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Vort

Thought by analogy

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I have a dog. To be more precise, my children have a dog, and I pay for it. Let me tell you a little bit about my dog.

This dog is not a stupid animal. She obviously cannot do much of what a human can do; she is utterly unable to speak, she can't really understand what we're saying in anything but the most basic sense, and she's permanently stuck at a level of social awareness that most three-year-old children have gotten beyond. She seems to have only a vague sense of time. She obviously can remember past events, which guide her present actions. But her sense of the future is limited to anticipation of the immediate future, maybe the next few minutes. I can't tell that she spends any time at all pondering something as far away in time as, say, later this evening or tomorrow. But she is quite sensitive to emotion. She can tell when things are relaxed or when there is tension. She can tell when my daughter is upset, or when I'm frustrated, or when someone is angry. Being without language, her range of responses is limited, but she can and does respond to things, sometimes quite enthusiastically, and mostly in ways that would be considered appropriate. While I would only rarely characterize the dog's thinking as logical in any meaningful sense, I would certainly say it is rational.

I honestly do not think my dog is all that different from humans in how she thinks. In fact, I believe that her thinking is very similar to how we think, to the point that I would almost say that her thought processes are subset of our (human) thought processes. I suspect that the reason dog owners can intuit so well how their dogs are feeling is because it's possible for human thought to model dog thought very closely; you just select the doggy-appropriate components of your own human thoughts, and you get a very serviceable dog thought model.

What, then, sets human thought apart from dog thought? How is the human experience fundamentally different from that of a dog? Obviously, our language ability is huge, an immense chasm that separates human brains from dog brains, indeed that separates human brains from the brains of all or at least most other creatures. How about spatial awareness? No, some animals have that in similar measure to human beings, perhaps even more. How about the fact that we are children of God? Well, yes, that certainly must confer some unique attributes, but that begs the question: What are those unique attributes? Agency is a wonderful guess, and I suppose that must be true; we are moral agents, while animals appear not to be. But this is an effect, not an attribute. We are moral agents because we have certain abilities; we don't have those abilities because we are agents. The arrow points the other direction.

So again, what makes human thought unique, different from that of the higher animals that (other than language) seem to have many almost human-seeming mental abilities?

I am slowly becoming convinced that what sets human thought apart from that of higher vertebrates is our ability to abstract patterns out of highly disparate situations and then recognize commonality between those patterns. In short, I think our ability to analogize is a large part of what makes us human. I look at my relationship with my brother, some areas of concord and some of discord. I think of mowing my lawn, how some parts are straightforward and some present challenges. And then my brain somehow takes some problematic aspect of my relationship with my brother and some problematic aspect of mowing the lawn and says, "Hey, Vort! Pay attention! Interacting with your brother IS JUST LIKE mowing your lawn!" I can then respond, "Stupid brain, don't you know that my relationship with my brother is a different class of phenomenon from mowing my lawn? Can't you recognize that the two are completely dissimilar, utterly unrelated?" Or I can respond, "Hey, yeah, there really are similarities. This is worth thinking about." I do not believe that animals can do this to a very great extent, even smart animals.

I have a lot of thoughts on this topic. I'm creating this thread as a place to explain, examine, and hash out some of these thoughts. I had a fascinating conversation a few minutes ago with my 14-year-old, having to do with (I'm writing this so I don't forget) comparing operation of the human brain to the seven-level OSI model and supposing that conscious decision-making, personality, and processing of perception is sort of the "topmost layer" of this model. Consequences of this idea are highly intriguing to me. But it's all analogy.

Whether this thread goes anywhere, whether anyone cares about it, whether I even get back to it, remains to be seen. But I think the idea has merit and is worth exploring. Obviously, since I'm posting this, I don't expect this to be just me sounding off. I welcome anyone else's insights into this idea.

Edited by Vort

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When I was a kid, we had a a Burmese cat called Chip. We actually had two of them - the other was called Coffee. They were both brown Burmese, but Coffee was a dark brown (like the colour of coffee) and Chip was a lighter colour - somewhat like a Siamese, but much more heavyset. I loved both of them, but Chip was by far the most intelligent and mischievous. For example, he would sometimes claw the cushions and keep on clawing even as everyone dashed to stop him - only bounding away at the last available moment.

