Marvin Minsky And Apostle Paul

Many who keep up with science are quite familiar with the pioneer in in Artificial Intelligence, Marvin Minsky. What shocked me was that Paul wrote something nearly two thousand years ago that parallels Minsky’s earlier studies into the human brain.

In The Age Of Spiritual Machines , by Ray Kurzweil, Minsky and Seymour Papert are referenced in a paper the did on the human brain:

“[the human brain] is composed of large numbers of relatively small distributed systems, arranged by embryology into a complex society that is controlled in part(but only in part) by serial symbolic systems that are added later…The symbolic systems that do most of the work from underneath must, by their very character, block all the other parts of the brain from knowing much about how they work. And this, itself, could explain how people do so many things yet have such incomplete ideas on how those things are actually done”.

We can compare this to the software and hardware of a computer. We know that many different programs can be run on software, but ONLY if it is compatible with the hardware of the computer. No matter how varied and complex the software, it depends on the hardware.

Even more important, the software cannot reach into the hardware and alter it, or the software itself ceases to function.

Let’s compare this to the conscious, thinking, self aware “mind(software)” and the deeper layered “society” of functions existing in Minsky’s concept of the brain. The mind can certainly “think about” the brain, imagine its various and complex neural connections, but there is no ability of the mind to reach down and alter the functions of the brain.

Let’s now proceed to what Paul wrote about two thousand years ago in Romans 7. I borrow heavily from the book of Romans because most Bible authorities point out that Romans is the core of Paul’s christian philosophy. If you want to know what he thought about it, read the book of Romans. So, Romans 7:

“For when we were in the flesh, the passions aroused…did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death”.

What are these “passions in our members”? Might they correspond to Minsky’s “society” that operated within the lower levels of the brain?

Further, might these “passions” or “society” be the result of evolution of microorganisms that have “learned” over the years, to function cooperatively within the human body?

If so, would they not, in fact, create conflicting situations in which we had to learn how to reconcile and manage the drives that operated from a “selfish” perspective?

James 4:1:
“From whence comes wars a nd fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts, that war in your members?

What we see developing here is a concept remarkably similar to Minsky’s concept of “societies” in the brain.

Pulitzer Prize Winner Jonathan Weiner writes in Time, Love, Memory, an exploration of the early studies of genes and fruit flies, that “we have conflicting motives and drives , and that we are aware of only a small subset of them at a time”.

Further, in studies of “split brain” patients, Weiner writes:

“…the left hemisphere[of the brain] is dominant in language…the right hemisphere is dominant for action and movement. Now the word ‘WALK’ is flashed on the screen in such a way that only the patient’s right brain sees it. Soon afterward, he gets up and begins to walk away. The experimenter asks him why he got up. ‘I’m going to get a Coke’ he says. He cannot explain the real reason because only his right brain knows, and his right brain is mute”.

“Each one of us” writes Weiner, “is a loose parcel of strivings that naturally display themselves to us, not all at once, but across time….A life is a great parliament of instincts, as Konrad Lorenz once put it.”

So here we are, right back at James 4:1-2:

“Ye lust and have not, ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not because ye ask not”.

There is an excellent parallel to what we are discovering in biology and computer science in relation to the brain.

In verse 3, we see this: “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts”. The more accurate word for “lust’ here is “pleasures”. We are by nature pleasure seekers. We want to “consume” things for our pleasure.

This “consumption of pleasure”, however, is not an “all at once’ phenomenon, but as Weiner writes, distributed across time, coordinated, organized over a period so that we combine thought and action.

The brain, as that coordinator, becomes aware of “time”, but acts according to genetic patterns, as the early fruit fly scientists discovered. There actually is a gene that dictates behavior according to time. The frut flies coordinated social and reproductive behavior around that ‘time gene”.

“An instinct, like a gene” writes Weiner, “is a kind of memory, a gift of time“.

We therefore seem to operate according to a coordination of “pleasures” that find ways to combine themselves, being expressed as conscious desires. The “lusts that war in your members”.

How far does this genetic influence reach in the brain? In Survival Of The Sickest, Dr. Sharon Moalem tells us of “jumping genes” that shape the brain of the newborn babies.

