Henry Markram on TED

Henry Markram ‘s presentation is incredible…I am fascinated…

In the microscopic, yet-uncharted circuitry of the cortex, Henry Markram is perhaps the most ambitious — and our most promising — frontiersman. Backed by the extraordinary power of the IBM Blue Gene supercomputing architecture, which can perform hundreds of trillions of calculations per second, he’s using complex models to precisely simulate the neocortical column (and its tens of millions of neural connections) in 3D.

Though the aim of Blue Brain research is mainly biomedical, it has been edging up on some deep, contentious philosophical questions about the mind — “Can a robot think?” and “Can consciousness be reduced to mechanical components?” — the consequence of which Markram is well aware: Asked by Seed Magazine what a simulation of a full brain might do, he answered, “Everything. I mean everything” — with a grin.

Now, with a successful proof-of-concept for simulation in hand (the project’s first phase was completed in 2007), Markram is looking toward a future where brains might be modeled even down to the molecular and genetic level. Computing power marching rightward and up along the graph of Moore’s Law, Markram is sure to be at the forefront as answers to the mysteries of cognition emerge.

“Markram refers to the robot as “science on an industrial scale,” and is convinced that it’s the future of lab work. “So much of what we do in science isn’t actually science,” he says, “I say let robots do the mindless work so that we can spend more time thinking about our questions.””

Jonah Lehrer, Seed Magazine


#1 Agni on 10.28.09 at 12:14 am

I’m not very impressed with this.
The whole concept of robots is also nothing new. Descartes based his research on his observation of robots and asked himself the same questions.
In the end all he came up with as proof of his existence was the fact that he thought.

As far as the rest of it, regarding implications about the mind:
And where exactly is the mind?
Mind as a noun is a very recent thing.
In many languages there even isn’t such a word.

Does that mean that only Anglo-Saxons have a mind and the rest of humanity just minds its own business and is mindful of that of others?

#2 joseph on 10.28.09 at 4:12 pm

I surely have a mind, unique to myself. So is the case with each of us. Mindful of the above, I am fascinated to understand others and confront theirs to mine.

#3 Agni on 10.30.09 at 5:03 pm

and where is your mind?

#4 joseph on 10.30.09 at 5:09 pm

Do I need to know where it is? What for?

#5 Agni on 11.06.09 at 5:36 am

How do you “surely have one” if you don’t know what it is, where it is or what it does?

You attribute “thinking” to the mind and claim we all have one, but you don’t “need to know where it is”?
What if it were in the lever? Would that then mean our thoughts come from our lever? It might certainly explain why alcohol intoxicates both.

You claim to be interested in cognitive science, which studies the “mind”, but have no need to know where it is! How can you claim to be studying something you don’t know where it is?
If you don’t know where it is, how do you know it actually has any properties and abilities?

If we want to create a robot which can “think”, don’t we need to build it with a “mind”? But if you don’t see a point in knowing where it is or what it is, how do we know to replicate it or expect a man built object to have it.

You also claim your “mind” is “unique”. But there is nothing unique in thinking and thoughts! Aren’t you in effect a proponent of “personality types”? How can you claim that the “mind” of every person is unique, but at the same time every person can be categorized according to a few well defined types?
The probability that your thoughts are “unique” is in fact much smaller than the probability of your eyes and fingerprints being unique.
If we had a “mind”, “unique” to each and every one of us, it would be used as identification on biometric passports.

#6 joseph on 11.06.09 at 8:25 pm

This precisely the beauty and power of paradoxes. How do I know what I do not know? How will I know that I do not know what I do not know? How could I study what I do not know? Or should I study what I know already?

#7 Agni on 11.07.09 at 6:32 am

There is no paradox here. This is just a case of solipsism.

#8 joseph on 11.07.09 at 10:36 am

Thank you for informing me. I was not familiar with this word. Indeed I do adhere to: I am thinking therefore I am.

#9 Olivier on 11.11.09 at 8:17 pm

Cognition and the mind. Very tough nut to crack.

I’ve been reading the book Gödel, Escher and Bach (Hofstadter) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gödel,_Escher,_Bach

Hofstadter offers a (then) unique perspective on computation, cognition and the universe.

