply follows a program, step-by-step, producing a behavior which is then interpreted as demonstrating intelligent conversation. However, the man would not be able to understand the conversation he is mediating. Therefore, neither does the computer in the original example.