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Is the mind just a program run by the brain?

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Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor thinks that much modern neuroscience can be characterized as a collection of weak metaphors about the mind and brain. The Computational Theory of Mind (CTM) is one of them:

I believe that the computational model of the mind is fatally flawed. Here are some reasons:

The most obvious reason is that all mental states have meaning — that is, they are intentional. Intentionality means that our thoughts are about something — there is always an object to which a thought points. I think about my vacation, or about politics or about my dog. But computation, understood as manipulation of symbols, is never intrinsically about anything. A computer matches a set of configurations of electrons to another set of configurations of electrons. What those configurations of electrons are about is not inherent to the computation — the meaning of this post as I type it is not inherently in the patterns of electrons on my screen but in the thoughts in my mind…

Michael Egnor, “Why “the mind is just a computation” is a fatally flawed idea” at Mind Matters News

Summary: The mind is the opposite of computation. Mental states are always intentional and computation, by its nature, is never intentional.

You may also enjoy: A reader asks, Is it true that there is no self? (Michael Egnor) The assertion that self is an illusion is not even wrong — it’s self-refuting, like saying “I don’t exist” or “Misery is green.”

5 Replies to “Is the mind just a program run by the brain?

  1. 1
    kairosfocus says:

    If the mind were a program, then it would be a blind, dynamic-stochastic, inherently non-rational, gigo limited mechanism. This suggestion is an example of a self-refuting self-referential argument.

  2. 2
    EvilSnack says:

    Lewis predicted this nonsense in the character of Professor Frost. Treat the theory as if it were established fact and interpret all evidence in that light.

  3. 3
    bornagain77 says:

    As to the question of “Is The Mind Just A Program Run By The Brain?”

    The answer is, as far as common sense is concerned, obviously NO!

    But to add to the insights that Dr. Egnor has already elucidated in his article, and show why it is physically impossible for the mind to just be a program run by the brain.

    First, researchers have found “the brain’s complexity is beyond anything they’d imagined, almost to the point of being beyond belief,” and, “A single human brain has more switches than all the computers and routers and Internet connections on Earth.”

    Human brain has more switches than all computers on Earth – November 2010
    Excerpt: They found that the brain’s complexity is beyond anything they’d imagined, almost to the point of being beyond belief, says Stephen Smith, a professor of molecular and cellular physiology and senior author of the paper describing the study: “…One synapse, by itself, is more like a microprocessor–with both memory-storage and information-processing elements–than a mere on/off switch. In fact, one synapse may contain on the order of 1,000 molecular-scale switches. A single human brain has more switches than all the computers and routers and Internet connections on Earth.”
    https://www.cnet.com/news/human-brain-has-more-switches-than-all-computers-on-earth/

    Moreover, further research in 2017 has suggested that the previous estimate was off by two orders of magnitude. As the following article states, “the large number of dendritic spikes taking place could mean that the brain has more than 100 times the computational capacity than was previously thought.”

    Brain is 10 times more active than previously measured, UCLA researchers find – Dan Gordon | March 9, 2017
    Excerpt:,, UCLA team discovered that dendrites are not just passive conduits. Their research showed that dendrites are electrically active in animals that are moving around freely, generating nearly 10 times more spikes than somas. The finding challenges the long-held belief that spikes in the soma are the primary way in which perception, learning and memory formation occur.,,,
    ,,, somas generated only all-or-nothing spikes, much like digital computers do.,,,
    “We found that dendrites are hybrids that do both analog and digital computations, which are therefore fundamentally different from purely digital computers, but somewhat similar to quantum computers that are analog,” said Mehta,,,
    “A fundamental belief in neuroscience has been that neurons are digital devices,,,
    ,,,This is a major departure from what neuroscientists have believed for about 60 years.”
    Because the dendrites are nearly 100 times larger in volume than the neuronal centers, Mehta said, the large number of dendritic spikes taking place could mean that the brain has more than 100 times the computational capacity than was previously thought.
    http://newsroom.ucla.edu/relea.....ommunicate

    And as the following article points out, “the fastest supercomputer in the world, capable of 200 petaflops (10^15 flops).,,, Our miraculous brains operate on the next order higher…. the human brain operates at 1 exaFLOP (10^18 flops), which is equivalent to a billion billion calculations per second.,,,”

