Friday, September 7, 2012

Quote of the Day

We understand by a cybernetical machine an apparatus which performs a set of operations according to a definite set of rules. Normally we "programme" a machine: that is, we give it a set of instructions about what it is to do in each eventuality; and we feed in the initial "information" on which the machine is to perform its calculations. When we consider the possibility that the mind might be a cybernetical mechanism we have such a model in view; we suppose that the brain is composed of complicated neural circuits, and that the information fed in by the senses is "processed" and acted upon or stored for future use. If it is such a mechanism, then given the way in which it is programmed -- the way in which it is "wired up" -- and the information which has been fed into it, the response -- the "output" -- is determined, and could, granted sufficient time, be calculated. Our idea of a machine is just this, that its behaviour is completely determined by the way it is made and the incoming "stimuli": there is no possibility of its acting on its own: given a certain form of construction and a certain input of information, then it must act in a certain specific way. We, however, shall be concerned not with what a machine must do, but with what it can do. That is, instead of considering the whole set of rules which together determine exactly what a machine will do in given circumstances, we shall consider only an outline of those rules, which will delimit the possible responses of the machine, but not completely. The complete rules will determine the operations completely at every stage; at every stage there will be a definite instruction, e.g., "If the number is prime and greater than two add one and divide by two: if it is not prime, divide by its smallest factor": we, however, will consider the possibility of there being alternative instructions, e.g., "In a fraction you may divide top and bottom by any number which is a factor of both numerator and denominator". In thus relaxing the specification of our model, so that it is no longer completely determinist, though still entirely mechanistic, we shall be able to take into account a feature often proposed for mechanical models of the mind, namely that they should contain a randomizing device. One could build a machine where the choice between a number of alternatives was settled by, say, the number of radium atoms to have disintegrated in a given container in the past half-minute. It is prima facie plausible that our brains should be liable to random effects: a cosmic ray might well be enough to trigger off a neural impulse. But clearly in a machine a randomizing device could not be introduced to choose any alternative whatsoever: it can only be permitted to choose between a number of allowable alternatives. It is all right to add any number chosen at random to both sides of an equation, but not to add one number to one side and another to the other. It is all right to choose to prove one theorem of Euclid rather than another, or to use one method rather than another, but not to "prove" something which is not true, or to use a "method of proof" which is not valid. Any randomizing devices must allow choices only between those operations which will not lead to inconsistency: which is exactly what the relaxed specification of our model specifies Indeed, one might put it this way: instead of considering what a completely determined machine must do, we shall consider what a machine might be able to do if it had a randomizing device that acted whenever there were two or more operations possible, none of which could lead to inconsistency.

If such a machine were built to produce theorems about arithmetic (in many ways the simplest part of mathematics), it would have only a finite number of components, and so there would be only a finite number of types of operation it could do, and only a finite number of initial assumptions it could operate on. Indeed, we can go further, and say that there would only be a definite number of types of operation, and of initial assumptions, that could be built into it. Machines are definite: anything which was indefinite or infinite we should not count as a machine. Note that we say number of types of operation, not number of operations. Given sufficient time, and provided that it did not wear out, a machine could go on repeating an operation indefinitely: it is merely that there can be only a definite number of different sorts of operation it can perform.

If there are only a definite number of types of operation and initial assumptions built into the system, we can represent them all by suitable symbols written down on paper. We can parallel the operation by rules ("rules of inference" or "axiom schemata") allowing us to go from one or more formulae (or even from no formula at all) to another formula, and we can parallel the initial assumptions (if any) by a set of initial formulae ("primitive propositions", "postulates" or "axioms"). Once we have represented these on paper, we can represent every single operation: all we need do is to give formulae representing the situation before and after the operation, and note which rule is being invoked. We can thus represent on paper any possible sequence of operations the machine might perform. However long, the machine went on operating, we could, give enough time, paper and patience, write down an analogue of the machine's operations. This analogue would in fact be a formal proof: every operation of the machine is represented by the application of one of the rules: and the conditions which determine for the machine whether an operation can be performed in a certain situation, become, in our representation, conditions which settle whether a rule can be applied to a certain formula, i.e., formal conditions of applicability. Thus, construing our rules as rules of inference, we shall have a proof-sequence of formulae, each one being written down in virtue of some formal rule of inference having been applied to some previous formula or formulae (except, of course, for the initial formulae, which are given because they represent initial assumptions built into the system). The conclusions it is possible for the machine to produce as being true will therefore correspond to the theorems that can be proved in the corresponding formal system. We now construct a Gödelian formula in this formal system. This formula cannot be proved-in-the- system. Therefore the machine cannot produce the corresponding formula as being true. But we can see that the Gödelian formula is true: any rational being could follow Gödel's argument, and convince himself that the Gödelian formula, although unprovable-in-the-system, was nonetheless -- in fact, for that very reason -- true. Now any mechanical model of the mind must include a mechanism which can enunciate truths of arithmetic, because this is something which minds can do: in fact, it is easy to produce mechanical models which will in many respects produce truths of arithmetic far better than human beings can. But in this one respect they cannot do so well: in that for every machine there is a truth which it cannot produce as being true, but which a mind can. This shows that a machine cannot be a complete and adequate model of the mind. It cannot do everything that a mind can do, since however much it can do, there is always something which it cannot do, and a mind can. This is not to say that we cannot build a machine to simulate any desired piece of mind-like behaviour: it is only that we cannot build a machine to simulate every piece of mind-like behaviour. We can (or shall be able to one day) build machines capable of reproducing bits of mind-like behaviour, and indeed of outdoing the performances of human minds: but however good the machine is, and however much better it can do in nearly all respects than a human mind can, it always has this one weakness, this one thing which it cannot do, whereas a mind can. The Gödelian formula is the Achilles' heel of the cybernetical machine. And therefore we cannot hope ever to produce a machine that will be able to do all that a mind can do: we can never not even in principle, have a mechanical model of the mind.