Anyway, my brother's bedroom had a large built-in wardrobe, positioned such that room door and the wardrobe door - if they were both open - swung quite close to each other. On one occasion Chip had climbed to the top of the room door, and decided to jump from there to the top of the wardrobe door. As he sprang the door obeyed Newton's 3rd law, swinging back on its hinges and causing Chip to miss his landing. He fell about 7 feet to the floor - no great fall for a cat of course, but it was certainly not what he had expected!

I think the default programming in Chip's feline brain was  to interpret anything above ground that he was standing on as a tree branch. Unlike doors, tree branches are not hinged; they are fixed to trees. Furthermore, any branch large enough to take the weight of a large cat would not move much when the cat jumped. The cat's natural woodland habitat does not really contain anything equivalent to a hinge, so it does not appear in a cat's programming.

On the other hand, the cat's natural habitat does not contain glass either; yet cats quickly learn that while you can see through closed windows, you can't get through them. They sit on the windowsills gnashing their jaws at the sight of birds outside on the lawn, but they know full well they can't get them. Feral kittens - when you bring them inside for the first time - will hurl themselves at closed windows, but they quickly learn that this is pointless. So I daresay a wider experience of jumping from hinged doors would have taught Chip that a door does not behave as a tree-branch. So the programming is not - in fact - hard-wired. It can be overwritten.

Are we so very different? I remember when I was about 11, jumping into a moored dinghy, taking no account of the fact that as I landed on the foredeck the boat would tip towards me. Luckily the boat had a mast I was able to grab, otherwise I'd have gone into the water. My mental model of the boat was something which would support my weight without moving - so I suppose I was very like a cat on that occasion. From thereafter, my mental model of a small boat was different. I was "reprogrammed".

How does this relate to the "upper layers" - to use the OSI analogy? I don't know. I've tried writing this paragraph a few times, and I keep discovering that my ideas are flawed and deleting it. Did an extension of this kind of learning lead to quantum electrodynamics, or to the painting of the Mona Lisa? When you look at the higher primates - orangutans for instance - creatures not so very different from us - can you imagine them (perhaps in a few million years) discovering Lagrangian optimization, or writing the simian equivalent of Shakespearean sonnets?

(I'd already written that before I remembered someone already did imagine something very like that - it was called Planet of the Apes.)

Speaking of orangutans, did anyone see Judi Dench's program about Borneo last night? Well - I daresay you didn't because most of you are in the USA, but look out for it in case they show it there. Absolutely wonderful. 

Edited by Jamie123

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4 hours ago, Vort said:

So again, what makes human thought unique, different from that of the higher animals that (other than language) seem to have many almost human-seeming mental abilities?

Science defines intelligence as the ability to learn and alter behavior.  The studies I have followed indicate that humans can handle complex relationships and calculate future events.  I will explain this in a little greater detail using dogs.  Dogs are wired such that they have very fast reflex reaction time.  If we have an artificial rabbit pulled pass a dog - even though the rabbit is moving faster than a dog can run the dog can catch the rabbit as it goes by with fast acting reflex.  However, if the rabbit is moving fast enough to be outside the dog's reflex action - the dog will not catch the rabbit and lacks the logic to anticipate where it will be once the decision is made to grasp it.  Humans are capable of making logical impressions to assume what will occur - which is why we can play sports - like tennis and anticipate quickly where the ball is going.

It is my personal theory that this logical ability to anticipate and calculate expectations adds to our heightened emotions.

 

The Traveler

Edited by Traveler

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@Vort; I had another thought since I posted - for you or anyone else.

Since we are dealing with each other on a internet web site - how do you know when posting in a conversation thread that you are conversing with another human and not a suffocated artificial intelligent program?

 

The Traveler

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4 hours ago, Vort said:

What, then, sets human thought apart from dog thought? How is the human experience fundamentally different from that of a dog? Obviously, our language ability is huge, an immense chasm that separates human brains from dog brains, indeed that separates human brains from the brains of all or at least most other creatures...

I am slowly becoming convinced that what sets human thought apart from that of higher vertebrates is our ability to abstract patterns out of highly disparate situations and then recognize commonality between those patterns. In short, I think our ability to analogize is a large part of what makes us human.

The above illustrates two different ways of saying essentially the same thing. I am convinced that sophisticated language usage is the key feature that separates our brains from those of any other creature. Many animals communicate with each other vocally; birds chirp, wolves growl and bay, whales sing. But human language requires a level of abstraction vastly beyond what animals do, and in turn human language endows its speakers with a more powerful ability to abstract ideas and patterns and assign them to certain intellectual tokens. These tokens can take verbal form, where we call them "words".

