re: Asimov, consciousness etc.
Mon, 16 Oct 1995 21:57:31 +0000

Bill Ramsay gives us a lot of fascinating stuff on what it would require
for a computer to be said to construe, and follows it with;

>Any thoughts, anyone?

Yes, I've got two.

Talking of the A.I.- computer-thinking orientated people, I always think of
the name Gordon Pask (no mean cybernetician himself) used for them. He
called them "the Artifical Intelligentsia", which I thought was a rather
nice collective noun for the social group who study (abbreviation) "A.I."

More seriously, in response to
>As further food for thought, someone (I think Marvin Minsky) suggested that
>consciousness required, minimally, that the system had the capacity to
>remember what its state was a moment ago? Isn't that the minimal
>requirement for construing, and hence anticipation, too?

I wouldn't rush to a recognition of similarity between the two sets of
ideas, though.

I understand Minsky to have been referring to the concept of a finite
automaton, as interpreted by a number of psychologists contemporary with
that idea (we're talking late 1960s here).

A finite automaton is a system in which the current state is the direct
function of its previous state and previous inputs, or:

S(t) = f ( S(t - 1) . I (t - 1) )

Therefore, if one takes a complete series of such progressions,

S (t i) = f (S(t - i) . I (t - i),

one could understand how a system is in its present state as a result of a
previous sequence of experiences _without_

(and this is the important bit)

_without_ having to view "memory" as a "repository" in the usual
psychological way: it would simply be reflection of history, as it were.

This never accounted terribly well for the _experience_ of recall, however,
i.e. of one's experience of internal representation: for which some degree
of self-reference is required. Gordon Pask began to account for
self-reference in cybernetic terms with his notion of finite automata
working at a meta-level on lower-order automata (finite function machines,
in fact, about which I've occasionally posted here) but I lost touch with
his ideas a few years ago.

And so, in response to Bill's idea about the minimum required for
construing: well, it's an interesting point; my own view is that construing
(for all that we posit it is _revealed_ behaviourally as well as through
verbal utterances) is a self-conscious, self-reflective process.

If anyone is interested in this, please e-mail me for a copy of a recent
paper I did for the Namur Cybernetics Congress 1995, in which I tried to
marry Kellian constructivist ideas with Pask's.


By the way, folks, I recently (13th October) posted an item to this group
which I haven't yet picked up in my incoming copies (I also posted another
one 10 days ago but I'm less anxious about that.) I'm reproducing the
former below since I was in a sense baring my soul and I'd like to know
that that bit of self-exposure made it into the public domain: could
someone confirm whether it has or hasn't appeared and, if it has, my
apologies for the repetition?

Kind regards,

Devi Jankowicz


Hi all!

Well, this debate about positivism and constructivism: hasn't it been fun,
and what a lot of interesting correspondence!

I don't know about yourselves, but the posting most useful to my own
construing about this issue was Beverly Walker's, when she said

>I can't claim to have a clear mind - and Bill may be in no such condition
>either at the moment since he's off the grog- but I suspect you are using the
>superordinates of positivism to evaluate constructivism, and inevitably it
>comes off worse than positivism. Now if we use the superordinates of

Now this is _very_ satisfying since I take it to mean that my puzzling over
the logical inconsistency which makes up this, as it does any, paradox, is
a positivist thing to be doing; whereas the constructivist thing to do is
to ask how useful either alternative epistemology is for particular
purposes, since, in a world of constructive alternativism, inconsistencies
don't necessarily compel choice: i.e., there _can be_ no paradoxes to a

(Notice how we have to shift "up" a metalevel to utterthe last sentence, BTW.)

Tim Connor's point was interesting

>One cannot, from within either system, evaluate the
>competing claims of both, since they rely upon different models of truth
>(correspondence vs. coherence).

though I think that Beverly's saying more than that "different
epistemologies can't compete".

But his next reference, to the biggest metalevel jump in discourse:

>To do that requires a realm of

was v. satisfying, and Harry Oxley seemed to say the same thing when he
used the word "charm" in:
>So I can accept positivism as a charming little abstract ideal but
>not as anything at all solid enough to trip over in the dark.

But what I really want to get round to is Harry's next comment:

>My trouble is that I'm never sure (a) whether fun little
>discussions like this are ever intended to be taken seriously and/or (b)
>whether they are merely weaving a gossamer web for an intellectual game
>under rules that one must try to escape without breaking a single fragile

Well, in my case, both. I take them seriously _and_ I enjoy weaving a
gossamer web which explores what happens within the rules we've temporarily
erected: which is a definition of "game".

Oh, for lots of reasons:

a) because it reminds me that the line between games like this, and "real"
occupations in the academic or intellectual field, is often finely and
indeed imperceptibly drawn. Hopefully this realisation saves me from
becoming a boring old academic fart and taking the whole business (life,
the universe, and everything) too seriously. (A failing of mine: you should
hear me at Faculty Boards, for Pete's sake. Don't we all?)

b) because I have this romantic-academic attachment to the sort of playing
with ideas with interesting colleagues from which useful conclusions just
_might_ be drawn, which one encounters all too rarely, even late at night
just before the boozer closes at PCP Congresses.

c) because (so long as I acknowledge the many bits about which my ignorance
is marked), there's something about this electronic medium which enables me
to give myself permission to speculate, in very direct dialogue, with
interesting people, regardless of the inhibitions I occasionally
experience when talking to older/wiser/more eminent people than me

For some reason I can run the risk of being a complete prat here, and not
elsewhere. If I _really_ blow it I can always don a false moustache for the
next PCP Congress. Two comforting thoughts.

And occasionally I might just say something wise, which is another
possibility created when one's inhibitions are down, don't you find?

Kindest regards,

Devi Jankowicz