Monday, January 26, 2015

Computing and the Mind: ‘Top-down’ Isn’t Natural

Just a short note.

This thought may well be tucked away somewhere in one of my posts (HERE?), but I want it here where I can readily find it.

Over the last half-century or so much has been made of the idea that the mind/brain is computational in nature. But what kind of computation?

By ‘top-down’ I mean most of the programs written for digital computers. I don’t have any very specific way of characterizing that style, or family of styles, but what I’m thinking is that programs in that style can only be constructed a programmer who has a ‘transcendental’ relationship to the program and its intended application.

The word ‘transcendental’ is a philosopher’s word and by it I mean that the programmer exist outside the program and the computer and can inspect each more or less at will. This transcendental relationship allows the programmer to design data structures and patterns of control and operation that would be inconceivable any other way. What I’m thinking is that there ought to be a way of proving this mathematically.

Obviously, I’m not up to that job as I lack the technical skills.

The sort of thing I’ve got in mind is what’s implicit in, for example, Dan Dennett asserting that memes are like apps. Well, the programmer who writes an app has a transcendental relationship to the platform he’s writing for and the language he’s using. But there is no programmer to write a meme, something that Dennett knows perfectly well. Thus the analogy papers over the fact that we haven’t got the foggiest idea how a meme could get ‘written.’ In using this analogy Dennett is, in effect, call for a skyhook.

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