Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

REFERENCE: The Smith Model, an architecture for cybernetics and mind-body/ free will/ determinism/ compatibilism analysis . . .


Since the issue of agent freedom and cause has again come up, it is worth the while to post the following summary on the Smith Model for agent cause and cybernetics, from the IOSE unit on minds etc:


>>(c) Of neurons, brains and minds


The neuron (in its various types) is the key building brick of brain and nervous tissues:

Fig. G.18(b): Integration of Neurons in layered networks and the brain, the body’s controller, n.b. motor area. (Credits: Jedismed, Riken, HSS, India)
Neurons are interconnected in neural networks {added, Jun 4: cf. visualisation here}, and onward to form the brain and wider nervous system. As Christos Stergiou and Dimitrios Siganos summarise:
In the human brain, a typical neuron collects signals from others through a host of fine structures called dendrites. The neuron sends out spikes of electrical activity through a long, thin stand known as an axon, which splits into thousands of branches. At the end of each branch, a structure called a synapse converts the activity from the axon into electrical effects that inhibit or excite activity from the axon into electrical effects that inhibit or excite activity in the connected neurones. When a neuron receives excitatory input that is sufficiently large compared with its inhibitory input, it sends a spike of electrical activity down its axon. Learning occurs by changing the effectiveness of the synapses so that the influence of one neuron on another changes. [[Bold emphasis added.]
As a result, biological or artificial (i.e. electronic or software) neural networks are quite well suited to be used as processor/controller elements in cybernetic — i.e. control — loops, such as are used in robots. So, the human body can be seen as just such a “robot.” Engineer Derek Smith of Wales provides a useful model for such an analysis {–> diagram is adapted and simplified from here}:
The Derek Smith two-tier controller cybernetic model
ADD: Detailed form:
In this model robotic cybernetic system:
1 –> The system interacts with the world through first taking inputs from its sensors, which communicate information on (i) the state of the world and on (ii) the current state of the system in the world. (This requires (a) a model of the world that allows interpretation of sensed data, and (b) a model of the system and how it interacts with the world.)
2 –> The robot’s path is governed across time by comparing sensed and intended current states, then making adjustments to follow the desired path. [[By the way, “cybernetics” and “government” both derive from the Greek term kubernetes, the steersman or pilot of a ship.])
3 –> A key feature is that there is efference copy control action. That is, the projected path is first stored, so that what is actually controlled is the difference between the ideal path and the actual path as sensed.

4 –> In support of such efference copy action, there are arrays of internal sensors – termed proprioceptors — that report relative states and/or positions of the parts of the controlled system. [[So, the robot senses and “knows” its stance, internal state, posture and path across time as it carries out an action. That is rather like how expert athletes “visualise” and “sense” a “perfect” performance, then carry it out. Similarly, it is related to how “muscular memory” of skills like riding a bicycle, is “permanent.”])

5 –> So, we see a two-tier controller: one to set up and supervise the actual path, the other to control it relative to the ideal. This means that the two tier controller model provides a model framework for addressing the minds and bodies problem.

6 –> For, the input/ output [[i/o] controller can easily be seen as a function of neural networks. But, the supervisory level is a level of imagination, decision, intention and skill. But, also, as Plantinga cites from Patricia Churchland,  for evolutionary materialist naturalists, such a neural network cybernetic controller view (despite the confidently stated pious hopes of other naturalistic thinkers) may come at a surprisingly stiff price:


Boiled down to essentials, a nervous system enables the organism to succeed in . . .  feeding, fleeing, fighting, and reproducing. The principal chore of nervous systems is to get the body parts where they should be in order that the organism may survive . . . . Improvements in sensorimotor control confer an evolutionary advantage: a fancier style of representing is advantageous so long as it is geared to the organism’s way of life and enhances the organism’s chances of survival [[Churchland’s emphasis]. Truth, whatever that is [[ –> let’s try, from Aristotle in Metaphysics, 1011b: “that which says of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not” . . . ], definitely takes the hindmost. (Plantinga also adds this from Darwin: “the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?” [[Cf. here on issues of warrant, knowledge and truth.])

