Elon Musk's Neuralink Demonstration and Consciousness

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iOWFXqT5MZ4

  • Overview and Design begins at around 0:40
  • Pig Experiment begins at 11:32
  • Neuralink Twitter Q&A begins at 24:20


This was a live testing of the upcoming and highly controversial Neuralink implant from Elon Musk and his team, which was conducted on pigs. The device is apparently intended to be used to help with mental illnesses, but also leisure. They also claim it could potentially be used to transfer and store memories, and alleviate things like anxiety and depression.

During the Q&A section, I was rather troubled by a few of the comments made, particularly when someone had asked the question: 'Could this explain consciousness? In the long-term of course?'. The room fell briefly silent before Musk says 'it could certainly shed some light on consciousness'. Someone on the team, called Max, then spoke up and gave this rather hand-wavey, vague and assumptive response that I don't, frankly, think he was prepared to answer (some of the live commenters also noticed this):


Quote:"I think the answer is yes, and I think one of the reasons that consciousness is so hard is because like anything in physics you're looking at mapping from X to Y, where X is the neuronal correlates, the thing that's happening physically, and Y is the phenomenal state...and historically we've been unable to observe the neuronal correlates very well, and unless it's in you we've been unable to observe the phenomenal state...as soon as neuroscientists are personally able to get these tools where they can see the correlates and they can 'have' the experience, then I think the Hard Problem will vanish very quickly."

Forgive me, but this comes across as yet another materialist misunderstanding of consciousness and the hard problem. It isn't just about the correlates, it's about the why. And neuroscientists have been claiming to observe correlations for a very long time, though it is true that the technology of brain scanning has been repeatedly shown to be not that reliable.

After that confusing ramble, Musk pipes up with this statement, which I'm also paraphrasing since I don't think he expected this question to be asked either:

Quote:"What I find remarkable is that the Universe started out as like quarks and leptons...like hydrogen...then after a long time, or what seems like a long time to us, that hydrogen became sentient, and gradually got more complex... and then, you know...but we're basically hydrogen evolved...and somewhere along the way, that hydrogen started talking, and thought it was conscious."


They then make some obscure joke about Tesla before moving onto the questions about the strength or security the device will have. Nothing more is elaborated on what either of them were going on about here. So Musk himself isn't able to answer, and the other guy's explanation just seems weak and, as a commenter noted, built on materialist assumptions.

At another point, they also claim quite boldly that this implant may enable 'superhuman vision' (enabling things like electromagnetic perception) and even 'conceptual telepathy'  and that 'with enough electrodes in the right places, you could begin to tap into those raw concepts and thought vectors and be able to decode that'.

Musk himself hopes to have a 'symbiotic' relationship with an AI through this kind of technology.

Max then pops up again with his 'interest in the nature of consciousness' shtick and makes this incredibly ignorant and arrogant statement:
Quote:'There's a lot of very silly philosophy that's been written about (consciousness) over the last thousand years...really we've been very limited by the tools and our ability to interrogate and measure the brain, and as these tools get better it'll pull it into the realm of physics...and it's really one of the great big mysteries in science.'

I can't imagine very many philosophers are going to take kindly to that statement, particularly philosophers of mind like David Chalmers. IIRC, Neil DeGrasse Tyson has also made such crass comments towards philosophy in the past too out of arrogance. The vagueness here is telling IMO. I know this is intended for the public, but that's not at all satisfactory or even respectful answer. It just looks like pretentious promissory materialism.

I shouldn't be surprised, considering Musk himself has been interviewed before, and he has said that he considers consciousness to be a physical phenomenon. He says so in an interview here. I was impressed however that some of the top voted comments were critical of his brain-damage-means-materialism logic; they reference the radio analogy for example. Others point out his hypocrisy in how the Simulation Theory, something he supports, lacks the same scientific 'evidence' he claims to pride himself in using. Some of them speculate he's just saying what's expected of him if he wants to maintain his reputation. One even said his materialist view was 'primitive' lol. I guess this serves as a reminder that 'immaterialists' are a lot more common than we think, it can just be difficult to find them sometimes. :/

Nevertheless, I can see materialists trying to use this Neuralink as potentially hard evidence for physicalism, which is worrying me greatly. What do you guys think?
(This post was last modified: 2020-08-29, 02:45 AM by OmniVersalNexus.)
I'll wait until Musk puts one in his brain.

