Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Bridging the Explanatory Gap of the Hard Problem - from the Side of the Mind.

The 'explanatory gap' is science's inability to demonstrate, by logical chains of cause and effect,  how brain activity produces mental experiences.

From Wiki 

'The explanatory gap is the lack of an explanation for consciousness and human experiences such as qualia under physicalism. Bridging this gap is known as "the hard problem".  The explanatory gap has vexed and intrigued philosophers and AI researchers alike for decades and caused considerable debate.

To take an example of a phenomenon in which there is no gap, imagine a modern computer: as marvelous as these devices are, their behavior can be fully explained by their circuitry, and vice versa. By contrast, it is thought by many mind-body dualists (e.g. René Descartes, David Chalmers) that subjective conscious experience constitutes a separate effect that demands another cause, a cause that is either outside the physical world (dualism) or due to an as yet unknown physical phenomenon.

Proponents of dualism claim that the mind is substantially and qualitatively different from the brain and that the existence of something metaphysically extra-physical is required to 'fill the gap'.

The nature of the explanatory gap has been the subject of some debate. For example, some consider it to simply be a limit on our current explanatory ability. They argue that future findings in neuroscience or future work from philosophers could close the gap. However, others have taken a stronger position and argued that the gap is a definite limit on our cognitive abilities as humans—no amount of further information will allow us to close it. There has also been no consensus regarding what metaphysical conclusions the existence of the gap provides. Those wishing to use its existence to support dualism have often taken the position that an epistemic gap—particularly if it is a definite limit on our cognitive abilities—necessarily entails a metaphysical gap.'

Physicalist approaches to the Hard Problem
Attempts by physicalist (aka materialist) philosophers to bridge the gap between the brain and the mind have always started from the brain, with the Hard Problem formulated in terms of 'how can physical phenomena give rise to mental experience'; as if the mind were just a passive consumer of whatever the 'neural correlates' dished up for it!  To quote Wiki    "Providing an answer to this question could lie in understanding the roles that physical processes play in creating consciousness and the extent to which these processes create our subjective qualities of experience."     This is what is known as begging the question or assuming the outcome you have not yet proven.

Buddhist approaches to the Hard Problem
Since the physicalist attempts to bridge the gap from the neurological side don't seem to be getting anywhere, perhaps we should investigate whether we can start to build a section of the bridge out from the opposite end, from the mental side.

To do this we need a clear definition of what the mind is, before we can begin to consider how it might interact with physical systems.

In Buddhism the mind isn't a 'thing' or 'substance'.  It is a formless, non-physical (and hence non-algorithmic) process that interacts with matter but is not itself material.   The correct terms for mind in Buddhism are 'Mental Continuum' or 'Mindstream, which emphasise its impermanent and ever-changing  nature as a process.  The mind is not a 'thing in itself' and it is important to avoid reifying it as some sort of ultimate ground of existence

Clarity of Mind

The  mind is defined as that which is clarity and cognizing:

Clarity refers to the non-physical nature of the mind, in contrast to the physical brain. The mind "is a formless continuum that functions to perceive and understand objects. Because the mind is formless, or non-physical, by nature, it is not obstructed by physical objects." 

The fact that the mind is formless means that it is unconstrained, and hence has immense potential. The mind can comprehend all objects including its own creations.  The description of the root mind as 'formless' doesn't just refer to its non-material nature, but it emphasises that it is unlimited, non-mechanistic and totally free from any structure or topology. The mind cannot be understood in terms of circuit diagrams and flowcharts. It is pure awareness."
'Non-algorithmic' means it is non-deterministic, in that it cannot be understood by chains of logical reasoning, but needs to be experienced intuitively, using subjective (though reproducible) techniques such as meditation.   The fact that the mind is non-deterministic allows for freewill.

Cognizing refers to the 'aboutness' of the mind, how it gives meaning to objects (mind and meaning are derived from the same ancient root word)  and of 'intentionality' and semantics (as distinct from syntax).