This conclusion will be highly suspect to some people. They will object first that we cannot have it both that a machine can simulate any piece of mind-like behaviour, and that it cannot simulate every piece. To some it is a contradiction: to them it is enough to point out that there is no contradiction between the fact that for any natural number there can be produced a greater number, and the fact that a number cannot be produced greater than every number. We can use the same analogy also against those who, finding a formula their first machine cannot produce as being true, concede that that machine is indeed inadequate, but thereupon seek to construct a second, more adequate, machine, in which the formula can be produced as being true. This they can indeed do: but then the second machine will have a Gödelian formula all of its own, constructed by applying Gödel's procedure to the formal system which represents its (the second machine's) own, enlarged, scheme of operations. And this formula the second machine will not be able to produce as being true, while a mind will be able to see that it is true. And if now a third machine is constructed, able to do what the second machine was unable to do, exactly the same will happen: there will be yet a third formula, the Gödelian formula for the formal system corresponding to the third machine's scheme of operations, which the third machine is unable to produce as being true, while a mind will still be able to see that it is true. And so it will go on. However complicated a machine we construct, it will, if it is a machine, correspond to a formal system, which in turn will be liable to the Gödel procedure for finding a formula unprovable-in-that- system. This formula the machine will be unable to produce as being true, although a mind can see that it is true. And so the machine will still not be an adequate model of the mind. We are trying to produce a model of the mind which is mechanical -- which is essentially "dead" -- but the mind, being in fact "alive", can always go one better than any formal, ossified, dead, system can. Thanks to Gödel's theorem, the mind always has the last word.

A second objection will now be made. The procedure whereby the Gödelian formula is constructed is a standard procedure -- only so could we be sure that a Gödelian formula can be constructed for every formal system. But if it is a standard procedure, then a machine should be able to be programmed to carry it out too. We could construct a machine with the usual operations, and in addition an operation of going through the Gödel procedure, and then producing the conclusion of that procedure as being true; and then repeating the procedure, and so on, as often as required. This would correspond to having a system with an additional rule of inference which allowed one to add, as a theorem, the Gödelian formula of the rest of the formal system, and then the Gödelian formula of this new, strengthened formal system, and so on. It would be tantamount to adding. to the original formal system an infinite sequence of axioms, each the Gödelian formula of the system hitherto obtained. Yet even so, the matter is not settled: for the machine with a Gödelizing operator, as we might call it, is a different machine from the machines without such an operator; and, although the machine with the operator would be able to do those things in which the machines without the operator were outclassed by a mind, yet we might expect a mind, faced with a machine that possessed a Gödelizing operator, to take this into account, and out-Gödel the new machine, Gödelizing operator and all. This has, in fact, proved to be the case. Even if we adjoin to a formal system the infinite set of axioms consisting of the successive Gödelian formulae, the resulting system is still incomplete, and contains a formula which cannot be proved-in-the-system, although a rational being can, standing outside the system, see that it is true. We had expected this, for even if an infinite set of axioms were added, they would have to be specified by some finite rule or specification, and this further rule or specification could then be taken into account by a mind considering the enlarged formal system. In a sense, just because the mind has the last word, it can always pick a hole in any formal system presented to it as a model of its own workings. The mechanical model must be, in some sense, finite and definite: and then the mind can always go one better.

This is the answer to one objection put forward by Turing. He argues that the limitation to the powers of a machine do not amount to anything much. Although each individual machine is incapable of getting the right answer to some questions, after all each individual human being is fallible also: and in any case "our superiority can only be felt on such an occasion in relation to the one machine over which we have scored our petty triumph. There would be no question of triumphing simultaneously over all machines." But this is not the point. We are not discussing whether machines or minds are superior, but whether they are the same. In some respect machines are undoubtedly superior to human minds; and the question on which they are stumped is admittedly, a rather niggling, even trivial, question. But it is enough, enough to show that the machine is not the same as a mind. True, the machine can do many things that a human mind cannot do: but if there is of necessity something that the machine cannot do, though the mind can, then, however trivial the matter is, we cannot equate the two, and cannot hope ever to have a mechanical model that will adequately represent the mind. Nor does it signify that it is only an individual machine we have triumphed over: for the triumph is not over only an individual machine, but over any individual that anybody cares to specify -- in Latin quivis or quilibet, not quidam -- and a mechanical model of a mind must be an individual machine. Although it is true that any particular "triumph" of a mind over a machine could be "trumped" by another machine able to produce the answer the first machine could not produce, so that "there is no question of triumphing simultaneously over all machines", yet this is irrelevant. What is at issue is not the unequal contest between one mind and all machines, but whether there could be any, single, machine that could do all a mind can do. For the mechanist thesis to hold water, it must be possible, in principle, to produce a model, a single model, which can do everything the mind can do. It is like a game. The mechanist has first turn. He produces a -- any, but only a definite one -- mechanical model of the mind. I point to something that it cannot do, but the mind can. The mechanist is free to modify his example, but each time he does so, I am entitled to look for defects in the revised model. If the mechanist can devise a model that I cannot find fault with, his thesis is established: if he cannot, then it is not proven: and since -- as it turns out -- he necessarily cannot, it is refuted. To succeed, he must be able to produce some definite mechanical model of the mind -- anyone he likes, but one he can specify, and will stick to. But since he cannot, in principle cannot, produce any mechanical model that is adequate, even though the point of failure is a minor one, he is bound to fail, and mechanism must be false.

J. R. Lucas
"Minds, Machines, and Gödel"
Philosophy 36 (1961)

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