Whether we will ever be able to understand how our mind works is apparently still an open ended question.

understand == more than just being able to merely observe how it works.

The concept of self and to be able to think of oneself recursively is certainly an essential basis of intelligence.

Agni, cognition is rife with paradoxes. Self-referentiality introduces multiple paradoxes, and it would seem that the ability to gloss over the paradoxes is part of what makes us intelligent.

Consider for instance this statement:

“This statement is false”

#10 Agni on 11.22.09 at 3:51 am

@ Olivier

It took me a while to read that book of yours… it was just too boring.

You seem to be making the same mistakes, possibly because you start from the same point, which is basically looking at cognition as a process… this is by the way also reflected in the language you use.

Cognition and mind being a tough nut to crack? Not really. How a thought process happens is very easy to determine with each individual; on the other hand I’m still waiting for any of you to tell me where your minds are located!
How do you want to understand and study something, when you are unable to locate it?

There is no paradox here, because the noun “mind” is a linguistic trick – the making of nouns from verbs or subjects from adjectives!
Cogito ergo sum…
You should know that the history of such philosophical issues is much older than Descartes.

You also seem to ignore one very basic fact about how we define and assert who we are – not by recursion and self-referentiality, but rather by defining who we are not!
Being alive is an ongoing form of existence… we never fully know who we are as we keep changing and adapting and deciding in function of our ongoing discovery of who we are not, don’t want to be are to become.
What we create with our knowledge, abilities and skills is a reflection of that world view.
Only very few people are able to separate who they are from what they do. They have a real understanding of both their consciousness and subconsciousness – with other words they don’t waste their lives chasing their tails!

“This statement is false”… Liar’s paradox.
And when you say “consider for instant this statement” exactly what do you mean by “statement”? do you use it to refer to logic, philosophy, linguistics, finance, programming… or are you just trying to make a statement?
You see, we are back at linguistics! And I know how to use Hume’s Fork without glossing over or mincing my words, which in turn, according to you, would make me less intelligent.
Unless of course when you say “intelligent” you actually mean “intelligent design”? And there we are at the real subject of the matter.

#11 Agni on 11.22.09 at 4:19 am

@ Joseph

Je pense, donc je suis.

then is it equally true to say
Je suis, donc je pense?
Je suis mes pensees?

#12 joseph on 11.24.09 at 5:40 pm

‘tous les hommes sont des humains’
est ce que tous les humains sont des hommes?

#13 Olivier on 11.24.09 at 9:36 pm

Hey Agni,

Your analysis of my language is spot on. I do think of cognition as a process. This may be due to my computer science background.

As to the location of our ‘mind’, I cannot say for sure, but I do not believe in Cartesian duality. Does the location really matter, however? Would an approximation do?

e.g. I know that it happens somewhere in the brain. We also know that the brain re-arranges the location of specific processing areas in some situations.

As it comes to the definition of self, it would be a very sad picture if it were a static definition. It needs to change as our world-view broadens. I have not disputed that fact, contrary to your interpretation.

However, I disagree with you on the fact that only a few people know how to stop chasing their tails. I tried to convey the fact that we in fact know how to stop chasing our tails, which makes us somewhat ‘intelligent’.

Moreover, I do not understand the relationship between having the knowledge of the subconscious and knowing when to stop a ‘computation’. Can you please elaborate?

As for the statement, I was trying to demonstrate a flaw in the system of logic, which, if you weren’t intelligent you wouldn’t easily see it were a paradox.

Linguistics certainly has a part to play, but i was more interested in the cognition processes involved in parsing such a statement.

By “intelligent”, I meant the ability to process information on an abstract level. I do not believe in intelligent design.

I am not a religious person, but I have to concede that at some level, there needs to be a leap of faith. For instance, I need to ‘believe’ that the lowest layers of abstraction in any fields of science are true.

I cannot prove that intelligent design is false, however, I believe it is. That makes me different from computers, which is the point I was trying to make.

In that light I think you are “intelligent”. And no, the subject of the matter is totally different.

