re: The Universal Computer

Posted by Jim Andrews | Fri Jul 29th 2005 4:11 a.m.

I got a little email from Martin Davis, the author of 'The Universal
Computer'. He says

"The marketing people at Norton decided that the paperback version would
benefit from a different title: "Engines of Logic: Mathematicians and the
Origin of the Computer". It's the same book (with some errors corrected)."

This may be why you were having problems finding the book, Geert.

I asked Dr. Davis if he had any recommendations concerning writings by
people who have attempted to meditate on the consequences for poetry of the
theory of computation? He replied: "Not really."

There are some writings by Martin Davis at his site: http://www.eipye.com .
Interesting to note the degree to which these concentrate on refuting Roger
Penrose's very popular claims in such books as 'The Emperor's New Clothes'
that mathematical reasoning is not algorithmic. Davis does not assert the
contrary; only that Penrose's proofs are "deeply fallacious". I have been
somewhat mystified by the popularity of Penrose's 'proofs' that there are
thought processes of which humans are capable but computers are not. I
suspect that their popularity is an indication of the strength of the
desire, in many people, to believe that humans are, fundamentally, different
from machines.

My own feeling is that the notion that human thought is algorithmic is no
more demeaning of humanity than the Darwinian notion of human (and other
species') evolution from lower life forms. The truth of the matter is much
to be desired. And it is always preferable to falsehood, however supportive
the falsehood is of religious or other doctrine.

ja
http://vispo.com
  • Plasma Studii | Fri Jul 29th 2005 11:38 a.m.
    what a great point!

    apparently, their reasoning is like this:
    1. for many, staplers (and many other tools at the office) are mysterious!
    2. mysterious things are scary and should be avoided.
    3. but our brains can't be scary. they're us.
    4. therefore, all newtonian physics must be wrong because it tries to describe aspects of
    both staplers and brains (which obviously can't be similar because one's really scary and the
    other i like).
    5. thus, staplers can no longer be mysterious, especially if we think of them as paper weights
    and ignore the mechanics.

    a puppet show has a director. the only real difference in programming is that for strings,
    they use thread, we use quote marks. everything's a tool of some sort.

    wonder if people who think that animals and machines are fundamentally different, that
    algorithmic functions are somehow "less" than natural, also believe such vocabulary literally
    as "lower" species. it's like thinking "queen" ants have any authority over workers?

    there is obviously no objective way to measure complexity or success. humans just calibrate
    the criteria to put humans on top. it can equally be said that while other species function
    without much language or invention, we rely on it. we could just as easily be the weakest,
    form of life. (if we had to swing our fastest from trees all the time, we'd think for a split
    second and wind up dead. whereas if monkeys depended on picking stocks in order to get
    food, they'd do better than most investment experts.)

    in fact, given the rarity of our enlarged cortexes (the consciousness that humans alone are
    saddled with) , as opposed to a ubiquitous yet intricate organ like the stomach, one could
    easily draw the conclussion, so much awareness was a big mistake.

    no one need agree. it's simply common sense that the human brain is hardly an ideal judge
    of which neurological methods are superior. it's like asking george bush who he voted for.

    > [ ... ] Interesting to note the degree to which these concentrate on refuting Roger
    > Penrose's very popular claims in such books as 'The Emperor's New Clothes'
    > that mathematical reasoning is not algorithmic. Davis does not assert the
    > contrary; only that Penrose's proofs are "deeply fallacious". I have been
    > somewhat mystified by the popularity of Penrose's 'proofs' that there are
    > thought processes of which humans are capable but computers are not. I
    > suspect that their popularity is an indication of the strength of the
    > desire, in many people, to believe that humans are, fundamentally, different
    > from machines.
    >
    > My own feeling is that the notion that human thought is algorithmic is no
    > more demeaning of humanity than the Darwinian notion of human (and other
    > species') evolution from lower life forms. The truth of the matter is much
    > to be desired. And it is always preferable to falsehood, however supportive
    > the falsehood is of religious or other doctrine.
    >
    > ja
    > http://vispo.com
    >
    >
    > +
    > -> post: list@rhizome.org
    > -> questions: info@rhizome.org
    > -> subscribe/unsubscribe: http://rhizome.org/preferences/subscribe.rhiz
    > -> give: http://rhizome.org/support
    > -> visit: on Fridays the Rhizome.org web site is open to non-members
    > +
    > Subscribers to Rhizome are subject to the terms set out in the
    > Membership Agreement available online at http://rhizome.org/info/29.php
    >
    >

    ___________________
    PLASMA STUDII
    501(c)(3) non-profit
    stage * galleries * web
    POI Box 1086
    Cathedral Station
    New York, NY 10025
    http://plasmastudii.org
  • Jim Andrews | Sat Jul 30th 2005 4:24 a.m.
    should it be the case that human cogitation is explicable in terms of
    algorithms, this would not demean or lessen the wonder of thought and
    feeling. on the contrary, the notion that all we are of mind and emotion is
    the product of agencies of *this* world suggests to me that the material
    world is almost unfathomably rich in possibilities for mapping into mind and
    emotion, thought and feeling. and that it is all in front of us to be
    explored. if we do not shut down the exploration. if we keep valuing the
    open and inquiring mind.

    it seems to me that what separates us from the other animals is the richness
    of language of which we are capable. other animals are not incapable of
    language. it is simply a matter of degree, of richness of language--and,
    correspondingly, we are capable of greater logical complexity in our
    reasoning and information storage and retrieval.

    i have a cat. she is a thinking, feeling, sentient being. she lets me know
    what she needs me to know. she walks in front of the monitor when i miss the
    point. she knows how to communicate with me. i think she probably has me
    quite well-trained, actually.

