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Are We Just Machines? Answered

OK, I was listening to a podcast a while ago, and I heard some thing quite surprising! What one researcher said is that our brain prepares us to do something 7 seconds before we actually think of it. WOW! So basically, our brain is ahead by 7 seconds. To me and some people it rally challenges the concept of free will, are we really just machines that work on instinct, of course, if our brain was really in control, how could we start to research about this. If our brain is so much ahead of us, would it really let us figure it out, or do we actually control our brain. Will it get to the point where our brains develop too much and start to control us, causing us to do things against our will? Scary thought isn't it? Just think, 7 seconds ago you were ready to read this!
One more thing, Goodhart posted this link, anyone interested in this topic should read it.



Machines? Absolutely. Our bodies, from the individual cells right up to large-scale systems like the skeleton and muscles, operate on well-defined principles of physics and chemistry, which can be described in physical terms of forces, potentials, reaction paths, etc.

"Just" machines? What does that mean, anyway? That you could "build a person" out of parts and have it function the way we do? Certainly not. Our bodies are extremely complex systems with multiscale nonlinear feedbacks (homeostatis, proprioception, etc.) that maintain it in a very long-term dynamic equilibrium completely unknown among the "devices" we are able to construct with our current technology.

The mind-body "problem" has been floating around the nebulous and more or less content-free world of philosophy for 200 years. It's only in the past decade or two that we have even begun to consider the possibility of addressing it directly and experimentally.

As with most real science (geology, astronomy, biology), the results are challenging to our unstated but closely held assumptions about our special, unique, and vaunted position in the universe.

If you believe in a self-consistent Universe governed by physical laws, it is almost inescapable that the mind (consciousness) must be built on top of the material substrate of the brain. This sort of work with functional MRI and MRS observations of "intention" and "planning" (fraught with statistical and systematic biases) is merely revealing the details of that connection and construction.

and, not only that, but it is much more random then anyone ever thought....Emergence

I found that very informative. I too found it surprising of how random intelegence can be. Anyone reading this topic should listen to it.

Are all 3 parts still there? I hada difficult time connecting so was unable to verify

I'm not sure what you mean by 3 parts, the "movie" was around a hour long though.

Movie? Hmm, I thought I had gotten the link to the Radio broadcast out of NYC on Emergence....which was about 3 hours long I thought (yes, I listened to all of the one I am writing about, and then again, as background as I worked on something else ;-) It was very interesting to me.

Well, there were some other parts lower down, i don't know if those are then?

which parts did you like the best ?

I enjoyed the part with the fireflies as well. i also enjoyed the talk about ant guts! ( yum!)

ants are a bit on the sour side (in case you hadn't had any), at least the ones I have had were ;-)

Did you try dipping them in chocolate and frying them, it's a delicasy in some places. ( although i probally wouldn't have them :-) ) Whopps! A smile face with chins!

Yes, which is what I mean....too much chocolate, and you can't tell they're there; and if you have the right amount, you get a sweet / sour taste ;-)

Well, you could make a cluster of ants, like a nougat.. WAIT! How did we get on this subject, its completely different? I'll start another forum topic, we can continue there.

I was wrong.....it was about an hour long.....sorry.

Well, let's see, they discussed ants, fireflies (which was REALLY COOL), um, the brain's "control center, or lack there of, actually", um, I think frogs croaking, etc. .....hmmm, it's been awhile since I listened to them (and I can't from here.....I might tomorrow, after I get home).

By the way, yes, I am showing my materialist bias. I'm a professional physicist; without materialism, it all just degenerates into magic.

"Will it get to the point where our brains develop too much and start to control us, causing us to do things against our will?" They already do. A large part of your life is actually run on autopilot. This is why people have problems with "did I lock the house?" "did I switch the () off?" - they did it auto' so they've no recollection of doing it. Don't you find that routine activities like brushing teeth are rather easy 'cos they're not requiring much conscious thought - you just press "run" and it happens? L

And that thing where you don't remember the middle chunk of your drive to work.

That's it. Do you really think much about the mechanics of driving (like a learner) or are you just running the sub-processes? And when you put your hand on the wrong thing in the fridge / cupboard / shelf etc. - the script has led you there... L

This is a bit out of subject, but this reminds me of a popular anime series: Big O (Bear with me, its interesting) Basically, People in a city simply wake up one day, and nobody remembers anything. The world basically starts from scratch again, and people value any objects that can spark memories. There are some Gigantic robots hidden under certain parts of the city. Apparently these robots had something to do with everyone's memories disappearing. Some of these robots started to emerge, acting on their own, destroying everything. It is discovered that they were acting based on the memories of their drivers. So if he/she had a grudge against, say, a corporation, the robot sprang up and destroyed its buildings. Anyway, the important thing about the series, is its ending. One of the people takes one of the defeated robots. He claims to remember everything, and uses the robot to go up, to proclaim his superiority. He finds out that the entire city is simply a huge stage. He finds metal structures and lighting, all abandoned, but still programmed to activate at certain times. This really interested me, since I like psychological topics like this, but sadly, the anime got cancelled before it could delve deeper into the mystery of the city. Are all the people simply puppets of some sick game? Can what they go through be considered living, when it was all controlled? Do they have free will? Did they ever have a choice in the matter? Were they in fact used by some superior species? If so, what happened, why did they abandon them? Or did were they destroyed by their own problems, leaving the show to go on by its own? Or am I overthinking this?

Also, another important topic was, why did the robots continue their driver's tasks? Did they perhaps develop into sentient beings? Were the driver's memories passed onto them? Did they perhaps feel that their purpose was not yet fulfilled?