    Computation Power: Human Brain vs Supercomputer – April 2019
    Excerpt: At the moment of writing this article the world’s fastest supercomputer is Summit or OLCF-4, developed by IBM for use at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the fastest supercomputer in the world, capable of 200 petaflops (10^15 flops).,,,
    Our miraculous brains operate on the next order higher. Although it is impossible to precisely calculate, it is postulated that the human brain operates at 1 exaFLOP (10^18 flops), which is equivalent to a billion billion calculations per second.,,,
    The same calculations and processes that might take a computer a few millions steps can be achieved by a few hundred neuron transmissions, requiring far less energy and performing at a far greater efficiency. The amount of energy required to power computations by the world’s fastest supercomputer would be enough to power a building; the human brain achieves the same processing speeds from the same energy as is required to charge a dim light bulb.
    One of the things that truly sets brains apart, aside from their clear advantage in raw computing power, is the flexibility that it displays. Essentially, the human brain can rewire itself, a feat more formally known as neuroplasticity. Neurons are able to disconnect and reconnect with others, and even change in their basic features, something that a carefully constructed computer cannot do.
    https://foglets.com/supercomputer-vs-human-brain/

    It is also interesting to note just how different the human brain is from supercomputers in terms of their “thermodynamic properties”.

    As the following 2011 article stated, “Although a human brain and and the Blue Waters computer are roughly comparable in computational power, they differ enormously in terms of their thermodynamic properties. The Blue Waters computer will occupy approximately 2,000 square meters of floor space, will consume about 15,000,000 watts, will require an intricate cooling system (hidden under the floor) to dissipate the resulting heat, and will be utterly non-portable. A human brain is about the size of your two fists, consumes about 15 watts (even when you are solving a hard physics problem),”

    The Thermodynamics of Brains and Computers – 2011
    Excerpt: Although a human brain and and the Blue Waters computer are roughly comparable in computational power, they differ enormously in terms of their thermodynamic properties. The Blue Waters computer will occupy approximately 2,000 square meters of floor space, will consume about 15,000,000 watts, will require an intricate cooling system (hidden under the floor) to dissipate the resulting heat, and will be utterly non-portable. A human brain is about the size of your two fists, consumes about 15 watts (even when you are solving a hard physics problem), and is completely practical to carry around since it has a mass of about 1.5 kg. (It is also worth pointing out that brains, unlike computers, self-assemble themselves and are also able to program themselves.)
    https://webhome.phy.duke.edu/~hsg/363/table-images/brain-vs-computer.html

    On top of that, it is estimated that “a microelectronics processor functioning with the capacity of a human brain would need at least ten megawatts to operate. This is equivalent to the output of a small hydroelectric power plant. The human brain needs only about ten watts.”

    Chiral Induced Spin Selectivity (CISS) James Tour – December 2016
    Excerpt: Kwabena Boahen estimated that a microelectronics processor functioning with the capacity of a human brain would need at least ten megawatts to operate. This is equivalent to the output of a small hydroelectric power plant. The human brain needs only about ten watts.6
    https://inference-review.com/article/chiral-induced-spin-selectivity

    And now for the reason why this ‘thermodynamic disparity’ between the human brain and supercomputers proves that it is physically impossible for the mind to ever be just be a program that is run by the brain.

    If the mind were just a program run by the (supposedly digital) human brain then it would be erasing information for every fundamental logical operation that it performed,

    As Rolf Landauer himself stated, “Logically irreversible devices are necessary to computing, ”

    Rolf Landauer (1927-1999)
    Excerpt: “Logically irreversible devices do not remember the inputs. They are thus one-way processes that lose information. Logically irreversible devices are necessary to computing, says Landauer, and logical irreversibility implies physical irreversibility.”
    http://www.informationphilosop...../landauer/

    And as Landauer also showed, there is a corresponding increase in heat, (i.e. entropy increase), that is associated with each bit of information that is erased during computation.

