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Analogy Does Not Recapitulate Reality

by Everyday Junglist 8 months ago in tech

Just Because We Can Say a Thing is Like Another Thing Does Not Mean It Actually Is

Representation of a non computer human brain generated by a computer. Courtesy of Pixabay. Home of Pamela Anderson and the cast and crew of Pixabay Watch.

The Possibility of Analogy Does Not Necessarily Correlate with the Probability of Reality

I take a hard line against the currently (and formerly) in vogue position of equating human beings, particularly their brains, with computers. To me it is obvious that no such equivalence exists despite decades of suggestions otherwise. The number of analogies between various structures/functions of the human brain and those of a computer/computer system are as large as the number of neurons estimated to comprise said brain. The prevalence of these analogies often makes us forget that they are only that, analogies. They are not based in scientific fact, but instead are based in the imaginative capacities of the organ which is the topic of these comparisons. The possibility of analogy is however often confused with the probability of reality. Those things for which we can analogize more are thought to be more accurate representations of the real relationships of the things being compared. Therefore, because there are so many analogies possible between how (we hypothesize) a human brain works and how a computer works, it must be true that a human brain is very similar to, or exactly like, a computer. The point of analogies is (or should be) to help clarify/deepen our understanding of a thing through a comparison of that thing and/or it’s attributes with another (usually similar but not always) thing. We suggest that the first thing is like the other because of x, y, and z and the comparison allows us to see the thing we are trying to clarify our understanding of in a different way. To ‘see’ it anew. In no way however is the analogy an argument (it is not an argument and should not be viewed as such) as to the actual similarity (in point of fact/reality) of the two things. It is for illustrative purposes only and carries no truth value or “reality bestowing” power. Analogies are powerful, but they are not all powerful. They can clarify but they can also mislead. We must not confuse our ability to create analogies with our ability to clearly see, study, and understand reality.


And now yet another <600 word count minimum bonus filler story.

When We Worry About Politeness or Manners in Our Things We Devalue Humanity, Personhood, Sentience, and Life Itself

It Is a Logical Error and Sends a Very Dangerous Message about Our Own and Other Living Things Worth

A List of Words That Have No Meaning When Applied to Machines/Computers/Appliances

Machines/computers/appliances etc. do not need to be programmed to be polite or have manners nor do we need to concern ourselves with how we behave or interact with them. It makes zero difference to our moral standing or ethical code if we are abusive and angry, consoling and nice, or neutral and cold. It cannot make a difference how we act/interact with these things because they are things.

It is a category error to apply these concepts/behaviors (politeness, manners, angry, abusive, nice, neutral, cold, or any other value/moral concept) to non-living, non-sentient things and it suggests an equivalence in value that does not and cannot obtain. The more that we concern ourselves with these concepts as they “apply” to things, the more we devalue the importance of what we and other living things are/have that separate us from those things which do not.

When parents lament the fact that Alexa or any other computer does not require their children to say please and thank you, and worry that it is undoing everything they taught their children about being polite and respectful, they are making a very grave error. In fact the much more worrying lesson being taught in such a case is that computers are deserving of such concerns when they are not. Neither are they deserving of abuse and hatred. Those concepts simply do not apply when used in reference to a non living, non-sentient computer or appliance. When parents suggest to their children that they do, they teach them that these things have moral value/worth. Moreover, it suggests that this value is at least as high as that of any other human being/person with whom they are also taught they must be polite/mind their manners. Do these same parents teach their children to say please and thank you to the toaster? What about the microwave? At base, there is fundamentally zero difference between Alexa and any other non-human, non-intelligent, non-sentient kitchen appliance. If the appliance is a ‘smart’ version of one of these makes no difference since the word ‘smart’ does not mean these appliances are intelligent, though it is often taken to suggest otherwise. In addition to implying value/moral worth where there is none, asking anyone to use please and thank you when interacting with Alexa is a form of deception/lying about reality. Politeness, manners, kindness, cruelty, and words/terms like them have no meaning with respect to Alexa or any other computer. They are logically incoherent, nonsense, absurd, when used in this way for they only logically cohere when applied to living beings and/or living/sentient/intelligent beings.


About the author

Everyday Junglist

Practicing mage of the natural sciences (Ph.D. micro/molecular biology), Thought middle manager, Everyday Junglist, Selecta (Ret.), Boulderer, Cat lover, No tie shoelace user, Humorist, Argan oil aficionado.

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