What force drove these "beings" to go on? Were they forced to by their programming, or did they choose to go on? Does machine acquire life? Perhaps it is destiny, that machine becomes superior to humans, yet lacks what made humans superior to other species in the first place: a soul. Feelings. The ability to wonder why?

Perhaps Machine desired this element they were missing. Physically superior, but they were hollow shells. They wanted that which humans took for granted. They wanted to choose

I am fascinated by this sort of topic. Crazyness is even more interesting....How does the mind work, and more importantly, how can we be so sure that a "crazy person's" mind is not working correctly? Perhaps it just works differently.....

Wow, never thought I'd see an old man (No offense!) even know what that was..... Ghost in the Shell is pretty interesting too, but I prefer Big O, it focuses more on the human mind than what makes a Human in the first place.....

When BIG O played on Adult swim a year or so ago....it never had an "end" that I ever saw, and then they would start the inanity over again.....I watched it through 3 times and it just stops in the middle of an idea.....perhaps they were not playing the ending?

It got to the point where its revealed that its all a stage, but no more episodes. It was planned to reveal the whole thing in a 3rd season, but sadly, they never got around to actually making it. Its sad, they were onto something great.......

Yes, what I mean is, in the 3-5 times I have sat through it, I never saw that ending you speak of....bugs me a bit too ;-)

Shame, its really brilliant how its revealed....

Well, if it ever gets rerun again....I will watch for it

Actually, I saw it about 2 weeks ago......

my time schedule is a bit odder then most people's ;-) because of my shift....

Have you seen Dark City? Seems that each of us has seen one and not the other? L

Ha! The title reminds me of the scientist in Irobot that talks about the ghost in the machine, i think i'll start a forum on that.

I am fascinated by this sort of topic. Crazyness is even more interesting....How does the mind work, and more importantly, how can we be so sure that a "crazy person's" mind is not working correctly? Perhaps it just works differently.....

It IS a fascinating subject.....for instance, not all craziness has a physical pathology (something you can see with instruments). And some very sane actions can seem very crazy at times.

Take for instance, one's eyesight. The brain supposedly records what you see, the light coming into your eyes and changed into electrical code and sent to the brain......still, if you don't want to see something, you will not see it.
If you looked on the table for your lost keys, and didn't see them there a bit ago, even if someone now uncovers them, you could go back and they still will not be seen, even though they are right in front of you. And we can all chime in: that's crazy, but that is how we work. So, what is so crazy about hallucinations? nothing in and of themselves, in that we all hallucinate almost on a daily basis (remembering things someone said; when they never said them, things that happened and really didn't or not in the way or order we remember them....etc). It is when we insist on there being a real voice coming out of the electrical wall socket, or the 6 ft. invisible rabbit, that makes us defined at crazy.

There are days when I genuinely have no idea what has happened for six or seven miles of semi-rural A-road, including roundabouts. Kind of scary, really.

It is, but we also have defence mechanisms to protect us from these scary-thoughts. Pondering the nature of reality and existence with a straight head tends to be blocked by (something) to prevent a person from going nuts. A wee-bit of experimentation with psycho-active drugs and thought and you realise how practical and effective our "don't ask too many questions" robot lives are (and that can be scary on a whole new level). A mechanical operating set like "left-foot, right-foot" is absolutely essential, we can't spend half a day watching grass grow - stuff to do - and we've been programmed to do it.


I have spent a good portion of the last year, bringing back into the spotlight, things that I let go automatically. Awareness is very inspiring at times.....and I am trying to be much MORE aware of simple things (I no longer wolf down my food, but savor each bite, ooo, is that oregano I taste?, etc). I can't do it 24/7 but I am able to switch it on and off as I wish....becoming aware of and in control of one's breathing is very useful at times (especially if stressed).

Good idea, I don't spend enough time on food, but that's not to say I just cram stuff into my cake-hole. Do tend to be more aware of things around me, like plants & insects, other animals, moss, rain etc. L

Ah, but do you hear that grasshopper at your feet ?


No, wrong type of environment I think (in my mind or garden, you choose) L

wrong type of environment...
How so?

No grasshoppers where I live, not their natural habitat. Or I didn't understand your comment. L

Oh, yes I hadn't thought of that......yeah, I borrowed that line from the pilot of the Kung Fu series.....when Grasshopper got his name from his blind instructor.

Oh yes, I thought you were onto something like that but I couldn't think of it. - thanks for refreshing my memory. L

This kind of autopilot is part of the reason that time seems compressed and faster moving (is it APRIL already?), and that our lives are more like plummeting off a cliff then a slow 24 hour (i.e. 86,400 seconds) day.

When one lives more aware of the commonplace (not to the point of overload....which is easy to reach if one is not careful) as well as the not so much commonplace, time dialates somewhat.....everything, like when we were children, becomes fascinating and the world seems to slow down from that mad rush forward (recommendation: Watch the movie Click!, if you haven't seen it yet - Adam Sandler....you will get an idea of what I mean).

I remember the middle chunk of my drive to school today... About got hit by some van running a red light.

Here's a (free :-) reference to that "7 second" lead time. In fact, the experimental result reported is more like 5.7 seconds, but it's still quite significant, and much longer than the roughly 200-250 milliseconds the study participants reported.

That raises an interesting question (well...interesting to me...) - is it possible, according to our current understanding of the laws of physics, to know about an event exactly as it happens with absolutely no delay whatsoever in measuring the event? Put another way, can you theoretically know the precise instant of time something happened, down to any unit of time you care to measure? Or will there always be a delay, no matter how slight? Or, (what a lot of ors!) is this something that is theoretically possible, but impossible in a practical sense the way perpetual motion on earth is? (And is this even a sensible question?)