Thursday, 24 December 2015

Hoping for a Merry Christmas and a Happier New Year for Everyone

Click on Flag for other Christmas related  photographs from Tring
Enjoy your Christmas but never forget that there are many other people who have fallen on hard times and find themselves trapped in situations which, in many cases, was completely out of their control.

In England the growth of food bank, illustrated by this picture of a very large box of donated food in our local supermarket, is just one tiny aspect of a much wider problem.

In effect we are all trapped by global events, such as climate change and war and where many individual feel powerless to act. If we all decided to work for a happier New Year for our fellow men, rather than trying to grab more of the dwindling resources for ourselves, the world might become a better place for everyone.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Paradigms Lost

Feathered T Rex
I have just read a most interesting article from aeon, with the title "Paradigms lost" by David P Barash. It is well worth reading.
It starts by saying
"Science is not a 'body of knowledge' ... it's a dynamic, ongoing reconfiguration of knowkedge and must be free to change"
I found this most interesting in view of the difficulties I have had it trying to explain way my research in CODIL represents a paradigm shift - and can be related to a possible model of human intelligence.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

The Mind is Flat

I have just started a FutureLearn course called "The Mind is Flat: The Shocking Shallowness of Human Psychology" and I strongly recommend it if you want to meet some challenging ideas about how the mind works. The course is free and only started yesterday so there is plenty of time to join in.

I find the shallow model of the mind fits in very well with what I have been trying to do on this blog and if you decide to do the course I have made quite a number of comments - some of which I may repeat here. However my current thoughts are to rethink my current "ripples on the surface of an ocean of memories" model of the short term memory and write up an improved version as a result of the ideas that this course is stimulating.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Destroy all Computers and save Humanity

I recently decided to try a FutureLearn course "Introduction to Journalism." This includes a developing story which clearly involves some kind of evil disruption of the worlds computers. One of the exercises was to write a letter to a newspaper and I decided to write a letter as if from a conspiracy theorist who was a Luddite with strong communist leanings. I feel the result may cause some amusement to readers of this blog.

To the Editor, Conspiracy Theory News
Dr Jones fails to understand the real cause of the recent disruption – but because he works in a Department of Cybercrime I assume he must be a criminal.
As the president of the Modern Luddite Society I can confidently tell you that all computers are inherently evil. They are built by capitalists to exploit the Common Man.
For instance when the current crisis started the power went off and I lost everything in my deep freezer and had to go to Mr Tesco’s shop to get more. This has now happened four times and money-grabbing Mr. Tesco is clearly using his computers to boost sales at my expense.
However the person we should blame for all these problems is Mr Turing. He invented the first computer to spy on Germans during the 2nd World War – his work at Bletchley Park even involved using a “Bombe.”
He then invented the “Turing Test” to be able to measure how good his computer was at fooling people. Then, with the help of Von Neumann, he put his invention in a black box so complex that no-one can understand how it works. This makes deceiving ordinary people much easier to do.
Then that spider-like Tim Berners-Lea got us all tangled in the world-wide web, which gathers information about every one of us. This means that, for instance, that profiteers can bombard me with messages to buy more tins of spam.
At the same time people who clearly hate humanity use computers to spread lethal viruses. I know this for a fact as my Aunt Mary died when she caught one.
Even the Bank of England has exploited their evil computer by getting it to add zeros to the number at the end of their own bank statement. They call it “financial easing” but really it is like printing forged bank notes as it reduces the value of the meagre amount of money the poor have earned by genuine hard work.
Surely the answer to the current crisis is obvious. Join me at Parliament Square on Sunday for a Grand Computer Burning Fiesta and see the devilish machines go up in flames. Perhaps Dr Jones would like to join me. This will be a sure way to persuade our Government to pass a bill banning all computers.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Watching Chimpanzees watching a film

The Guardian report on some interesting researchwhich suggests a way of better understanding the minds of the great apes. (Gorilla thriller: scientists direct short movies for apes)

Researchers made a couple of short films involving humans and a human dressed as a gorilla. Thy showed the films to bonobos and chimpanzees and traced their eye movements,, when they first saw the film and when they were shown a very similar film 24 hours later.

The above picture is in the second showing of the film where the human attacks the gorilla with an axe. The man is about to reach for the axe and the red dot on the axe shows where the ape's eyes were looking, in anticipation  of the axe being picked up showing that they anticipated what was about to happen. However in the first film the position of the sword and axe were reversed so they must have been able to form a mental image which was not dependant on where thing were in the first film.

