Archive for July, 2017

Making perception primary.

July 28, 2017

i’ve spent  long time wondering about the physical basis of perceptual entities. There’s lots of possible types of perceptual entity, visual, auditory, or the perception of time: indeed every possible form of mental activity. I’ve always been thinking about how the physical nature of the brain can perform physical activities theatre then interpreted as mental events. This is a hard problem: how do mental events supervene on physical events. No-one has the answer.

But now I’m wondering if this is the wrong question (and whether that’s why it’s quite so hard). We are very attached to out view of physical reality, whether that’s the physical nature of matter (quarks, electrons, atoms, molecules, or just pieces of stone and wood…), and energy (sound, music, light, and so on), so we look to physical reality to provide a basis for mental events. We know that physical reality is tricky: the physicists tell us that our everyday view of solid matter is not the only reality, that’s largely space. And we know that light is an electromagnetic radiation within a small say of wavelengths.

In fact all that we directly perceive is mental events. Everything else is provided to us as mental events, whether directly through our senses, or less directly through instrumentation that maps something invisible to something sensory, or less directly still through processing signals, or simply reading about it. So lets start at the other end, and make the mental events primary. So let’s start by assuming the reality of the mental events. Let’s not try to explain them away as accidental results of some physical process that’s dong something else.

It’s not that  don’t believe there is some physical correlate of mental events (I do: I can’t accept that the mental event has no physical correlate at all: to do so would be to accept the possibility of disembodied mental systems, which for this scientist seems a step too far right now). What I would suggest is that by making the mental events primal, we start to see just how far our “artificial intelligence” systems are from minds. Yes, we can map vectors to vectors, and learn about the deep structure of visual and auditory information; yes we can build systems that can perform certain types of mathematical reasoning, are create plans. But no, we can’t provide any sort of autonomous volition, not even the coalition that an amoeba has when swimming up a concentration gradient of some nutrient. We might be able to recognise the gradient (maybe – actually, that’s still quite hard), but we wouldn’t know that we wanted to swim up it.

I think we’re a whole lot further from the Singularity than is currently assumed. Yes we can build awfully clever automata, and make them perform some sparkling recognition  tricks, but little more than this.



Thoughts from the City of Derry

July 26, 2017

I’m in Derry, visiting the Magee Campus of the University of Ulster, to give a seminar (yesterday), and examine a PhD (today). Both done now, so I have a little time to be a tourist, and perhaps even to think. The picture id the Peace Bridge, a pedestrian bridge that crosses the River Foyle. It is, as you can see, a big river, with the old city (with it walls) on one side, and a rather newer area (which I haven’t yet seen) on the other. I gave a seminar entitled “40 years behind the keyboard, and what next”, and it seemed to go well, and I enjoyed the PhD Oral: a very good and able student. If this were Germany, the PhD would have been summa cum laude, but in the UK, we don’t grade them beyond pass and fail.

This afternoon, I walked from this hotel into the city, and wandered around the old town. While Derry is not quite on its uppers, it was sad to see what looked to have been an independent department store, Austin’s, closed.  Wandering around the walls, the views are excellent, but there’s still signs of the past, from the distant past (the siege of Derry, and the potato famine, when many migrants left from the docks in Derry, to more modern troubles). But the place has a guid conceit of itself, and a lively music scene too. I like it here: it’s very like Scotland in many ways (and not very far away either).

A little light jazz

July 20, 2017

As I get towards retirement from academia, I’m trying to get more music going on. I’ve now decided to go down to 20% come the end of October 2017, and that’s getting to be soon…

So I’ve taken a little of a recording session Angus Scott (Saxophone) and I (Electronic Piano) did (here, in the garage, single take, no editing!) and put it up on Soundcloud. Have a listen to Rosetta and How High the Moon. The picture on Soundcloud is from a visit to a jazz club in the Cascadas bar in Hamburg a few years ago.

And meanwhile, I’m learning the clarinet – maybe one day I’ll try performing on it as well, but it’s hard!