Competence Without Comprehension

The following comments are influenced by a book I am reading (actually listening to) entitled From bacteria to Bach and back: the evolution of minds by Daniel C. Dennett. I am nowhere near ready to write a book review of this extraordinary book, but thought I would share a few thoughts: 

Neurons in the human brain are not automatons who obey the instructions of a higher order boss. Rather they are quasi-independent cells that need nutrients and will move and fire in whatever ways will improve their chances of getting what they need. They readily add tasks to their repertoire whenever there is an opportunity to do so. They huddle, connect and cooperate with other neurons. They are competent without comprehension. They do not have “a mind of their own,” but neither are they the end result of a hierarchal system of commands, like computer code. Rather they exemplify the bottom-up process of the mind. Some of them may actually be feral neurons, that is, they fall back on genetic instructions of their distant ancestors, the single cell organisms. Dennett posits that such feral neurons may be responsible, at least in part, of the evolution of culture in the human species.

Artificial intelligence will never replicate brains as long as they continue to operate on a top-down structure. Computer code doesn’t have to struggle for nutrients. No computer code is at risk of being deprived of its needed electric current, whereas neurons are always at such risk. Dennett notes that the brain operates more like capitalist market forces than a dictatorial governmental controlled system.

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