The very idea of a "word" is immensely powerful. I can say "dog", and that might bring up different pictures in different human minds. Yet among those who understand the language, the word "dog" brings up the same abstraction of an essentially wolf-like creature, however different the concrete examples might be (chihuahua vs. collie, for example, or poodle vs. pitbull).

How is this possible? It's like mind-reading. No, it is not like mind-reading; it is mind-reading. Language allows us to share our innermost souls with others. It also allows us to disguise, hide, and misrepresent our innermost souls, which I suppose is the dark side of the miraculous linguistic coin.

I don't mean to say that our ability to abstract commonalities out of highly disparate situations is only a feature of language. But I believe that the abstraction ability cannot be well-developed outside a linguistic context. It is human language that allows us to become phenomenally smart, towering above our fellow beings the animals, and that gives us the tools to learn such abstraction and idea manipulation. Humans have these huge bulbous heads of ours for a reason, and that reason is language.

So how does that work? My ideas are heavily influenced by Douglas Hofstadter's 1979 Pulitzer Prize-winning book that many hear probably remember me mentioning before, called Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. Those ideas involve the concept of levels of abstraction that can often be "sealed off" from other levels above and below, a concept which no less an authority than 82-year-old Donald Knuth identified as the real underlying distinguishing feature of so-called computer science. For those familiar even passingly with the OSI networking model, this will be familiar.

Edited by Vort

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I have a ten-year old special needs son... The reason I bring him up is because when you described your dog and her behavior and limits, your more or less described my son's behavior and limits.

Per Traveler's definition both your dog and my Son are intelligent.  But that just means they can be Conditioned (aka Pavlov's Dog https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classical_conditioning)

That is not a very high bar.  Abstract Reasoning is a much higher Bar.   Now some might say that responding to words means they understand language... But do they really? or are they simply responding to different types of "Bells?"  As much as I would like to think and hope for the former, it seems to me to be more of the latter.

Then we have the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis https://www.thoughtco.com/sapir-whorf-hypothesis-1691924 which would seem to support the idea language linked to abstract thought, but the Hypothesis has it flaws.

As mentioned language itself is abstract thought somewhere along the way human infants and children move beyond Pavloven Conditioning to Language. Steps that animals don't take (and my son hasn't taken yet for some reason).  I have had various of my son's language therapists talk about the importance of language in higher intelligence.  Almost as if there is a positive feedback loop. Abstract Reasoning allows language, more language allows for more Abstract Reasoning which allows for more language.

I am no scientist but I would be very interested in seeing the results of any test or experiment seeing if there is a correlation between Abstract Reasoning and Language Skills 

 

 

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1 hour ago, estradling75 said:

I have a ten-year old special needs son... The reason I bring him up is because when you described your dog and her behavior and limits, your more or less described my son's behavior and limits.

Per Traveler's definition both your dog and my Son are intelligent.  But that just means they can be Conditioned (aka Pavlov's Dog https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classical_conditioning)

That is not a very high bar.  Abstract Reasoning is a much higher Bar.   Now some might say that responding to words means they understand language... But do they really? or are they simply responding to different types of "Bells?"  As much as I would like to think and hope for the former, it seems to me to be more of the latter.

Then we have the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis https://www.thoughtco.com/sapir-whorf-hypothesis-1691924 which would seem to support the idea language linked to abstract thought, but the Hypothesis has it flaws.

As mentioned language itself is abstract thought somewhere along the way human infants and children move beyond Pavloven Conditioning to Language. Steps that animals don't take (and my son hasn't taken yet for some reason).  I have had various of my son's language therapists talk about the importance of language in higher intelligence.  Almost as if there is a positive feedback loop. Abstract Reasoning allows language, more language allows for more Abstract Reasoning which allows for more language.

I am no scientist but I would be very interested in seeing the results of any test or experiment seeing if there is a correlation between Abstract Reasoning and Language Skills 

Looks like none of my ponderings are unique. That's okay. I'm used to it. :)

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10 hours ago, Vort said:

Looks like none of my ponderings are unique. That's okay. I'm used to it. :)

Have you also considered the implications to things like the Adamic Language, and the Tower of Babel?

 

 

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