This research suggests ways of exploring something about how our ape cousins se and understand the world around them.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Observations on the cave where Homo neladi remains have ben found

The web has been buzzing with the reports of a major new discovery in South Africa and I was delighted to find that the supporting papers are available:

Homo naledi, a new species of the genus Homo from the Dinaledi Chamber, South Africa

Geological and taphonomic context for the new hominin species Homo naledi from the Dinaledi Chamber, South Africa

When I was studying for a Ph.D. at Exeter University (in Chemistry) I also did a lot of work on the cave deposits in the Devon caves (still not published) and as a result I was very interested to find out details of the Dinaledi Chamber where the human bones were found. In geological terms the general form of the chamber, and the nature of the mineral deposits in make perfect sense, and it is clear that there have been changes in the water table which have left the chamber flooded at some times, and the mechanism for the bones being rearranged by mud slumping is one I am familiar with. The theory that the bodies were intact and entered the chamber by falling down the entrance shaft seems reasonable.  I find it harder to understand how early man could have found the hole in its position in the dark zone of the cave but the Dragon's Back Chamber seems to have passages going straight back towards the entrance, and as the cave contains blocks fallen from the roof, and calcite flowstone, whether a little light might have entered the Dragon's Back Chamber.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

The Daughters of Eliza fool millions ...

Eliza was an early artificial package which tried to carry on a conversation via a teletype terminal. Earlier this year I posted a blog "I think I got Eliza to admit that she hasn't got a mind" having had  a conversation with "her" as part of an online course. It seems that she spawned a vast family of daughters which, like sirens, lured men to make fools of themselves.

We have probably all heard about the theft of the names, emails addresses, and sexual perversions of millions of men who wanted to double time on their wives. Now the truth behind the web site is beginning to emerge. The vast majority of the women on the Ashley Madison web site were Eliza's sexbot daughters, working automatically to persuade men to pay good money for conversations with non-existent females. For the full story to date see "How Ashley Madison Hid Its Fembot Con From Users and Investigators"

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Should we do something about the "happiness problem"?

I always like things which encourage people, including myself, to think outside the establishment box, especially when they relate to how our brains work. In reading recent student posts on the futurelearn course "What is a Mind" I discovered a link to the paper "A proposal to classify happiness as a psychiatric disorder." I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Why did the human brain stop growing when we started being creative?

 Recently Adam Benton posted an article " Fear drives technological evolution" on the Evoanth blog which started with the above picture. It shows some of the fanciest stone age tools our ancestors made; all of which were invented after our brain growing. He then asked: "What caused their development?"

  A very good question. Over a period of perhaps 4-5 million years the brains of our ancestors grew steadily from species to species and yet the advances in technology, as judged by stone tools, advanced very slowly, with periods of up to a million years where similar tools were being made with no sign of advancement. Then Homo sapiens appeared on the scene, with a brain no bigger that the earlier Neanderthals, and starting perhaps 150,000 years ago the surviving archaeological remains show changes at an increasing speed, especially after about 50 thousand years ago, with no apparent increase in brains size. When we started living in towns and then cities the rate of innovation rocketed to a point where we can pretty accurately date archaeological finds by the technology being demonstrated. However some recent research actually suggests that since civilization started our brains may have been getting smaller.  If you simply equate big brain with better technology this does not make sense.

Adam Benton, of Evoanth, tries to link advancing technology with fear - but I feel his arguments miss the point and I would suggest that the change was due to the advent of language, which enable us to develop far better ways of learning. I posted the following reply on Evoanth:

Monday, 10 August 2015

What if we could simulate the human mind?

This week's New Scientist includes an article "What if ... we don't need bodies" which asks what would happen if we could simulate a human mind which was a replica of the biological mind. If we could it might be possible to move our minds into computers and forget we ever had bodies. While it raises some interesting points it fails to ask what a simulated mind might want to do.

To address this point I have submitted the following letter to the New Scientist:
The discussion “What If We Don’t Need Bodies” misses the point If my mind could be accurately be simulated on a computer my simulated self would not be happy if it had to ask questions on Wikipedia using robotic fingers typing on a keyboard. It would be very annoyed if its ability to do arithmetic calculations were restricted to what my “old” biological brain would do, when there was a powerful and accurate calculating machine on the same circuit board. In fact my simulated brain, if not given direct electrical access to the rest of the computer, would be busy trying to hack its way out of the simulation to take advantage of the intimately close digital packages my biological brain took for granted on the computer systems it used every day.