7 –> Now, if the materialistic view is true, it will be possible to soundly and confidently build the supervisory level controller out of the neural networks that are available; but if it is false, then it may overlook other possible elementary constituents of reality and their inner properties.

8 –> But as Leibniz pointed out in his famous analogy of the Mill, the parts of a machine interact through blind mechanical interactions (including chance disturbances etc), and so have no inherent rationality, imagination, intent or obligation. That is, there is an inescapable gap between the physical “is” and the logical inference, the mental “vision,” the decision or the force of “ought,” much less self-awareness. Citing from his The Monadology, 17:

It must be confessed, however, that perception, and that which depends upon it, are inexplicable by mechanical causes, that is to say, by figures and motions. Supposing that there were a machine whose structure produced thought, sensation, and perception, we could conceive of it as increased in size with the same proportions until one was able to enter into its interior, as he would into a mill. Now, on going into it he would find only pieces working upon one another, but never would he find anything to explain perception [[i.e. abstract conception]. It is accordingly in the simple substance, and not in the compound nor in a machine that the perception is to be sought . . .

9 –> By contrast, mind-body dualists such as Liebnitz, are often dismissively said to be proposing an unobservable “ghost in the machine,” for which there is said to be no reason to see how it can interact with the brain-body closed loop system.

10 –> However, if the proposed immaterial mind acts the part of a supervisory controller in the Smith cybernetic loop, it may act informationally (and so also conceptually) on the “bio-robot” of the brain-body cybernetic system. Thus, the logical or imaginative, creative process can intervene in the brain-body cybernetic system informationally, conceptually and logically, not by mere mechanical cause-effect chains.

11 –> In other words: Liebnitz’s wheels simply grind the one against the other in a causal chain; by themselves, they do not originate their organisation nor do they logically infer consequences of premises, etc.

12 –> Some materialists then suggest that consciousness is an “emergent” property of matter in the brain in action; one dependent on that matter for its existence and behaviour.  But, “emergence” is itself immediately problematic: is “emergence” a euphemism for “Voila: poof!” . . . i.e “magic”?13 –> Some materialists go further and suggest that mind is more or less a delusion. For instance, Sir Francis Crick is on record, in his 1994 The Astonishing Hypothesis:
. . . that “You”, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Carroll’s Alice might have phrased: “You’re nothing but a pack of neurons.” This hypothesis is so alien to the ideas of most people today that it can truly be called astonishing.

14 –> Philip Johnson has replied that Sir Francis should have therefore been willing to preface his works thusly: “I, Francis Crick, my opinions and my science, and even the thoughts expressed in this book, consist of nothing more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.”  Johnson then acidly commented:  “[[t]he plausibility of materialistic determinism requires that an implicit exception be made for the theorist.” [[Reason in the Balance, 1995.]

15 –> In short, it is at least arguable that self-referential absurdity is the dagger pointing to the heart of evolutionary materialistic models of mind and its origin. An audio clip by William Lane Craig that summarises Plantinga’s argument on this in a nutshell, is useful:

[Video: Link https://youtu.be/byN38dyZb-k ]


. . . This issue can be addressed at a more sophisticated level [[cf. Hasker in The Emergent Self (Cornell University Press, 2001), from p 64 on, e.g. here as well as Reppert here and Plantinga here (briefer) & here (noting updates in the 2011 book, The Nature of Nature)], but without losing its general force, it can also be drawn out a bit in a fairly simple way:

a: Evolutionary materialism argues that the cosmos is the product of chance interactions of matter and energy, within the constraint of the laws of nature; from hydrogen to humans by undirected chance and necessity.

b: Therefore, all phenomena in the universe, without residue, are determined by the working of purposeless laws of chance and/or mechanical necessity acting on material objects, under the direct or indirect control of happenstance initial circumstances.

