Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Martian in John’s Head

What a great follow-up to Embodied Mind! Being There does such a good job of communicating the difference between who we think we are and the actual processing which must be occurring inside our brains. It all reminds me of the technical description of eye-sight, not the one discussed by Varela et al., but a technical description I’ve seen describing how the lenses see images and all the processing which has to occur for me to be able to say “I’m looking at a ball of approximately 12 inches in diameter, at a distance of approximately 20 feet.” Clark also had a similar example describing the procedure for intercepting and catching a ball. (By the way, can anybody explain that to me? I got the gist of it but when I reread it to get the details it kind of fell apart due to lack of knowledge of the technical terminology) On the one hand, we do so many things “without even thinking about it,” and then on the other, when one begins to consider the amount of processing necessary for a machine to do the same thing, it’s amazing.

I got to thinking about this declarative knowledge Clark mentioned was being used to program these giant expert systems. What I was thinking was, how natural that idea is, that knowledge consists of a huge store of declarative statements. After all, that’s what we get as children: first our parents, then our friends, then our teachers are constantly telling us, “That’s a bird,” “My dad says….,” “2+2=4.” What more natural assumption than we must be able to store an amazing amount of data? Although after reading Clark, it seems so simplistic to believe all our brains are, are some super-efficient storage and retrieval device!


Blogger asw said...

I agree with you that this text was a nice transition from the Varela text. I thought theses two texts really complimented each other and could not be of better timing in the course considering the ground we have already covered.

In your last sentence of your post, I question your statement that Clark meant that are brains are a super-efficient storage and retrieval device. I think at points in the text Clark does try to make it as such that our minds can be found to be similiar to filing cabinets, but for me by the end of the book, I felt that Clark was viewing our brains more as a conduit. I was imagining the situation where you go to the library, walk up to the information desk to ask a question and the librarian tries to help by running around multitudes of shelves pulling information from here, there and everywhere and connecting us with the right people or computers or tools to help us get the answer we need when we came to the information desk. For me, I thought this aspect came through in the epilogue when John's Brain said, "If truth be told, I acted rather as a mediating factor in some complex feedback loops encompassing John and selected chunks of his local environment."

Perhaps though I misunderstood your comment at the end of your blog statement...but were you thinking along the same lines?

9:00 PM  

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