"Intentionality is the power of minds to be about, to represent, or to stand for, things, properties and states of affairs...As the Latin etymology of ‘intentionality’ indicates, the relevant idea of directedness or tension (an English word which derives from the Latin verb tendere) arises from pointing towards or attending to some target.... Because intentional states are of or about things other than themselves, for a state to have intentionality is for it to have semantic properties." - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy   

In Buddhism the mind is not regarded as a mere passive or derivative epiphenomenon of active physical systems. The mind is itself active and is said to go to, or apprehend, its objects over and above merely pointing towards them. 

The properties of the Mind can be summarized as:
  • Process
  • Devoid of structure
  • Clear
  • 'About' its object (intentionality)
  • Source of semantics and meaning
  • Experiencing qualia (happiness, suffering, peace, stress, beauty, ugliness etc)
  • Non-physical
  • Non-algorithmic
  • Non-deterministic, possessing freewill
  • Required for the survival and evolution of complex animals.

The fundamental nature of the mind
Buddhist philosophers claim the mind is a fundamental aspect of reality, which is 'axiomatic', in the sense of not being reducible to a physical basis, such as to the physico-chemical activities in the brain.

This axiomatic view identifies 'mind' as a primary fact of reality, like space-time,  in which we live, and move, and have our being. The axiomatic view cannot be reduced to other facts. It is implicit in all facts and in all knowledge.

Mind is directly perceived or experienced, and there is no proof or explanation possible, or indeed necessary.   Mind is the basis on which all other proofs and explanations rest, and is one of the three foundations of functioning phenomena, the other two being causality and structure. 

From this view, the mind is so intertwined with 'objective' existence that objects and their apprehending mind are said to co-arise.  

In other words, the observer is part of the system, as has been demonstrated by quantum physics.

Approaching the gap from the side of the mind. 
In the past, apart from a few puzzling quantum phenomena,  the only way of exploring the explanatory gap from the side of the mind has been by introspective meditation.  

But recently a new methodology has appeared, whereby the short-term and long-term effects of controlled mental states such as meditation can be studied. These have shown the curious 'mind over matter' effects of downward causation, which have demonstrated that thoughts are not 'epiphenomena' of neural activities, but have causal abilities from their own side.

This approach is still in its early stages, but obviously has great potential to narrow the gap between neural events and mental experiences.


I received a  very interesting comment from  Sunyavadin  which, rather than leave in the comments section, is worth quoting in the main text of the article, with my reply following.

Generally agree with the direction you're taking, but it is interesting that the Buddhist view of nature-of-mind was not a consequence of trying to 'understand the mind'.

The problem which the Buddha set out to solve was 'cause of suffering' or 'the knot of existence'. In so doing, he arrived at a point where 'nature of mind' became clear to him (and so to subsequent generations of Buddhists). But I don't think that the Buddhist understanding of mind is at all available on the level of discursive reasoning at all.

I know there is a lot of activity around neural Buddhism and so on, but at the end of the day, I can't help but think that as long as the approach is to 'understand mind' it must fail, because of the deeply recursive nature of that problem. The mind is 'that which understands', not 'that which is understood'. In fact, knowing that the mind is not something that can be known, would radically alter the direction of research. By its nature, it is knowing. What is knowing? Well, we can't go there, can we? We can't explain explanation, or find reasons for reason, and so on.

When we really deeply realize that, we will abandon the pursuit of 'scientific understanding of mind'. This will be the big breakthrough!! Then science can concentrate on doing the millions of things that science can be doing, instead of covertly trying to replace spirituality by 'explaining the mind'.

29 February 2012 23:06

I agree that Buddhist psychology is not about understanding the workings of the mind.   To quote  Rudy Harderwijk.  'the distinctions in Buddhist psychology are made from the point of view of how to obtain liberation and buddhahood; and certainly not to figure out how 'the brain works'.

It may well be that no discursive reasoning can unravel the workings of the mind, for if the mind is non-algorithmic, then it is simply not amenable to explanation by logical chains of cause and effect.