#14 Olivier on 11.25.09 at 7:15 pm

This is taken from wikipedia about Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, a landmark paper, that together with Gödel’s Incompleteness theorem, that blew away the incumbent beliefs in mathematics and logic:

The final passages argue that logic and mathematics express only tautologies and are transcendental, i.e. they lie outside of the metaphysical subject’s world. In turn, a logically “ideal” language cannot supply meaning, it can only reflect the world, and so, sentences in a logical language cannot remain meaningful if they are not merely reflections of the facts.

#15 Olivier on 11.25.09 at 7:42 pm

One of the implications of this is that the meaning of the world lies outside the world.

Logic works, but only up to a certain point. By our worldly standard, life is rife with paradoxes and contradictions. This is because logic is our tool.

According to Gödel, and Turing, there are things that will forever remain unknown, or rather, undecidable.

It might be more worth our time to discuss things within the realms of the decidable. Instead of squabbling over whether there is intelligent design or not, I picked my ‘axiom’ and got on with my life a long time ago.

#16 Agni on 12.01.09 at 3:02 pm

@ Joseph

In analysis of statements, by definition, there is no room for questions! I believe that’s self-explanatory.

however, your example is very basic:
a bit like the old white/black swan argument.

#17 Agni on 12.01.09 at 4:10 pm

@ Olivier

I can understand why you are confused about the issues you raise – you take original ideas, but you view them through the rehashed words of parts of it others have spit out.

e.g. Logical and Mathematical Prepositions are Tautologies because they have been proven to be so after extensive work, done by many different people over a very very long period of time.
As we go on we disprove some and we discover new ones – such as Newton and Einstein! Einstein btw used philosophy and Hume to find a way to disprove Newton.

The point is that although each one of us has unique abilities, our knowledge is view of the world is given to us – in other words, at first we are all told what to think and how to think about it. It’s only as our brain develops that we acquire the ability for abstract thought and imagination, which also varies among people.
This basically means that we develop the ability to start questioning what we thus far regarded as tautologies (again this is part of the entire nihilism process – so typical for teenagers! – as the frontal cortex evolves and with it the so called executive functions).

Intelligence, in essence, is nothing else but our drive to pose questions about the world around us (or at least the initial view of it as given to us) and our search for answers.
For some of those questions we find irrefutable, already existing answers (a bit like what Wittgenstein described as his idea of tautologies).
Others are able to take their abstractions and imagination further and look for possible answers to previously unanswered or even never posed questions – such as Fermat Theorem!

At the end of the day, I believe that all people are intelligent, but they are intelligent in a different way, because their brains just produce different output with the same input. In fact, that’s not a bad thing!

As to the issue of “the Mind” – you say “I know that it happens somewhere in the brain”.
What happens in the brain? Do you mean that the Mind IS in the brain? Or is it more likely that you know that the thought process happens in your brain and therefor you assume that what people call “the Mind” must be located there?
Interestingly enough the ancient Egyptians thought it all happened in the heart and they didn’t consider the brain was needed in the Afterlife!

Do you think there is a correlation between our ability to believe in “the Mind” and our ability to “diagnose” a disproportional amount of imaginary abstract “Mental Illnesses” as opposed to actual Physical diseases?

#18 1132nd on 12.01.09 at 11:40 pm

It’s been a while since I’ve followed such a mind-stimulating debate on a blog. Unfortunately, I lack the technical knowledge to follow you in the paths you tread in. Or the literature that goes with it. But I sure would like to cross swords with Agni! He/she seems to be an interesting adversary in debating.

#19 Agni on 12.15.09 at 9:05 pm

Yes, standards seem frightfully low indeed, even at the 32nd level.
No wonder they conduct their discussions behind close doors! God forbid laymen find out how ignorant they actually are.

#20 Truth on 05.08.10 at 5:37 pm

U OK Joseph ?
The sound of Silence is eerie

#21 George Lewis Easton on 12.09.10 at 1:23 pm

Just want to wish you and yours a merry Christmas. Thinking of paying a public tribute soon to Norbert Benoit. as I did for Paul Chung. Right now , I’m looking up the latter which is no longer on my computer and was published in ‘La Vie Catholique” several years back, and you copied it and referred to it on your blog. Can you help?

#22 George Lewis Easton on 12.14.10 at 5:54 am

Eureka! Je l’ai enfin retrouve dans tes archives. Merci de l’avoir conserve en le partageant avec les autres!

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