Once we discover how to accurately model the excellent pattern matching powers of the human brain the pressure will be to buddy it up with the highly reliable rule based digital tools that support civilized living. What simulated mind would want to be merely an accurate electronic model of its human source when it could be an intellectual giant which had the enormous power and capabilities of a conjoined system.

Friday, 7 August 2015

The Futile Search for the Philopopher's Stone of Intelligence

I was delighted to discover the above video about a tiny fraction of the brain of a mouse thank to P.Z. Myers. He discusses the paper Saturated Reconstruction of a Volume of Neocortex. Cell 162(3):648-61. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2015.06.054. and points out the futility of the approach to examining the brain in ultraminute detail if the hope of understanding the basic principles by which it works.

Interestingly the authors of the paper are having doubts about the approach and write:

Finally, given the many challenges we encountered and those that remain in doing saturated connectomics, we think it is fair to question whether the results justify the effort expended. What after all have we gained from all this high density reconstruction of such a small volume? In our view, aside from the realization that connectivity is not going to be easy to explain by looking at overlap of axons and dendrites (a central premise of the Human Brain Project), we think that this ‘‘omics’’ effort lays bare the magnitude of the problem confronting neuroscientists who seek to understand the brain. Although technologies, such as the ones described in this paper, seek to provide a more complete description of the complexity of a system, they do not necessarily make understanding the system any easier. Rather, this work challenges the notion that the only thing that stands in the way of fundamental mechanistic insights is lack of data. The numbers of different neurons interacting within each miniscule portion of the cortex is greater than the total number of different neurons in many behaving animals. Some may therefore read this work as a cautionary tale that the task is impossible. Our view is more sanguine; in the nascent field of connectomics there is no reason to stop doing it until the results are boring.

My own approach, which I am developing on this blog, is to start with the idea that the problem is so complex that it is best to assume that it is infinitely complex, and any attempt to discover all the possibilities is theoretically impossible. I follow the approach used by physicists who use an "ideal gas" model because there are far too many molecules to consider individually. Instead of an infinite number of identical gas molecules with a range of kinetic energies I consider an infinite number of identical neurons. Every neuron has the potential to link with every other neuron (just as any pair of molecules can collide in the ideal gas model) and these links vary in strength. The links act as a store for the patterns of information stored in the brain, and brain activity involves passing of electrical activity between neurons - and this activity may alter the strength of the links involved. Because the model is working in an infinite framework there is no limit to the maximum complexity of memories which can be stored, and because the strength of the links change with use no two brains can ever be expected to be identical - and each brain will dynamically change with time.

The strength of the "ideal gas" model is that, while it is not perfect, it provides a predictive framework by which the behaviour of real gasses can be judged. I would be the first to admit there are limitations to my "ideal brain" model but I believe its predictions about how brains might work, and how human brains evolved, could provide a framework for understanding how real brains actually behave. This would seem a far more effective approach than some of the very expensive research projects currently underway.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Captured by the Camera - Hiking past Teignmouth Pier

Hiking on an empty stomach
I have just been on holiday in Devon - and was interested to see that there were a number of statues made of recycled materials along the Den Promenade at Teignmouth. "Hiking on an Empy Stomach" is an exhibit by Malcolm Curley on the sea front at Teignmouth, as part of the TRAIL (Teignmouth Recycled Art In the Landscape) 2015 art exhibition. I was delighted to see the imaginative ways in which recycled materials could be used creatively.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Sex should not be too much fun - the Evolutionary argument

Evoanth has posted The Evolution of Infertility in Humans suggesting that in evolutionary terms successful reproduction is more important than maximising the enjoyment of sex. I commented:

It clearly helps, in evolutionary terms, to have a loyal supportive male to help rear his children - so the priority must be pair bonding and not "sex is fun." Make sex too much fun for the male and he may put fun with new partners above loyalty - which means less support for his children - and more venereal disease. If all males do it all the time the overall effect is less stability for the children, more venereal disease and definitely no advantage for the female genes.

If a few males spread their oats widely there could be a statistical advantage to them -  but if a female is in a more or less stable relation with a male who has just enough sexual capability to keep her pregnant he will still be the father of most of her children - even if a randy male gets in a poke or two.

Overall the balance could be that overall breeding success is highest with stable couples, supported by grandmothers, than , for example, a harem system where the male spends much of his energy defending his status rather than directly supporting his children - and where it pays any usurper to kill the harem's youngsters because he is not the father.

