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Blind Boy Apollo
and the All-White Astronauts

New Age "Asiatic" thought ... is establishing itself as the
hegemonic ideology of global capitalism. (Zizek)

Friday, April 27

cognitive abattoir

I should have followed my second mind...
and you know I wouldn't be here now people
down on the killing floor.

~ electric flag

Why deny it? Mystic Bourgeoisie has run the gamut from enigmatic to abstruse to plain obscure. And perhaps my previous post should take some sort of prize for impenetrability: an ambiguous portrait of a woman, her decadent visage worthy of an Aubrey Beardsley print, accompanied only by the callout "MEAT MACHINES." What could I have been thinking?

OK, I'll tell you. I was thinking that some of you -- though I knew it would be few -- would click on that cover graphic and discover that the book it comes from -- Mindware: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Cognitive Science -- can be Searched Inside™ on Amazon. Moreover, I was hoping that maybe a few (certainly a much smaller subset than those who bothered to click on the cover shot) would call up the table of contents and notice that Chapter 1 is titled "Meat Machines: Mindware as Software."

But why do I make it so hard for you? Simple: when readers are forced to participate in the learning experience, such engagement leaves deeper neuronal traces in their cognitive hamburger.

But there is, as usual (I hope), a larger point here. If I'm annoyed by the "meatspace" neologism -- as I mentioned two posts ago -- I am positively repulsed by the idea of human beings being referred to as "meat machines." And these sorts of metaphors are not merely random Wired-Burning-Man hipspeak. They derive directly from the Computational Theory of Mind. For all you non-clickers (you know who you are), that Wikipedia link would have informed you that...

The computational theory of mind is the view that the human mind is best conceived as an information processing system very similar to or identical with a digital computer. In other words, thought is a kind of computation performed by self- reconfigurable hardware (the brain). This view is common in modern cognitive psychology and is one of the foundations of evolutionary psychology.
Now, it's funny that whoever wrote that should mention evolutionary psychology, because in that same post where I objected to "meatspace," I quoted from an Amazon review about a book called Mindblindness: An Essay on Autism and Theory of Mind. And of course it's not funny at all, because that book includes a foreword by Leda Cosmides and John Tooby -- the guiding lights, if not the outright founders, of the field of evolutionary psychology.

I'm not confusing you am I? I hope not, because we're fast coming up on the aforementioned larger point. In fact, here it is now, in the form of a string of partial quotes from that very Cosmides & Toobyesque foreword...

  • The machinery that causes these experiences...
  • specialized circuitry computes in our minds...
  • the specialized neural circuitry responsible...
  • We inhabit mental worlds populated by the computational outputs of battalions of evolved, specialized neural automata.
  • the neural automata responsible for these constructions...
  • these devices are present in all human minds...
  • the representations produced by these universal mechanisms...
  • these evolved inference engines...
  • the machinery that constitutes most of the evolved architecture of the human mind...
  • These mechanisms solve the many computational problems involved in constructing the world...
  • evolved, specialized, computational problem solvers...
  • our cognitive architecture resembles a confederation of hundreds or thousands of functionally dedicated computers...
  • Each of these devices has its own agenda...
  • There is a "theory of mind" module, and a multitude of other elegant machines.
  • social exchange algorithms that define a social world of agents...
  • the psychological architecture can now be a system of computational relationships
  • a triumph of automated modules and evolutionary cognitive engineering.

I could go on, but you get the idea. This is a major clue about what happens when the psychological study of human beings is hijacked by computer "scientists" -- and, to reiterate this telling passage...

  • We inhabit mental worlds populated by the computational outputs of battalions of evolved, specialized neural automata.

...about what happens when that "science" had already been hijacked by the US Department of Defense, whose funding for all of the above was driven by its usual goals: battlefield command and control.

The "evolution" we are concerned with here doesn't carbon-date back to anywhere even remotely close to the Pleistocene epoch. Rather it begins with the military-industrial-academic complex that evolved during the Cold War of the 1940s and -50s, entailing highly unnatural selection by very undisinterested institutions.

Put that in your meat machine -- and give it a good hard crank.

"This book is about computers, as machines and as metaphors, in the politics and culture of Cold War America."

~ The Closed World
p. 1