Black box hypothesis

We inevitably compare nature to art; but in the case of life and intelligence we compare it to a black box of sufficient complexity. If no one is familiar with how watches work, life (and therefore any consciousness life might have) can be a clockwork; if steam engines are new and incomprehensible, life might be a steam engine; if radiation is new and mysterious then perhaps we could control life or increase intelligence with it. Digital computers are now new and confusing enough to play the role, but at one point will be either so familiar or so quaint that the metaphor will no longer work.

And so the irony of it all is that, while we use all these metaphors to understand life and intelligence, they can only work if the basis of the metaphor is obscure and unknown. The mind is a digital computer, that is, it is mysterious, dazzling, and unfamiliar as opposed to being dated or quaint. After all, no one would think that a mechanical computer will ever develop intelligence, but digital computers do not differ from these in kind.

1 Comment

  1. Matthew McCormack said,

    January 9, 2014 at 8:47 pm

    I would have to disagree. Watches, steam engines and computers are not products of nature but human made things, so they are not things we just come upon and marvel at what they do, but they are constructed by us so we, by definition, have to know them, as opposed to being a black box. Often, we see traces of their working in natural things. We see the traces because having invented them and become familier with the watch or computer we come to see a new way that things can interact with each other, and this serves as a guide in looking at natural objects.


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