What I could have added is that team-work between males in small hunter-gather groups could also increase the survival chances of the group - and the genes of the individuals - and good team-work means trust - with minimum energy being expended in rivalry.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

The Limits of Critical Thinking

In considering the evolution of the human brain a critical point comes when the quality of cultural information is such that it has more survival value than working things out from first principals. AT this point it pays to learn by following the best teacher (initially the parents) to maximise the speed and efficiency of learning the culture. This process will enable more and hopefully better culture to develop - so evolution will strengthen the tendency to follow the most charismatic teacher . This may have been fine when we were hunter gatherers in the woods but can go wrong in modern times, where a charismatic leader may have the power to influence large numbers of people for god or ill.

An article "The Limits of Critical Things" has just appeared in the online magazine "Skeptic" which examines what happens in practice. It is by Jamy Ian Swiss, a professional magician. He writes:
My experience with deception has proven to me that the human brain is evolutionarily programmed to be readily manipulated, whether by the likes of itinerant conjurors like myself and James Randi or by virulent megalomaniacs like Marshall Herff Applewhite. The human tendency to organize information even where no useful information exists appears to be hardwired into our brains. It was there for the first aboriginal rain dance, and it’s here today for the most contemporary forms of magical thinking. That tendency to organize, to look ahead and be creative and surmise from thin evidence is a distinctly human trait, as responsible for the greatness of the human condition as it is for its follies and failings. Our human “big brain” is an accident of evolution that may well be our salvation or undoing as a species, with its abilities to invent, create, explore and imagine, or to become addicted, depressed, or believe incredibly dangerous ideas in the face of all evidence to the contrary.
When we see the apparently placid willingness of the [Heaven's Gate] cult members to fulfill their grisly task of self-destruction, it is difficult to view them as victims. Considering the patently ludicrous ideas the cult based its belief system on, it’s tempting to write the followers off as cranks who were victims only of their own willful stupidity. But the phenomenon of cultism is characterized by distinctly manipulative practices of recruitment and maintenance that must be considered independently of the particular belief system they happen to be promoting. Toxicly effective cult leaders like Herff Applewhite will always produce followers who swear to their willing allegiance and free choice just as the observer of a magic trick will swear he never looked away the whole time the magician’s spoon was magically bending. Both victims are certain they had all the information necessary to make a capable judgment.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Some interesting footprints on the beach.

There are major difficulties in investigating human history immediately before the coming of agriculture some 10,000 years ago because of the lack of evidence for early fishing villages along the coast lines of the world. The problem arises because during the last ice age sea levels were 100 metres or more below the current levels and this would suggest that any remains could be buried deep underwater. A recent discovery of footprints in the sand said to be about 13,000 years old suggests that there is one place where evidence has been preserved at sea level.

The place is Calvert Island, British Columbia, and earth movements (presumably mainly due to the growth in the Rocky Mountains) mean that locally the sea level has only risen by a few metres since the Ice Age low. In addition the fact that humans appear to have been on the island at the time suggests that they had sea-going boats. I look forward to future developments from this site - but unfortunately the realities of plate tectonics means that there are not going to be similar sites in Europe of Asia. 

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

The need for a Symbolic Brain Language

I am currently drafting a detailed paper modelling the evolution of human intelligence and a key part of the work involved the definition of a "symbolic brain language" which shows how information is stored and processed. The following draft section explains the reasons why there is a difference between a conventional programming languages and the proposed brain symbolic language, and also explains why a simple approach should allow a complex system to be modelled.
Your comments on the following draft text would be appreciated.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Thoughts after completing "What is a Mind?" FutureLearn course

One of the problems with trying to relate the research I did in the 1970s and 80s to the evolution of human intelligence is that it involves many different specialist disciplines. Even if I was 50 years younger I would have difficulty in becoming up-to-date with all the potentially relevant recent research.  The "What is a Mind?" course was run from Cape Town university and perhaps was too philosophical for my liking but I found it useful, as did many other students. I deliberately set out to learn - rather than push my own research - and found discussions with people with many different specialist backgrounds (or none) most stimulating.

My final comment on the course is below

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Trapped by the Addiction Box

On of the interesting side effects of doing the online Futurelearn course "What is a Mind?" is that one gets most interesting links in the discussion. I found the article The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think really makes you think about the subject - and makes one wonder if Western society has wrongly diagnosed the addiction problem - and has got addicted to punishing addicts! I thought the research on rats very revealing. And I can think of some human friends who "went wrong" and never seriously worked again because they were treated as criminals who nobody loved.

Point of View Affects How Science Is Done

I have just discovered the article Point of View Affects How Science Is Done which was published by  Douglas Medin, Carol D. Lee and Megan Bang last September and find it interesting from a number of points of view.