“Jumping genes are very active in the early stages of brain development, inserting genetic material all over the developing brain, almost helter-skelter, as a normal part of brain development. Every time one of those jumpers inserts or changes genetic material in brain cells, it’s technically a mutation. And all of that genetic jumping around may have a very important purpose–it may help to create the variety and individuality that makes every brain unique. This developmental frenzy of genetic copy and paste only happens in the brain, because that’s where we benefit from individuality”.

But what are “jumping genes”?

“…a large portion of our noncoding DNA is made up of jumping genes–as much as half of it. But the bigger surprise was this–those jumping genes look an awful lot like a very special type of virus. A huge percentage of human DNA is related to viruses.”

What used to be known as “junk DNA” turns out to have specific and very useful purposes. This DNA, noncoding for specific functions in the body, is “inserted” at random positions in the brain while the brain is developing. If the gene, as Weiner writes, is a ‘gift of time”, this special insertion give the brain a sense of individuality AND a sense of “time and space” in the organization of “pleasures”. There is a time for every purpose under heaven, wrote the author of Ecclesiastes.

Time, purpose, genes, pleasures, desires, lusts , all operating and directed over time by the brain itself, which cannot grasp how it’s all done.

If this is how the brain is developed, by coordination of desires over time, what emerges as a process of thought? LINEARITY. The extension of an idea and its purposeful expression into the environment.

This desire can become so powerful that it results in “pathology”, generally recognized as narcissism, and proselytizing.

Imagine the human gene, seeking to replicate itself , further seeking to minimize change to that replication by controlling its immediate environment.

Suddenly Western religion becomes explainable in terms of biology and genetics. Proselytizing and “conversion ” are no more than linear expression of genes seeking to control their replicative and reproductive environments. Linear extensions, decisions, algorithms, patterns, empiricism, all extending and behavior shaping patterns emerging from the genes. “Line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, and there a little”.

The “software”, the “mind”, seeks to shape and organize conscious behaviors according to the dictates of these drives, or “lusts’ or “pleasures” that “war in our members”.

The brain operates to organize in linear patterns that are “yes/no”, digital 1/0, processes, but operate within a larger context of “reality”. “A” is always “A”. It cannot be both “A” and “non-A” at the same time, under the same conditions. Linearity broken up into yes/no decisions, with one option eliminating the possibility of a contradicting option : LOGIC.

But logic, as the “software” cannot alter the function of the “hardware’ that drives it. The logic is merely the digital processes, algorithms, that organize behavior, both socially and individually.

This takes us back to the brilliance of Paul and Romans 7: 15:

“For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that I do”.

Translate that into the discoveries above, and you have a remarkable insight, two thousand years old.

“Flesh” and “spirit”, “brain’ and “mind” “software” and “hardware” “lusts” and ‘genes”. The brain is not a “make happen” organ, but a “make aware” organ. it is a switching device that seeks one ‘pleasure’ to the exclusion of other ‘pleasures”. Individuality developed by interacting with the environment through “jumping genes”.

As Paul continues, “for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not”.

There exists no definitve algorithm by which we may proceed from “here’ to ‘truth’ in one system of thought. This is recognized as a result of Godel’s incompleteness theorem: “in any consistent axiomatic formalization suitable for number theory, there exists undecidable propositions”.

In order to “find” such a procedure, we would literally have to step outside of this reality, outside of our genes and biology, and see a “blueprint” not dependent on our own desires and pleasures. Religions actually deceive us by telling us this is possible, while it is obviously not. Trying to define “God” by a logical process is a violation of logic, because it is believing that you know what you cannot know. As Paul wrote: “…how to perform that which is good, I find not”.

No such algorithm, no such “work”, exists! or as Paul concluded in Romans 8:7:

“Because the carnal(natural, fleshy) mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be“.

What we perceive as “God” from our conscious, decision-making time perspective of the brain, is merely an idealized process we seek, but we canniot live “outside of time” in order to get ‘there”.

Or as Paul writes in Romans 9;16: ” so then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy”.

No decision procedure, no algorithms, no “works”, to get from “here’ to “God”. Such a decision procedure can only belong to God, assuming there is a God, as Paul writes in Romans 8:29-30. Or Ephesians 2:8: “For by grace are ye saved through faith, and not of yourselves: it is the gift of God(verse 9) not of works(decisions, algorithms) lest any man should boast”.

What we’re really talking about here is a kind of birthing process, a “chrysalis effect”, in which the new creature emerges from the cocoon of the old. But it can only be achieved by open interaction with all of life and this universe.