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Life forms are not machines and neurons are not neural networks


From Mind Matters:

Much popular literature leaves the impression that living organisms are machines or even billions of them linked together. For example, at Medium, we learn,

Brains receive input from the outside world, their neurons do something to that input, and create an output. That output may be a thought (I want curry for dinner); it may be an action (make curry); it may be a change in mood (yay curry!). Whatever the output, that “something” is a transformation of some form of input (a menu) to output (“chicken dansak, please”). And if we think of a brain as a device that transforms inputs to outputs then, inexorably, the computer becomes our analogy of choice…

But organisms differ from machines in a fundamental way, according to philosopher Sune Holm at the University of Copenhagen. Holm’s specialty is synthetic biology, the attempt to create life form scratch:

One of the most basic objections to the identification of organisms and machines is that their behaviour cannot be reduced to the activities and relations of their parts.

In contrast to a mechanical watch, whose activity is fully determined “from the bottom up” by the activities and organisation of its parts, organisms influence the activities of their parts.

For example, your muscles start to grow if you start to exercise. Moreover, the parts of a watch exist before the watch does. It is not the watch itself that builds its own parts. Sune Holm, “Why Living Organisms Aren’t Machines” at RealClearScienceMore.

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See also: Machines just don’t do meaning. And that, says a computer science prof, is a key reason they won’t compete with humans. Human understanding is grounded, as Prof. Mitchell says, in common-sense knowledge about how the world works and why things matter. Researchers have not been able to transfer this understanding to AI but she worries that many teams are moving ahead with projects that require such ability for safety.


Researchers find loneliness is hard on the brain. What we think about our lives really does affect our health. What’s less often recognized is that loneliness could cause be a cause of brain damage as well, at least if we go by rodent studies.
(Note: This post went viral at Mind Matters. )

Looks like a convoluted view of what a "machine" is. ET

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