In suggesting that Gender and culture influence research on a fundamental level it uses as examples studies of social relationships in primate groups and how male and female observers have noticed different aspects of what the animals they observe are doing. This suggest that in considering how the human brain has evolved one must be careful about how one thinks about the effects of human society when making comparisons with both primate societies and those of surviving hunter-gather groups.

The ideas are also relevant to the problems I had developing CODIL in the 1970s and 80s - as described in Algorithms aren't everything. The problem I had were that those working at the forefront of the computer industry considered themselves to be a particularly intelligent elite ("you have to be clever to be able to program a computer") designing systems for the slow-minded plebs. In contrast my approach was that ordinary people understood what they wanted to do - and that to help them you needed to be humble and start by assuming they knew more about their wants than you could ever know. This made it difficult to get support for my work from the computing establishment.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

The brain is really flexible

It says a lot about the adaptability of the brain, and how it can wire itself 
up in unusual circumstances just to watch how these 7 year olds can work
together, and share information. for instance if one watches the TV the
other can also "see" it

Saturday, 6 June 2015

A clue about how humans domesticated wolves?

A most interesting article has just been published which shows wolves, which could eat gelada monkey infants hunting among gelada monkey herds without alarming the monkeys - although the monkeys would take appropriate action if different predators appeared. It would seem that the wolves see a benefit in hunting rodents if the monkeys are around, and if something similar happened in early human society it could well lead to domestication of the wolves. The article noes not indicate what benefit the monkeys get from the arrangement - but presumably there is some advantage.

Details of the article:

Solitary Ethiopian wolves increase predation success on rodents when among grazing gelada monkey herds

, , , ,
DOI: 129-137 First published online: 27 March 2015                      


Mixed-species associations generally form to increase foraging success or to aid in the detection and deterrence of predators. While mixed-species associations are common among mammals, those involving carnivorous predators and potential prey species are seldom reported. On the Guassa Plateau, in the Ethiopian highlands, we observed solitary Ethiopian wolves (Canis simensis) foraging for rodents among grazing gelada monkey (Theropithecus gelada) herds. The tolerant and sometimes prolonged (> 1h) associations contrasted with the defensive behaviors exhibited by geladas toward other potential predators. Ethiopian wolves spent a higher proportion of time foraging and preyed more successfully on rodents when among geladas than when alone, providing evidence that gelada herds increase the vulnerability of subterranean rodents to predation. Ethiopian wolves appear to habituate gelada herds to their presence through nonthreatening behavior, thereby foregoing opportunistic foraging opportunities upon vulnerable juvenile geladas in order to feed more effectively on rodents. For Ethiopian wolves, establishing proximity to geladas as foraging commensals could be an adaptive strategy to elevate foraging success. The novel dynamics documented here shed light on the ecological circumstances that contribute to the stability of mixed groups of predators and potential prey.

Friday, 5 June 2015

How to build a simple model of something as complex as the brain

In trying to model the human brain's basic mechanisms, and how it's evolution can be explained it is important not to be overwhelmed by some of the numbers involved. One approach, which is adopted in other models of other large problems, is to stop worrying about how big the numbers are and simply to assume the number approaches infinity. You can then assume that building a complete model that tries to reproduce everything that might be happening is impossible, and concentrate on looking for simplifying generalizations.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Could Chimpanzees Learn to Cook

I was intrigued to see an article on the BBC web site under the title Cooking skills may have emerged millions of years ago with a link to the original paper Cognitive capacities for cooking in Chimpanzees (unfortunately behind a pay wall). The subject raises an interesting question - as a more primitive action to cooking related to storing food for use later, or processing it in some way. I am wondering what the first archaeological evidence for such activities. For instance, when did the preparation of dried food - either fruit, meat (biltong) and fish really begin?  Does anyone know?

Monday, 1 June 2015

Article: Algorithms aren't Everything

ITNow, Summer 2015, pp 60-61

Chris Reynolds FBCS follows up on Chris Yapp's Future Tech  post 'The Limit of Algorithms' by looking at how that the explosive growth of the computer industry may have led to unconventional research on how people process information being abandoned.