Any other course of action seems like a path for fools?
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


Massimo skewered the hard problem several years ago:

https://philosophynow.org/issues/99/What_Hard_Problem

This is an interesting paper also:

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/obs...ciousness/
A lot of news articles are already somewhat sensationalising this, but some scientist are already expressing slight doubts over some of the claims. This includes his promises that it'll be cheaper and available earlier than expected. After all, not all of Musk's projects have been met with confidence.

Musk apparently has a bachelor's in Physics and one in Economics, but he's a businessman first and foremost, so I'm not suprised by him stumbling on this difficult question, especially since it's on a topic he probably doesn't specialise in. 

I've also seen this posted by the DailyMail a few days ago: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/...claim.html


Quote:Ex-staff members told STAT that the company is plagued by internal conflict and the slow pace of science could not keep up with Musk's demanding timelines.

They claim scientists were given weeks to complete certain projects knowing the research needed longer to perfect, creating a 'pressure cooker' within the company...

...Neuralink was also found to test its surgical procedure on monkeys, even though the system posed a risk to the animals, a former employee told STAT...

...However, according to STAT, there are now only two of the eight founding scientists left at the firm due to the turmoil that has plagued the company.

'This examination is based on interviews with five former Neuralink employees — all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to discuss the work publicly or were concerned about facing retribution — and four independent experts and competitors working in brain-machine interface research,' STAT reports...

...Along with an identity crisis, the company has a demanding culture that one former employee described as a 'pressure cooker' and much of the staff felt 'completely overwhelmed.'

The turmoil eventually created riffs between engineers and neuroscientists who argued about leadership and strategies to get the company off the ground, said several ex-staff members who noted Musk typically sided with the engineers during such conflicts. 

...The advances, however, are a result of pushing scientists to complete what should take months in just weeks.

STAT gives an example from 2017, where the team implanted 10,000 electrodes into brains of live sheep in one surgical process – the experiment failed, the former employee said...
If these confessions and reports are true, then we should be even more suspicious of his company's claims at this point. 

Musk also very much confuses me sometimes with his stances on AI. He's been well known in the past to warn of the dangers of AI in a very dramatic fashion, but as he's started working on his cars and neural implants, he suddenly thinks we should engage in 'symbiosis' with them? The Daily Mail article notes this change in his mindset witnessed on his Twitter history.
(This post was last modified: 2020-08-29, 10:39 AM by OmniVersalNexus.)
(2020-08-29, 10:28 AM)malf Wrote: Massimo skewered the hard problem several years ago:

https://philosophynow.org/issues/99/What_Hard_Problem

This is an interesting paper also:

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/obs...ciousness/

If this "skewering" was true no one would be arguing about this now, and so many more STEM academics wouldn't have moved away from materialism? Or is your argument everyone who disagrees - even the ones who don't believe in free will nor an afterlife - are simply engaging in wishful thinking?

None of this reads like a solution, but rather desperate obfuscation of a problem that is simply stated: How can you derive that which is simple and qualitative from that which is composition of quantitative? Even children understand it, why they find humor in the game of increasing Love - "I love you", "I love you times 100", "Well I love you times 1000", etc.

But even attempts to solve this piece of the Hard Problem doesn't get around even more difficult problems regarding consciousness that even the true physicalists - the ones who admit if true it makes life completely worthless - acknowledge: How do you have neurons about anything?

From Alex Rosenberg's Atheist's Guide to Reality:

"A more general version of this question is this: How can one clump of stuff anywhere in the universe be about some other clump of stuff anywhere else in the universe—right next to it or 100 million light-years away?