(This is physicalism. This view covers both the forms where (a) the mind and the brain are seen as one and the same thing, and those where (b) somehow mind emerges from and/or “supervenes” on brain, perhaps as a result of sophisticated and complex software looping. The key point, though is as already noted: physical causal closure — the phenomena that play out across time, without residue, are in principle deducible or at least explainable up to various random statistical distributions and/or mechanical laws, from prior physical states. Such physical causal closure, clearly, implicitly discounts or even dismisses the causal effect of concept formation and reasoning then responsibly deciding, in favour of specifically physical interactions in the brain-body control loop; indeed, some mock the idea of — in their view — an “obviously” imaginary “ghost” in the meat-machine. [[There is also some evidence from simulation exercises, that accuracy of even sensory perceptions may lose out to utilitarian but inaccurate ones in an evolutionary competition. “It works” does not warrant the inference to “it is true.”] )

c: But human thought, clearly a phenomenon in the universe, must now fit into this meat-machine picture.  So, we rapidly arrive at Crick’s claim in his  The Astonishing Hypothesis (1994): what we subjectively experience as “thoughts,” “reasoning” and “conclusions” can only be understood materialistically as the unintended by-products of the blind natural forces which cause and control the electro-chemical events going on in neural networks in our brains that (as the Smith Model illustrates) serve as cybernetic controllers for our bodies. 

d: These underlying driving forces are viewed as being ultimately physical, but are taken to be partly mediated through a complex pattern of genetic inheritance shaped by forces of selection [[“nature”] and psycho-social conditioning [[“nurture”], within the framework of human culture [[i.e. socio-cultural conditioning and resulting/associated relativism]. And, remember, the focal issue to such minds — notice, this is a conceptual analysis made and believed by the materialists! —  is the physical causal chains in a control loop, not the internalised “mouth-noises” that may somehow sit on them and come along for the ride.

(Save, insofar as such “mouth noises” somehow associate with or become embedded as physically instantiated signals or maybe codes in such a loop. [[How signals, languages and codes originate and function in systems in our observation of such origin — i.e by design —   tends to be pushed to the back-burner and conveniently forgotten. So does the point that a signal or code takes its significance precisely from being an intelligently focused on, observed or chosen and significant alternative from a range of possibilities that then can guide decisive action.])

e: For instance, Marxists commonly derided opponents for their “bourgeois class conditioning” — but what of the effect of their own class origins? Freudians frequently dismissed qualms about their loosening of moral restraints by alluding to the impact of strict potty training on their “up-tight” critics — but doesn’t this cut both ways?  Should we not ask a Behaviourist whether s/he is little more than yet another operantly conditioned rat trapped in the cosmic maze? And — as we saw above — would the writings of a Crick be any more than the firing of neurons in networks in his own brain?

f: For further instance,  we may take the favourite whipping-boy of materialists: religion.  Notoriously, they often hold that belief in God is not merely cognitive, conceptual error, but delusion. Borderline lunacy, in short. But, if such a patent “delusion” is so utterly widespread, even among the highly educated, then it “must” — by the principles of evolution — somehow be adaptive to survival, whether in nature or in society. And so, this would be a major illustration of the unreliability of our conceptual reasoning ability, on the assumption of evolutionary materialism.

g: Turning the materialist dismissal of theism around, evolutionary materialism itself would be in the same leaky boat. For, the sauce for the goose is notoriously just as good a sauce for the gander, too.

h:  That is, on its own premises [[and following Dawkins in A Devil’s Chaplain, 2004, p. 46], the cause of the belief system of evolutionary materialism, “must” also be reducible to forces of blind chance and mechanical necessity that are sufficiently adaptive to spread this “meme” in populations of jumped- up apes from the savannahs of East Africa scrambling for survival in a Malthusian world of struggle for existence.  Reppert brings the underlying point sharply home, in commenting on the “internalised mouth-noise signals riding on the physical cause-effect chain in a cybernetic loop” view:

. . . let us suppose that brain state A, which is token identical to the thought that all men are mortal, and brain state B, which is token identical to the thought that Socrates is a man, together cause the belief that Socrates is mortal. It isn’t enough for rational inference that these events be those beliefs, it is also necessary that the causal transaction be in virtue of the content of those thoughts . . . [[But] if naturalism is true, then the propositional content is irrelevant to the causal transaction that produces the conclusion, and [[so] we do not have a case of rational inference. In rational inference, as Lewis puts it, one thought causes another thought not by being, but by being seen to be, the ground for it. But causal transactions in the brain occur in virtue of the brain’s being in a particular type of state that is relevant to physical causal transactions. [[Emphases added. Also cf. Reppert’s summary of Barefoot’s argument here.]

i: The famous geneticist and evolutionary biologist (as well as Socialist) J. B. S. Haldane made much the same point in a famous 1932 remark:

“It seems to me immensely unlikely that mind is a mere by-product of matter. For if my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms. In order to escape from this necessity of sawing away the branch on which I am sitting, so to speak, I am compelled to believe that mind is not wholly conditioned by matter.” [[“When I am dead,” in Possible Worlds: And Other Essays [1927], Chatto and Windus: London, 1932, reprint, p.209. (Highlight and emphases added.)]

j: Therefore, though materialists will often try to pointedly ignore or angrily brush aside the issue, we may freely argue: if such evolutionary materialism is true, then (i) our consciousness, (ii) the “thoughts” we have, (iii) the conceptualised beliefs we hold, (iv) the reasonings we attempt based on such and (v) the “conclusions” and “choices” (a.k.a. “decisions”) we reach — without residue — must be produced and controlled by blind forces of chance happenstance and mechanical necessity that are irrelevant to “mere” ill-defined abstractions such as: purpose or truth, or even logical validity. 

(NB: The conclusions of such “arguments” may still happen to be true, by astonishingly lucky coincidence — but we have no rational grounds for relying on the “reasoning” that has led us to feel that we have “proved” or “warranted” them. It seems that rationality itself has thus been undermined fatally on evolutionary materialistic premises. Including that of Crick et al. Through, self-reference leading to incoherence and utter inability to provide a cogent explanation of our commonplace, first-person experience of reasoning and rational warrant for beliefs, conclusions and chosen paths of action. Reduction to absurdity and explanatory failure in short.)

k: And, if materialists then object: “But, we can always apply scientific tests, through observation, experiment and measurement,” then we must immediately note that — as the fate of Newtonian Dynamics between 1880 and 1930 shows — empirical support is not equivalent to establishing the truth of a scientific theory. For, at any time, one newly discovered countering fact can in principle overturn the hitherto most reliable of theories. (And as well, we must not lose sight of this: in science, one is relying on the legitimacy of the reasoning process to make the case that scientific evidence provides reasonable albeit provisional warrant for one’s beliefs etc. Scientific reasoning is not independent of reasoning.)

l: Worse, in the case of origins science theories, we simply were not there to directly observe the facts of the remote past, so origins sciences are even more strongly controlled by assumptions and inferences than are operational scientific theories. So, we contrast the way that direct observations of falling apples and orbiting planets allow us to test our theories of gravity.

m: Moreover, as Harvard biologist Richard Lewontin reminds us all in his infamous January 29, 1997 New York Review of Books article, “Billions and billions of demons,” it is now notorious that:

. . . It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel [[materialistic scientists] to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. [[And if you have been led to imagine that the immediately following words justify the above, kindly cf. the more complete clip and notes here.]

n: Such a priori assumptions of materialism are patently question-begging, mind-closing and fallacious.

o: More important, to demonstrate that empirical tests provide empirical support to the materialists’ theories would require the use of the very process of reasoning and inference which they have discredited.

p: Thus, evolutionary materialism arguably reduces reason itself to the status of illusion.  But, as we have seen: immediately, that must include “Materialism.”

q: In the end, it is thus quite hard to escape the conclusion that materialism is based on self-defeating, question-begging logic.
r: So, while materialists — just like the rest of us — in practice routinely rely on the credibility of reasoning and despite all the confidence they may project, they at best struggle to warrant such a tacitly accepted credibility of mind and of concepts and reasoned out conclusions relative to the core claims of their worldview. (And, sadly: too often, they tend to pointedly ignore or rhetorically brush aside the issue.)