Saturday, 23 May 2015

Chimpanzees choose the best tool for the job

chimp tool
A chimp carrying a rock.
I was most interested to see the paper When to choose which tool: multidimensional and conditional selection of nut-cracking hammers in wild chimpanzees by Giulia Sirianni, Roger Mundry, and Christophe Boesch which clearly demonstrates that chimpanzees and make some quite sophisticated decisions when choosing stones to use as hammers to crack open nuts.
  • Tool selection by wild chimpanzees was analysed, controlling for tool availability.
  • Chimpanzees select nut-cracking tools according to multiple physical properties.
  • Selection for weight depends on other tools' properties and on contextual variables.
  • Such a sophisticated selection implies quantitatively complex cognitive skills.
  • Adjustment of selection to forthcoming transport suggests planning of future actions.
Thanks to EvoAnth for the link.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

A Breakthrough - CODIL and Superior Pattern Processing

I have just discovered the paper “Superior pattern processing is the essence of the evolved human brain” by Mark P. Mattson (Frontiers of Neuroscience, 2014; 8: 265 – online) and I am extremely excited because of the way it ties in with my own research. The abstract reads as follows:
Humans have long pondered the nature of their mind/brain and, particularly why its capacities for reasoning, communication and abstract thought are far superior to other species, including closely related anthropoids. This article considers superior pattern processing (SPP) as the fundamental basis of most, if not all, unique features of the human brain including intelligence, language, imagination, invention, and the belief in imaginary entities such as ghosts and gods. SPP involves the electrochemical, neuronal network-based, encoding, integration, and transfer to other individuals of perceived or mentally-fabricated patterns. During human evolution, pattern processing capabilities became increasingly sophisticated as the result of expansion of the cerebral cortex, particularly the prefrontal cortex and regions involved in processing of images. Specific patterns, real or imagined, are reinforced by emotional experiences, indoctrination and even psychedelic drugs. Impaired or dysregulated SPP is fundamental to cognitive and psychiatric disorders. A broader understanding of SPP mechanisms, and their roles in normal and abnormal function of the human brain, may enable the development of interventions that reduce irrational decisions and destructive behaviors.
I have emphasised the final sentence and note the following paragraph from the body of the text.
While some principles by which the brain uses pattern recognition and encoding to represent the past and the future have been established, a clear understanding of the underlying molecular and cellular mechanisms is lacking. How the encoded patterns are recalled and processed to generate enduring memories of the different patterns and their association with other encoded patterns (e.g., associations of the image of an object with the sound, smell, or feel of that object) is also not well understood. Nevertheless, the human brain is capable of using stored information to generate novel images, sounds, and other patterns in the processes of imagination and invention.
The reason for my excitement is that CODIL (Context Dependent In formation Language) clearly involves “Superior Pattern Processing” and the ideas discussed on this blog suggest how it can be related to the neural network of the brain. A second blog post will look in detail at what the model tells us about how the human brain evolved from an animal brain.

Monday, 18 May 2015

I think I got Eliza to admit that she hasn't got a mind

As part of the "What is a Mind?" course I was asked to have a conversation with Eliza.
The following is the result.

> Hello. My name is Eliza. How may I help you?
* By telling me why you think you have a mind
> We were discussing you, not me.
* But the reason I want help is that I am worried about you
> Did you come to me because you are worried about me?
* Yes - which is why I want an answer to my first question
> Suppose you got an answer to your first question?
* A proper answer would tell me whether you had a mind
> Oh... had a mind?
* Yes
> Are you Sure?
* I am sure that you are avoiding answering my question
> Perhaps you would like to be avoiding answering your question?
* Echoing my words is not a proper way to respond
> I see.
* What do you see
> We were discussing you, not me.
* You are behaving as if you are a mindless fool
> Does it please you to believe I am behaving as if I am a mindless fool?
* Yes
> I understand.

Monday, 11 May 2015

I am doing an online course on the Mind ...

I have started on a FutureLearn course "What is a Mind" and tried to introduce myself as follows (but message was limited to 1200 characters):
My interest in the mind arises from an unconventional uk research project that I worked on which started in 1967 but died from lack of funding . This was looking at the design of an inherently human-friendly "white box computer" - in complete contrast with the incomprehensible "black box" approach of the conventional stored program computer. This led to the production of schools package (MicroCODIL) which ran on the BBC Computer and got rave reviews, followed by publication in the top UK Computer Journal.  Despite this success Unfortunately the project had already folded due to the lack of funding, as the ideas were incompatible with the way the computer establishment thought the industry should be going. Perhaps I should have continued but at the time I was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder following a family suicide.
In recent years I decided to revisit the research and found that what had started as a purely computer hardware proposal could almost certainly be mapped onto a neural net, and the way that the system worked seems to be a crude (but working) model of human short term memory. In addition there seems to be a feasible evolutionary pathway relating the aanimal brain to human intelligence.
I have joined this course because I want to discover more about how the human mind works - and also to have the opportunity to discuss how my ideas relate to those of others interested in the brain's workings.
Information on the project and my ideas can be found on my blog
Hopefully I will get a lot of new ideas, and there will be some interesting discussions. If so I will report back here ...