...Let’s suppose that the Paris neurons are about Paris the same way red octagons are about stopping. This is the first step down a slippery slope, a regress into total confusion. If the Paris neurons are about Paris the same way a red octagon is about stopping, then there has to be something in the brain that interprets the Paris neurons as being about Paris. After all, that’s how the stop sign is about stopping. It gets interpreted by us in a certain way. The difference is that in the case of the Paris neurons, the interpreter can only be another part of the brain...

What we need to get off the regress is some set of neurons that is about some stuff outside the brain without being interpreted—by anyone or anything else (including any other part of the brain)—as being about that stuff outside the brain. What we need is a clump of matter, in this case the Paris neurons, that by the very arrangement of its synapses points at, indicates, singles out, picks out, identifies (and here we just start piling up more and more synonyms for “being about”) another clump of matter outside the brain. But there is no such physical stuff.

Physics has ruled out the existence of clumps of matter of the required sort...

…What you absolutely cannot be wrong about is that your conscious thought was about something. Even having a wildly wrong thought about something requires that the thought be about something.

It’s this last notion that introspection conveys that science has to deny. Thinking about things can’t happen at all...When consciousness convinces you that you, or your mind, or your brain has thoughts about things, it is wrong."


I would think most of us would concede the opposite, accept Cogito Ergo Sum, and realize Physicalism must be false.

This is why I don't think Musk's neurolink - assuming it ever accomplishes anything for the human mind - is going to prove Physicalism is true. Now whether it convinces people that the brain and mind are equivalent and the destruction of the former results in the termination of the latter is another thing entirely. It cannot prove that, and everyone is convinced by different things, so who knows on that front?

But I suspect even the youngest forum members will have found the usual conclusive means of answering whether there's life after death long before his device does anything so incredible as transfer memories or the like.
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


(This post was last modified: 2020-08-29, 05:05 PM by Sciborg_S_Patel.)
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(2020-08-29, 12:53 AM)OmniVersalNexus Wrote: Nevertheless, I can see materialists trying to use this Neuralink as potentially hard evidence for physicalism, which is worrying me greatly. What do you guys think?
We already know the brain is a physical object. I don't see how this changes things.
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Well that Max fellow, like I said, seems to be under the impression that it'll help show how the brain produces consciousness, or at least something pertaining to a relationship. The fact Max smugly said 'theres been a lot of silly philosophies' really irks me. Silliness can be subjective. For example, plenty of people regard materialism as silly. 

If they intend to use to cure all kinds of mental illnesses and damages, and somehow grant us telepathy and technopathy, there might be something to it? I don't know. Like I said, their answer to the question in the Q&A section was short, arrogant, hand-wavey and, above all, vague. I haven't seen any articles actually mention this, except one that seemed to conflate consciousness with memories, though I wouldn't be surprised if either Max or Musk made that error themselves.
(2020-08-29, 06:57 PM)OmniVersalNexus Wrote: Well that Max fellow, like I said, seems to be under the impression that it'll help show how the brain produces consciousness, or at least something pertaining to a relationship.

We already know there's a relationship, as Typoz notes. And we already have devices that can let someone move a machine with their brain.

As for someone somewhere in the world thinking something is silly...that's probably inevitable.

If something as superficial as this investor seeking pitch by Musk can make you think mind=brain and death is the end, you should probably just start working on coming to terms with Oblivion. Here's a quote to begin that process ->

"Death destroys a man but the idea of it saves him"
  -E.M. Forester
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


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I've not gone that far Sci, but I suppose it's true that they're just sensationalising this and claiming it can 'potentially' do pretty much anything, not to mention the lead-up to this, as well as this update, gives me the impression they're rushing things. I've seen some people say they were unimpressed with the pig tests as it's just stuff you'd expect from most neurological technology, but I'm no expert.
(This post was last modified: 2020-08-29, 08:16 PM by OmniVersalNexus.)
The longer look at stuff like this, the less surprised I am at people who completely fail to even understand the question - of the nature of consciousness - but then go on to extrapolate from nowhere really, and make bold pronouncements. It isn't even news any more. In the words of the song,
"No reason to get excited"
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