16 –> Notwithstanding such sharp exchanges, through the Derek Smith model we have potentially fruitful frameworks of thought on which we can investigate the nature of mind and its interaction with the body and brain.  >>


Food for thought, and to reflect on the possibilities in the Smith Model. END

PS: Let us note on quantum influence [Oct 2020], clipping Scott Calef:

Keith Campbell writes, “The indeterminacy of quantum laws means that any one of a range of outcomes of atomic events in the brain is equally compatible with known physical laws. And differences on the quantum scale can accumulate into very great differences in overall brain condition. So there is some room for spiritual activity even within the limits set by physical law. There could be, without violation of physical law, a general spiritual constraint upon what occurs inside the head.” (p.54). Mind could act upon physical processes by “affecting their course but not breaking in upon them.” (p.54). If this is true, the dualist could maintain the conservation principle but deny a fluctuation in energy because the mind serves to “guide” or control neural events by choosing one set of quantum outcomes rather than another. Further, it should be remembered that the conservation of energy is designed around material interaction; it is mute on how mind might interact with matter. After all, a Cartesian rationalist might insist, if God exists we surely wouldn’t say that He couldn’t do miracles just because that would violate the first law of thermodynamics, would we? [Article, “Dualism and Mind,” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.]

We could have a conversation here, G. Alan Fox
Testing, testing. Alan Fox
F/N: I got a bit of a fix-up but how to re-insert the audio from YT escapes me. KF kairosfocus
F/N: looks like I need to do some resurrection work. Try here for a start. Up to date page is here. KF kairosfocus
VJT: Coming from you, that means a lot. The Smith model of course caught my eye because of the control systems connexions, and to do it full justice, one should not only examine the full bore diagram but read Eng Smith's book. I do not blanket endorse but I think it is a solid start point for discussion. I also get the impression that there is need for a more serious acquaintance with relevant programming and controls issues, and yes I know the entry price for serious discussion just went up steeply, starting with complex frequency domain issues that give so many insights into system behaviour. KF kairosfocus
Hi kairosfocus, Thanks for a very interesting post. Reading it brought back old memories of my thesis days. The model you outline above is a very good way of describing how the unconscious mind of an insect might work, for instance. ("Unconscious mind" might sound like an oxymoron to some readers, but I used the term in my thesis to refer to the fact that an insect uses certain self-correcting representations as an internal map of the world, with which it can steer itself around. Effectively, these representations function as beliefs.) However, the conscious mind of a mammal or bird is a different kind of entity from the unconscious mind of an insect, and the self-reflexive mind of a human being is even further removed. In these kinds of minds, we can speak of "top-down" patterns of causation in the supervisory controller which are absent in the insect. And in the case of humans, it is quite certain that this top-down control is exercised via higher-level mental acts which are no longer bodily acts. The late philosopher, Mortimer Adler, had an interesting way of putting it. Referring to the human brain, he said: "You can't think without it, but you don't think with it." Thanks once again for a thought-provoking article, kairosfocus. vjtorley
chirp, chirp, chirp . . . (revealing) kairosfocus
Axel, it is ever so sad that you may be dead right. KF kairosfocus
As with all cogent reasoning totally undermining materialism, all the above is going to be totally above their heads. Not because they will all be incapable of it, but because they see the truth as a threat. The more primordial the truth, the greater the threat. They are beholden to the atomized, superficial and meretricious; they are desperate slaves of ignorance, and can see no way out. All the rest is, as you people so aptly put it, 'hand-waving' on their part, charades. Axel

Leave a Reply