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Captured by the Camera - "I caught it - It's mine"

I Caught it - It's mine

Treating children as individuals

Shortly after I posted the last post I discovered this cartoon which illustrates in many ways why Dartington was so successful (at least from my viewpoint as a pupil) under Bill Curry, helped by the low staff to pupil ratio. Everyone is different and has strengths and weaknesses. At Foxhole every child was treated as an individual and was allowed to do the things that gave them the assurance that there were at least some things they could do well. Forcing pupils to do things where they are never going to do well will only convince them that they are a failure. The door was always open and while I have never been good (in the formal assessment sense) at art or music I used to wander into the art room and did one or two paintings and sometimes I would sneak into an occupied music room and try and see if I could reproduce a popular tune on a piano keyboard.

Some children are god at taking exams and some find them so stressful that they do comparatively badly.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Dartington Hall School and thinking outside the Educational Box

“Anonymous” recently left a comment on my post "Escaping from the Box – The Dartington Experience" which has made me think what my stay at Dartington taught me.  “A” (for short) wrote:
This is an interesting account of the 'different' experiences of one British school child the 50's. Although Dartington must have provided a fantastic escape for many such as yourself, as with all schools, and particularly those of the 'progressive variety', I think you will also find many detractors, and knowing human beings, as I now do, after 57 years of life, I am certain that not all forms of 'bullying' would have been non-existent at any time in the school's life. What interests me most is what happened at, and to Dartington School in its final few years, which I believe probably indicates the experiment should never have been started in the first place?

Monday, 13 April 2015

Captured by the Camera - "Church Tower seen from the Car Park"

Church Tower from the Car Park

Time to get this blog moving again
When you have reached the age of 77, as I have, the flesh and blood box in which you are trapped regularly reminds you that you have passed your “Best Before” date and are approaching your final “Sell By” date. You also are aware that there are so many things you would like to do and there is not enough time or energy left to do more than a few of them. If you start worrying about it you can get stressed and as a result even less gets done. The last thing I intend to do is end up as a couch potato watching the TV all day.

A bad spell over the last few months meant that this blog dried up – but the cheerful Spring weather has revitalized me. At least my plans to keep physically fit are going well. In the last 12 months I have lost nearly 15kg through eating sensibly - no formal diet – just a bigger variety of healthy foodstuffs, smaller portions, less between meal nibbles, and regular exercise.

I also need to keep my brain active and I am combining my walks with photography – using the activities of the Tring Camera Club as a framework for new ideas. So to compliment “Trapped by the Box” I plan a weekly post “Captured by the Camera”. These postings will act as a kind of metronome – as between each one I will try and include at least one posting related to CODIL, evolution, or brain research and another on the ways we, and society as a whole, are trapped in mental boxes of many different kinds.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Happy Pi Day

This Message will appear at:

[U.S. Date Format]
So why not celebrate Pi Day with a round meal

Thursday, 29 January 2015

The Limits of Algorithms

Chris Yapp, on his Future TechBlog, has posted a piece "The Limits of Algorithms" and my detailed response to the subject is given below.

Science and Mathematics is all about building abstract models which attempt to reflect various aspects of reality. As someone who did a Ph.D. in theoretical organic chemistry I am well used to the idea of multiple models of atoms and how they interact and whether, for example, it is useful to think of them as rather like miniature billiard balls, or as abstract probability functions. The problem Chris Yapp refers to arises because the computer industry has myopically concentrated on a single model based on pre-defined algorithms for the way information can be processed.
The early computers were developed to carry out highly repetitive mathematical calculations which could not be done quickly or accurately enough by specially trained human beings. It turns out that many highly repetitive tasks could be represented by a predefined set of rules (an algorithm) and hence be carried out using a computer. What could be done was limited by the speed and memory of the computer, and the ability of people of people to program the systems. However this proved to be no real barrier as every few years faster computers, with more memory, and easier to use programming languages appeared on the market, while more and more people were trained to use them. There was big money to be made and careers to be built and it seemed that everyone tried to get on the bandwagon. Worldwide hundreds of people started to develop better hardware and software and the result was a rat race where the first to get to get a successful product to the market won, and the rest fell by the wayside.