    Landauer’s principle
    Of Note: “any logically irreversible manipulation of information, such as the erasure of a bit or the merging of two computation paths, must be accompanied by a corresponding entropy increase ,,, Specifically, each bit of lost information will lead to the release of an (specific) amount (at least kT ln 2) of heat.,,,”.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L....._principle

  4. 4
    bornagain77 says:

    Landauer’s ‘cost of erasure’, (i.e. heat generated during computation), directly implies a limit to how small we can build computer circuits,

    As the following article states, “It was the physicist Rolf Landauer who first worked out in 1961 that when data is deleted it is inevitable that energy will be released in the form of heat. This principle implies that when a certain number of arithmetical operations per second have been exceeded, the computer will produce so much heat that the heat is impossible to dissipate.,,,
    ,, the team believes that the critical threshold where Landauer’s erasure heat becomes important may be reached within the next 10 to 20 years.”

    Quantum physics behind computer temperature – June 6, 2011
    Excerpt: It was the physicist Rolf Landauer who first worked out in 1961 that when data is deleted it is inevitable that energy will be released in the form of heat. This principle implies that when a certain number of arithmetical operations per second have been exceeded, the computer will produce so much heat that the heat is impossible to dissipate.,,,
    ,, the team believes that the critical threshold where Landauer’s erasure heat becomes important may be reached within the next 10 to 20 years.
    http://cordis.europa.eu/news/rcn/33479_en.html

    And as the following 2012 article states, “Any Boolean function that maps several input states onto the same output state, such as AND, NAND, OR and XOR, is therefore logically irreversible. In particular, the erasure of information, the RESET TO ONE operation, is logically irreversible and leads to an entropy increase of kln(2) per erased bit 14–16.,,, present day silicon based digital circuits is about a factor of 1,000 greater than the ultimate Landauer limit, but is predicted to quickly attain it within the next couple of decades.”

    Experimental verification of Landauer’s principle linking information and thermodynamics – 2012
    Excerpt: A device is said to be logically irreversible if its input cannot be uniquely determined from its output 13 . Any Boolean function that maps several input states onto the same output state, such as AND, NAND, OR and XOR, is therefore logically irreversible. In particular, the erasure of information, the RESET TO ONE operation, is logically irreversible and leads to an entropy increase of kln(2) per erased bit 14–16.
    Landauer’s principle,, also represents the fundamental physical limit of irreversible computation.,,
    From a technological perspective, energy dissipation per logic operation in present day silicon based digital circuits is about a factor of 1,000 greater than the ultimate Landauer limit, but is predicted to quickly attain it within the next couple of decades. 23,24
    https://www.physics.rutgers.edu/grad/677/Physics_677_2018_files/Berut_Lutz_Nature2012.pdf

    Thus, since the human brain is not even close to generating the amount of heat that a supercomputer currently does, and since our human brain even exceeds our best current supercomputers in terms of computations performed per second, then it is clear, as far as the thermodynamics of Landauer’s principle itself is concerned, that our mind can not possibly be the result of a digital computational process. A process that must erase information, and therefore generate heat, for every elementary computation performed.

    In short, and as far as thermodynamics of Landauer’s principle itself is concerned, it is physically impossible for the mind to just be a program run by the (supposedly digital) brain. (Elsewise, if the mind were the result of a computational process, then there should be significantly more heat generated by the brain than we currently see being generated).

    Also of related interest to Landauer’s Principle and the human brain, contrary to what would be expected if the mind were just a program run by the brain, it is found that performing mental arithmetic does not consume any more energy in the brain than when you are simply relaxing. In the following study it was found that cerebral oxygen consumption is unaltered during mental arithmetic

    THE EFFECT OF MENTAL ARITHMETIC ON CEREBRAL CIRCULATION AND METABOLISM
    Excerpt: Although Lennox considered the performance of mental arithmetic as “mental work”, it is not immediately apparent what the nature of that work in the physical sense might be if, indeed, there be any. If no work or energy transformation is involved in the process of thought, then it is not surprising that cerebral oxygen consumption is unaltered during mental arithmetic.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pm.....4-0127.pdf

    Likewise, that glucose consumption by the brain is remarkably stable despite widely varying levels of mental activity.