    ja
    http://vispo.com

    > -----Original Message-----
    > From: owner-list@rhizome.org [mailto:owner-list@rhizome.org]On Behalf Of
    > Plasma Studii
    > Sent: July 29, 2005 10:38 AM
    > To: Jim Andrews; list@rhizome.org
    > Subject: Re: RHIZOME_RAW: re: The Universal Computer
    >
    >
    > what a great point!
    >
    > apparently, their reasoning is like this:
    > 1. for many, staplers (and many other tools at the office) are mysterious!
    > 2. mysterious things are scary and should be avoided.
    > 3. but our brains can't be scary. they're us.
    > 4. therefore, all newtonian physics must be wrong because it
    > tries to describe aspects of
    > both staplers and brains (which obviously can't be similar
    > because one's really scary and the
    > other i like).
    > 5. thus, staplers can no longer be mysterious, especially if we
    > think of them as paper weights
    > and ignore the mechanics.
    >
    >
    >
    > a puppet show has a director. the only real difference in
    > programming is that for strings,
    > they use thread, we use quote marks. everything's a tool of some sort.
    >
    > wonder if people who think that animals and machines are
    > fundamentally different, that
    > algorithmic functions are somehow "less" than natural, also
    > believe such vocabulary literally
    > as "lower" species. it's like thinking "queen" ants have any
    > authority over workers?
    >
    > there is obviously no objective way to measure complexity or
    > success. humans just calibrate
    > the criteria to put humans on top. it can equally be said that
    > while other species function
    > without much language or invention, we rely on it. we could just
    > as easily be the weakest,
    > form of life. (if we had to swing our fastest from trees all the
    > time, we'd think for a split
    > second and wind up dead. whereas if monkeys depended on picking
    > stocks in order to get
    > food, they'd do better than most investment experts.)
    >
    > in fact, given the rarity of our enlarged cortexes (the
    > consciousness that humans alone are
    > saddled with) , as opposed to a ubiquitous yet intricate organ
    > like the stomach, one could
    > easily draw the conclussion, so much awareness was a big mistake.
    >
    >
    > no one need agree. it's simply common sense that the human brain
    > is hardly an ideal judge
    > of which neurological methods are superior. it's like asking
    > george bush who he voted for.
  • Plasma Studii | Sat Jul 30th 2005 9:44 a.m.
    On Jul 30, 2005, at 6:22 AM, Jim Andrews wrote:

    >should it be the case that human cogitation is explicable in terms of
    algorithms, this would not demean or lessen the wonder of thought and
    feeling. on the contrary, the notion that all we are of mind and emotion is
    the product of agencies of *this* world suggests to me that the material
    world is almost unfathomably rich in possibilities for mapping into mind and
    emotion, thought and feeling. and that it is all in front of us to be
    explored. if we do not shut down the exploration. if we keep valuing the
    open and inquiring mind.

    The Earth need not be the center of the universe to feel OK about ourselves. just as humans
    need not have entirely mysterious, non-algorithmic motivations.

    >it seems to me that what separates us from the other animals is the richness
    of language of which we are capable. other animals are not incapable of
    language. it is simply a matter of degree, of richness of language--and,
    correspondingly, we are capable of greater logical complexity in our
    reasoning and information storage and retrieval.

    though i think your ultimate point is spot on, i'm not sure about this animal cognition stuff.
    it'd be like someone saying they saw a car fly through outer space. cars just don't have that
    kind of engine. though hey anything's possible. i can't refute what you saw, even if i doubt
    the conclusions.

    so why do people go through such (often unconsciously) length to explain their projected
    anthropomorph-ization of animals while denying fairly clear and probable similarities to
    computers?

    the bee dance* is neat, but it's a little too tempting to calling a subset of geometry a
    language. technically it is, but has such extremely narrow application. in this case, it's even
    a stretch to call communication language. (than why not call GPS linguistics then?)

    chimps (supposedly) learn sign, but only about a vocab of 100 words. trainers swear things
    like "me now love baby" means "please scratch my back. but i doubt washoe could actually
    comprehend the words he memorized.

    what these DO prove is that our expectations of what animals can perform is far lower than
    what they really are capable of. they can learn alarming amounts, to get food, etc. but it's a
    little more complicated version of pavlov ringing a bell. sure, the dogs appear glad to see
    him too. doing so, makes it more likely he will keep taking care of them. people own dogs
    that are excited to see them, and if the dogs aren't are probably going to take worse care of
    them (the owner's need not even be aware of this going on)

    hans the counting horse took subtle almost involuntary cues from watching his trainer ask
    questions. body language was like telling him "stop there, or keep tapping your foot". it is
    amazing that he figured out these tiny clues and how they related to how much attention he
    got. surely the more he did right, the more secure his meal ticket. the more wrong, the
    more likely he would be mistreated. it's not even certain, the trainer knew hans was doing
    this.

    * for anybody who hadn't heard of the bee dance, bee's return to the hive and explain to each
    other where to find pollen by flying in a "vocab" of stunts. the dance does not appear to be
    simply pointing, but more "conceptual" directions, like "turn toward that big tree then ... "

    >i have a cat. she is a thinking, feeling, sentient being. she lets me know
    what she needs me to know. she walks in front of the monitor when i miss the
    point. she knows how to communicate with me. i think she probably has me
    quite well-trained, actually.

    you're right, we are trained by our pets. maybe not fish.

    but it is neurologically impossible for feelings to explain why she behaves as she does. she
    needs food, etc,. and it is in her best interest to keep nagging you, until you do something
    about it. (obviously, she'll stop "communicating" if you walk toward the kitchen, resume if
    you suddenly stop. she has a proven method how, and will do the same thing every time.
    we just read it as affection.
Your Reply