We must understand this title that pretends to tell you how you can create a mind has to be taken literally. Ray Kurzweil believes in his Artificial Intelligence engineer's enthusiasm that he can create a mind, that he may qualify as god himself, a secular god as a matter of fact.
"Evolution can then be viewed as a spiritual process in that it creates spiritual beings, that is, entities that are conscious. Evolution also moves toward greater complexity, greater knowledge, greater intelligence, greater beauty, greater creativity, and the ability to express more transcendent emotions, such as love. These are all descriptions that people have used for the concept of God, albeit God is described as having no limitations in these regards." (p. 223)
And do not consider all that is pure rhetoric or pulpit preaching. He believes evolution is the real God when he says: "Our neocortex is virgin territory when our brain is created . . . the biological process of actually growing a brain." (p. 62) We can wonder about this evolution or biological process if it is a creator or a grower, God or a simple farmer. But we have to wonder what Kurzweil means by "brain" and "mind." Page 23 over 26 lines he uses the following string of words: "mind . . . brain . . . mind . . . theories . . . ideas . . . thought . . . thinking . . . theories . . . thought . . . brain . . . thinking . . . " We can assert that these words are not really discriminated. This lack of clear definitions of these terms is of course an enormous shortcoming that is just as nearly irritating as the levity with which he deals with Einstein: "Einstein articulated my goals in this book well when he said that `any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex . . . but it takes . . . a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.'" (p. 11) It is obvious Einstein did not articulate his goals since he has not been alive for a while now. That use of the passive by Kurzweil to draw to himself what the quoted person said is even more astounding with at least two and quite often more than three quotations, at times long ones, at the head of all chapters and even subchapters. Kurzweil seems to forget that quoting does not prove anything. But this quoting and bringing together opposed ideas is the basic unitarian objective of the author:
"The truth can be discovered only by finding an explanation that overrides - transcends - seeming differences, especially for fundamental questions of meaning and purpose. That is how I resolve the Western-Eastern divide on consciousness and the physical world. In my view both perspective have to be true. On the one hand it is foolish to deny the physical world . . . On the other hand, the Eastern perspective - that consciousness is fundamental and represents the only reality that is truly important - is also difficult to deny." (p. 222)
On one hand blunt and brutal materialism since Kurzweil does not seem to consider the material existence of the mind, except when reduced to the brain, or of ideas, thoughts, ideologies, etc. On the other hand a principle that is derived from a false reference to Buddhism.
"In the Eastern view, consciousness is the fundamental reality, the physical world only comes into existence through the thoughts of conscious beings . . . I call this the Buddhist school of quantum mechanics, because in it particles essentially don't exist until they are observed by a conscious person." (p. 218-219)
Kurzweil does not know what he is speaking of. Buddhism is basically expressed in the Dhammapada and the Abhidhamma. For Buddha the whole material world exists outside our consciousness and we are part of it because we have a body. This whole world can only be captured by our six senses, the five basic senses plus the mind as a meta-sense that processes the sensations captured by the five other senses plus the abstract concepts conveyed by language and organized in abstract reasoning or description. The word "consciousness" that Kurzweil uses does not correspond at all to the words used for the "mind" that sixth sense or meta-sense. In fact there are two words in Pali for the mind, "mana" that refers to the meta-sense itself and "citta" which refers to the various mental states of an individual experiencing some type of feeling, emotion, mental excitation, etc. Kurzweil uses the word "determined" a lot about the material world. There is a Buddhist concept behind. The whole physical world, including us as physical beings is determined, follows the physical laws governing the cosmos. By using the mind any individual can get into meditation, which will lead him onto the eightfold path of illumination that is to say the possibility to get detached from the determined world and hence to merge with cosmic energy once death has come, thus getting out of the triple characteristic of the determined world: everything is changing all the time; everything is carried by a cycle that goes from birth to life and decay then to death and then to rebirth. Nibbana (known in Sanskrit as Nirvana) is that mentally produced escape from this cycle into cosmic energy; everything has no essence, soul or permanence of any type.
This is important because this should lead us to refusing the basic objective Kurzweil gives to humanity: to use intelligent machines to "coloniz[e]" (p. 281) the universe. In previous books he was rejoicing in the idea that the speed of light could be stepped over, hence speeding the "colonizing [of] the universe" (p. 281) though in this book he is more realistic since the good news about having transported molecules at a speed higher than the speed of light has been disproved in this very 2012 year. But the objective remains: to colonize the universe. Some people never learn. The colonization of the planet by the Europeans has not exactly been the best thing in the world producing slavery, the eradication of American Indians, Aztecs, Mayas, Incas, etc, colonialism and throwing three continents, if not four into, underdevelopment and exploitation. It is high time Kurzweil questions his basic fundamental motivation. The conquest of the universe is not on the agenda. So far we are dealing with the discovery of the universe. We might never conquer it, especially if intelligent beings exist here and there. The use of the cavalry seems to be slightly passé.
This said, and it is fundamental we can move to the main subject of the book: the mind, though in fact he never speaks of it reducing it to the brain. So let's start with the brain.
After a rather long career and many books published on his "Singularity" that was and still is heftily criticized by many people in the field, including people who are specialists, theoreticians and entrepreneurs in computing science and technology like Kurzweil himself, he wrote this book to get back in phase with others. Criticism was generally rejected high-handedly before. This time he makes an effort to integrate the research of others in the first half of his book, hence to describe the functioning of the brain the way it is known by scientists, though in the second half of the book he goes back his messianic, apocalyptic, prophetic, oracular prediction of the merging of biological intelligence, hence man, into non-biological intelligence, hence machines and we jump onto the track to Terminator 25 all over again and dreams of a time when "computers will have . . . surpassed unenhanced human intelligence." This phrase gives us in a nutshell, not a walnut but a hazelnut, his basic thinking. Note he of course neglects the fact that human intelligence develops along with all the intelligent machines and theories man has invented. If these intelligent machines are used properly, that is to say at the top of their capabilities, then the intelligence of the users will tremendously develop. Will we have a new mutation in biological evolution? Some human beings are able to develop some tremendous capabilities as for memory, the assimilation of hierarchical systems like foreign languages, etc. These are supposed to be autistic, but do we know anything serious about autistic people apart from believing they are different and have to be put away?
Let's speak of the brain now. I will not be over technical about it. He borrows from various other researchers (Jeff Hawkins, Dileep George and Jaron Lanier mostly) the general architecture of the brain and adds a couple of things.
The neocortex is the part of the brain that controls our most advanced human intelligent activities. It has six layers and it is structured in vertical columns across these six layers; Each column hence has six layers too. These columns are connected in many ways first of all to the columns around each one of them on a proximity basis, but some spindle neurons can connect many columns in all parts of the brain, 60% of these spindle neurons in the right hemisphere and 40 percent in the left hemisphere. They appeared with hominids, our ancestors after branching out of apes some 10 or 15 million years ago. But we must know that they already existed in apes since Gorillas have about 20% of our number, Bonobos have 2.5% and chimpanzees about 2%. Other mammals do not have any at all. Kurzweil does not speak of mirror neurons and he should have since they are also only vastly present in Homo Sapiens, though they must have been present in hominids and are present in some apes, and these are essential for learning and empathy since they enable someone to imitate the actions of someone else and to empathetically feel the same emotions as other people around them. He also mentions though lightly the fact that a fetus has a brain as soon as one month of age and this fetus will hear (he does not mention this one) and see around the 20th or 24th weeks of pregnancy. Read more ›