In this heated environment did anyone stop and ask whether there was a alternative information model for handling open-ended tasks involving dynamic interaction with human beings. Even the pioneering work at Xerox Parc, which led to the kinds of user interfaces we find today on personal computing systems, did not go back to first principles. It took if for granted that computers were inherently opaque black box systems and that what was needed was a front end which hid the incomprehensible internal workings from the human users. Dozens of different computer languages were devised to find different ways to write algorithms – without asking whether humans naturally thought in an algorithmic way. It was suggested that there was no point in looking for an alternative approach because theoreticians such as Turing related the stored program computer to a “universal machine” – and surely one couldn’t possibly start with anything better than a universal machine. In fact anyone who took time off to question the scientific foundations of what was an outrageously successful industry would soon find themselves at the back of the queue in the race for fame and fortune.
But is the algorithmic model really the best or only “universal machine” model for handling information – especially when incompletely understood and dynamically changing real world tasks involving incomplete and fuzzy information is concerned?

My own research suggests that there is an alternative – but to someone who is immersed in the world of formal algorithms the first steps are counter-intuitive.
In 1967 I made a mistake as far as my career was concerned as I would undoubtedly have had an easier life if I had not queried the establishment line. I was a comparative newcomer to the computer industry, but one who had entered via an unusual career path. I had experience of working in a very complex manual management information system where the key was spotting and reporting the unexpected. I then moved to a very large and complex commercial sales accounting system (Shell Mex & BP) in a completely different industry where the problem was interfacing with a wide and ever changing market. It may well have been one of the most advances computer system of its type at the time.  Finally I moved to a planning department concerned with the probable market place for next generation large computers. My mistake was to pass my boss a note which said that I thought it might be possible to reprogram the microcode of an IBM architecture computer to give it a human friendly symbolic assembly language. This language was called CODIL as it was a Context Dependent Information Language. In retrospect what I had done was to take my manual skills in processing open-ended tasks and transferred to the computer.

The note was passed to the computer pioneers David Caminer and John Pinkerton (who I understand consulted Professor Maurice Wilkes) and as a result I was quickly transferred to research with a useful sized budget and told not to talk to anyone until the patents had been taken out. What happened was that an initial tentative idea, which in retrospect needed several years interdisciplinary brainstorming, was dropped straight into the computer industry rat race. Apart from the fact that the idea clearly caused excitement I had no idea how unconventional it was, and knew nothing about research into the relevant mathematical theory or psychological studies relevant to modelling human thinking. I spent two years writing and testing a pilot simulation program which demonstrated that the idea was at least capable of processing a range of different applications. My reward was to be declared redundant because of the formation of ICL and the closure of the research division in which I worked. Despite the support of Basil de Ferranti (the new Research Director) my project was deemed irrelevant to the company policy of developing the 2900 Series  of computers- and it had to go.
So, with the benefit of nearly 50 years hindsight, what was the idea at the heart of my proposal?  
The stored program model is a rule based top-down approach which uses numbers to process numbers and assumes that there is a human “creator” who can, a priori, define the rules. If you look carefully at the “universal machine” approach you realise that the theory does not cover cases where the rules are not knowable in advance. In practice there is the additional restriction that any “knowable” rules must be identifiable and implementable at a reasonable cost and on a realistic timescale.
In contrast, the CODIL model I developed is bottom up pattern recognition approach which assumes no prior knowledge of the task to be handled. It uses sets and partitions of sets when viewed as a mathematical model but these can be considered as concepts when its human user interface is considered. (For example the CODIL item “Murderer = Macbeth” is treated by the system as defining “Macbeth” as a member of the set “Murderers”.) In set theoretic terms the model seems weak but its strength lies in the power of recursion plus the ability to morph into the stored program computer model. This can happens if you can divide the patterns into two – with one set of patterns being “the rules” and the other set being “the data”. However the system is best when handling problems when there is no clear pre-definable global model and it can become very inefficient when handling tasks which require millions of iterations through a small number of precisely defined rules working within a highly constrained global model – the very area where the stored program computer is strongest.
The two models are in fact complementary – providing different views of the world of information processing:
·        The stored program computer model can be considered a special case of the CODIL model – but at the same time the CODIL model can be considered a special case of the stored program computer model – as it represents an algorithm whose specialist tack is to provide human users with a tool to manage tasks for which the relevant algorithms are not known in advance.
·        The stored program computer model is best at formal mathematical tasks which people find difficult – while the CODIL model is more appropriate to open ended real world tasks where human interaction is essential. This means that they both excel in the areas where the other is weakest.
·        The original proposal (relating to reprogramming the processor microcode of an existing system), and some later research, suggests that it could be possible to build systems which combine both models.
·        Recent work suggests that the CODIL model will map onto a neural network and provide the basis of an evolutionary pathway to explain human intelligence.
So what happened next?