    Does Thinking Really Hard Burn More Calories? – By Ferris Jabr – July 2012
    Excerpt: Unlike physical exercise, mental workouts probably do not demand significantly more energy than usual. Believing we have drained our brains, however, may be enough to induce weariness,,,
    Although the average adult human brain weighs about 1.4 kilograms, only 2 percent of total body weight, it demands 20 percent of our resting metabolic rate (RMR)—the total amount of energy our bodies expend in one very lazy day of no activity.,,,
    —Resting metabolic rate: 1300 kilocalories, or kcal, the kind used in nutrition
    —1,300 kcal over 24 hours = 54.16 kcal per hour = 15.04 gram calories per second
    —15.04 gram calories/sec = 62.93 joules/sec = about 63 watts
    —20 percent of 63 watts = 12.6 watts
    So a typical adult human brain runs on around 12 watts—a fifth of the power required by a standard 60 watt lightbulb. Compared with most other organs, the brain is greedy; pitted against man-made electronics, it is astoundingly efficient.
    IBM’s Watson, the supercomputer that defeated Jeopardy! champions, depends on ninety IBM Power 750 servers, each of which requires around one thousand watts.,,,
    “but when people do one mental task you won’t see a large increase of glucose consumption as a significant percentage of the overall rate. The base level is quite a lot of energy—even in slow-wave sleep with very little activity there is still a high baseline consumption of glucose.”
    http://www.scientificamerican......d-calories

    Of supplemental note,,,, the belief that our digital computers will someday be conscious is simply insane.

    As Michael Egnor succinctly put it, “Your computer doesn’t know a binary string from a ham sandwich.,,, In a sane world, the proper suggestion to a fellow who believes that his computer knows things would be to tactfully suggest that he seek professional psychiatric help.”

    Your Computer Doesn’t Know Anything – Michael Egnor – January 23, 2015
    Excerpt: Your computer doesn’t know a binary string from a ham sandwich. Your math book doesn’t know algebra. Your Rolodex doesn’t know your cousin’s address. Your watch doesn’t know what time it is. Your car doesn’t know where you’re driving. Your television doesn’t know who won the football game last night. Your cell phone doesn’t know what you said to your girlfriend this morning.,,,
    In a sane world, the proper suggestion to a fellow who believes that his computer knows things would be to tactfully suggest that he seek professional psychiatric help.
    https://evolutionnews.org/2015/01/your_computer_d_1/

    And as Dr. Egnor succinctly noted elsewhere, “The Turing test isn’t a test of a computer.,,, The Turing test is a test of whether human beings have succumbed to the astonishingly naive hubris that we can create souls.”

    Can a Computer Think? – Michael Egnor – 2011
    Excerpt: A soul is not a material artifact, and the rational soul is not material at all. It cannot be “assembled.” Creation of a rational soul is creation of an entirely different order. It is a power to create from nothing. Perhaps this is the reason that many otherwise thoughtful philosophers cling to absurd materialist theories of the mind. If the mind is material, then we could create it from matter. We could create a soul.
    The Turing test isn’t a test of a computer. Computers can’t take tests, because computers can’t think. The Turing test is a test of us. If a computer “passes” it, we fail it. We fail because of our hubris, a delusion that seems to be something original in us. The Turing test is a test of whether human beings have succumbed to the astonishingly naive hubris that we can create souls.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....45141.html

    It is almost embarrassing to have to point out to other people the glaringly obvious fact that only God can possibly create living souls?

    Verses and quote

    Genesis 2:7
    And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

    Psalm 139:13-14
    For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.

    “It is not enough to say that design is a more likely scenario to explain a world full of well-designed things. It strikes me as urgent to insist that you not allow your mind to surrender the absolute clarity that all complex and magnificent things were made that way. Once you allow the intellect to consider that an elaborate organism with trillions of microscopic interactive components can be an accident… you have essentially “lost your mind.””
    – Jay Homnick – American Spectator – 2005

  5. 5
    William J Murray says:

    None of this discussion really makes sense because there is no serious theory of mind being offered that even attempts to categorize aspects of mind and mental experience or express their relationship to each other, how they operate and interact.

    Some aspects of mind are clearly computational in nature, even if the computations are initiated and processed in relation to “aboutness.” Other aspects are clearly volitional, “above” the computations, directing and guiding what they are “about.” Some aspects of the mind are clearly programmed patterns of thought. Also clear: an enormous amount of mind is going on at the subconscious and unconscious levels.

    It’s like the one thing both materialists and semi-materialists agree on is that mind itself – the one thing we all operate in and through and upon which everything depends – isn’t worth serious investigation and consideration.

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