Tuesday, November 26, 2002

are we only animals?

(originally posted at bigbadgeek.com)

mike seemed slightly shocked, though mildly amused that i so effortlessly spun the words "but we're only animals" out onto the table for discussion. a day or two later, i came across a few passages in blackmore's book "the meme machine" - which, ironically enough, only makes me want to put her book down so i can read the books she references. meme machine, indeed.

she references Baldwin and Dennett - the latter of which has co-written a book i've read and own called "the mind's i" - with hofstadter. i'd like to put a few passages in here, for the heck of it.
As Baldwin himself puts it - the highest phenomena of intelligence, including consciousness, the lessons of pleasure and pain, maternal instruction and imitation, culminate in the skillful performances of human volition and invention. 'All these instances are associated in the higher organisms, and all of them unite to keep the creature alive... By this means those congenital or phylogenetic variations are kept in existence, which lend themselves to intelligent, imitative, adaptive, and mechanical modification during the lifetime of the creatures which have them. Other congenital variations are not thus kept in existence.' (Baldwin, 1896)
Yeah, 1896. Animals indeed! Good passage, although it's not very forward-thinking. "The highest phenomena of intelligence... culminate in... human volition and invention." -- and what then? Is it inconceivable that human intelligence can create something more intelligent?

And then... Dennett's "Tower of Generate and Test."
  • 1st floor: Darwinian - natural selection
  • 2nd floor: Skinnerian - operant conditioning
  • 3rd floor: Popperian - creatures use hypotheses
  • 4th floor: Gregorian - intellectual positive feedback loop
So now I've got Dennett on the reading list.

But what does it all mean? It means, yes, we're animals. But based on the environment we started with and the resources we've had to compete for means we've evolved into a special kind of animal.

Thinking about environment and competing for resources has me thinking about how an AI will behave given the environment it finds itself in and the resources it'll have to compete for. But that's a topic for another day.

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