I have just been listening to the latest episode of Brady Haran and CGP Grey’s popular podcast Hello Internet (42) and the topic of accurately replicating the human brain to be used by robots came up. Grey goes on to explain that human free will does not exist and that everything we do in life is determined exactly the same way as anything processed by a computer would . There are a series of inputs and outputs that direct our choices leaving us with as much freedom in our decision making as a computer with a complex algorithm.
I agree with this point mostly. There is no magical human element that transcends our base existence as fleshy sacks driven by a series of complex electrical impulses, but there is a strange bridge in our mental processes that I feel sets us apart from both machines and other animals.
The human mind, in all its great splendour and intelligence, is flawed. All animals strive for a small number of vital goals in life. They seek food and water, shelter and to procreate. Everything that they do in life is based solely upon their need to have these things. Computers work similarly to this in that they are given goals and will calculate the most efficient way to reach them, logically picking the subjectively best output. Humans on the other hand tend to lack this logical drive for survival that governs other species.
If all human thought is predetermined by existing input/output signals geared toward fulfilling their existential needs then why would people fast or become celibate? Why would people commit suicide? Why would people do completely idiotic things that no other animal or computer would ever conclude was a good idea?
To take a recent example, let’s look at the man in America who decided to jump into alligator infested water after seeing signs and being told that the water was filled with dangerous animals. In what logical, survival driven world would human inputs lead to the chosen outcome being “Fuck the alligators” and jumping in? Human stupidity doesn’t fit into Grey’s black and white world. Neither does belief or creativity. The things that at heart make us humans are the things that make us illogical.
How many times in the past have men fought against unbeatable odds instead of surrendering because of their pride or honour? Why do it when surrender means survival? Honour and pride aren’t physical and cannot be measured but they clearly exist. Why create art when it serves no purpose? It is pleasing to look upon but what other creature or machine appreciates something as meaningless as perceived beauty? Dogs and machines don’t create religions yet we change our entire nature and thought process when we believe in the unbelievable.
Something beyond my understanding of science makes humans illogical. There are rational decisions to be made in every circumstance and so often we decide to do something that is not in our own or any other’s best interest. To back to a previous Hello Internet topic, could a computer ever feel the call of the void? Could a synthetic human brain stand at the edge of a cliff and want to throw itself off or is that a wholly human experience?
Humans could easily be replaced with robots with synthetic brains but I believe we could never be mirrored in all of our glorious imperfections. For us to chose that which isn’t best for us, there must be a freedom of will, a freedom to be a fool. To be human is to be beautifully flawed.