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    Can machines dream? (Part 4)

    Ronny Siebes of the Free University of Amsterdam continues the debate
    * I think that we are both convinced about the limitations of the current way of doing science and especially the reductionistic approach.
    * Also I agree with you that the mind is more than the physical brain itself. Now I remember again an insight that I had some time ago. In my viewpoint (I read it somewhere but do not remember the reference) the individual brain without communication is only a bunch of meat and blood. The brain *needs* input, and that input is culture (and nature).
    Also culture *needs* humans and can be seen (metaphorically) as a collective mind. Therefore I would like to see our individual minds as the individual brains fed by collective input, and the collective mind is the collective input plus all the individual brains. Therefore only looking at the biological brain does not allow us to understand the way our individual 'minds'work.
    If you want to do that, one needs to combine the insights from not only neuro-physiologists, but also sociologists, psychologists, antropologists and artists (and probably many more).
    To make my point and to come back to your original question "Can machines dream", I can now, given the insight during our discussions, say the following:
    * Dreams are events that happen in the physical brain, but can only occur when the brain is also a mind (meaning that it had input from outside itself). Therefore to understand dreams, it is not enough to understand the brain, but one also needs to understand culture.

    * Currently machines are brains without (or with very limited) input, so therefore at the moment a machine cannot dream because its culture is not rich enough (or it is still not able to see/hear/feel human culture). The Internet (and especially the Semantic Web) will be the collective mind of the individual machines and also provide input to them. So, when the Internet becomes culturally rich enough, machines will be able to dream too.

    Ron Burnett responds

    Networks are representations of collective engagement and of community in all of its variations. Whether they are a collective mind is an intriguing question. Is a family with six members a collective mind? How would that collective mind be represented? Perhaps this discussion needs to move to questions of networks and what they mean.

    Part Five… 


    Reader Comments (2)

    In an earlier posting, you make a distinction between discussions about the brain (science, matter), versus the mind (theoretical, phenomenological). Can a similar parallel be made in terms of discussions of mechanical vs. social networks -- i.e. the virtual 'nuts and bolts' of the internet, and the complex 'pathways' of social interaction?
    May 25, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMaija Burnett
    Fascinating dialogue, Ron and Ronny. What it brings to mind in me is the idea that dreaming should perhaps be contemplated as an integrated part of our cognitive and metacognitive abilities. It has something to do with going beyond the immediacy of what we perceive through the senses and our processing of the signals generated by it. Letting our mind work in a focused manner on a particular problem can get us a long way. However, because of the focus we put onto it, we often also limit our creativity. Dreaming, as we do it at night while we sleep, may be a way of unfocusing and thus of allowing the mind to access experiences we would not otherwise link to our immediate concerns. Even while awake we often get the best ideas when we allow ourselves to leave the trodden path of focused pursuit and start daydreaming. I personally find the rhythmic movement of walking generative of such constructive daydreaming and have come across, in the literature, of quite a number of accounts of enhanced creativity linked to the act of walking. Perhaps we should make machines enjoy the natural rhythm of their being – if they have any – before they become able to dream. An artistic expression of this idea can be found in the work of Dutch artist Theo Jansen, which was brought to my attention by Diana Stirling a few days before the start of our colloquium. Jansen makes skeletons which are able to walk on the wind (see
    May 26, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterJan Visser

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