I also share your doubts whether neural Buddhism will ever completely close the gap, or indeed if the gap is in principle closable.  Over 140 years ago John Tyndall wrote:

"the passage from the physics of the brain to the corresponding facts of consciousness is unthinkable. Granted that a definite thought, and a definite molecular action in the brain occur simultaneously; we do not possess the intellectual organ, nor apparently any rudiment of the organ, which would enable us to pass, by a process of reasoning, from the one to the other. They appear together, but we do not know why. Were our minds and senses so expanded, strengthened, and illuminated, as to enable us to see and feel the very molecules of the brain; were we capable of following all their motions, all their groupings, all their electric discharges, if such there be; and were we intimately acquainted with the corresponding states of thought and feeling, we should be as far as ever from the solution of the problem, "How are these physical processes connected with the facts of consciousness?" The chasm between the two classes of phenomena would still remain intellectually impassable. Let the consciousness of love, for example, be associated with a right-handed spiral motion of the molecules of the brain, and the consciousness of hate with a left-handed spiral motion. We should then know, when we love, that the motion is in one direction, and, when we hate, that the motion is in the other; but the "Why?" would remain as unanswerable as before."  

And nothing has changed much in the intervening 140 years.   We are no nearer closing the explanatory gap from the physical end of the problem. 

There is a school of philosophy called Mysterianism which claims that understanding the mind is beyond human mental capabilities.    However it may well be, as you suggest, that it is the deeply recursive nature of the problem itself, rather than the inability of our intellect to grasp it, that prevents our understanding the mind.

Nevertheless, I feel that before science finally abandons trying to explain the mind in physical terms, it should at least attempt to define why the mind can never be thus understood or explained.   

- Sean Robsville



Saturday, 25 February 2012

Buddhism, Sentience, Dukkha, Evolution and the Mind

Any philosophy that claims to be worthy of rational consideration needs to be compatible with evolution.    

Both Christianity and Islam have major problems with evolution, and are consequently in headlong retreat into anti-science and irrationalism

Fortunately, Buddhism has no problem with this aspect of biological science, and indeed rejects the idea of inherently existing species as a form of essentialism.    

To Buddhists, species are just separate populations of interbreeding plants and animals.  Their defining characteristics have evolved over time and are therefor impermanent. The species do not have any essential nature, nor are they copies of some static Platonic ideal form or divine ‘blueprint in the sky’, as drawn up by God during the week of creation.

But although Buddhism is completely compatible with a scientific versus theological view of the origin of the species, it does need to explain 'The Hard Problem' of how non-physical minds have become associated with physical bodies over the course of evolution.  Otherwise Buddhism is in danger of losing its spiritual aspects and becoming just another bleak materialistic philosophy. 


Automata versus Sentient Beings
One way of approaching the Hard Problem of Consciousness is by asking why humans (and presumably other animals) are sentient, with inner experiences such as pleasure and pain?    Why could they not be ‘philosophical zombies’   - mere automata lacking conscious experience, qualia, or sentience

In contrast  to a ‘philosophical zombie’, Buddhism defines a ‘sentient being’ as one that possesses a mind that can experience qualitative feelings, in particular suffering, unsatisfactoriness  or dukkha

The body of the sentient being may indeed be a physical automaton, but the mind is non-physical.    A sentient being  experiences its inputs (perceptions) and outputs (actions), in contrast to an automaton where no subjective states occur, and all meanings have to be assigned to inputs and outputs from 'outside the system'.

The Origin of Suffering according to Christians

Symbiotic Mind – an Evolutionary Perspective
It seems likely that animals above a certain level of development require more than automatic reflexes in order to survive. Advanced organisms need motivation and intention in order to function in complex environments. Motivation and intention are chiefly driven by dukkha - the need to avoid suffering or unsatisfactoriness, and the restless but futile search for lasting happiness.  Dukkha and suffering, unpleasant though they may be for the individual, have survival and evolutionary advantages for the species. 

To quote Richard Dawkins:

"The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored."

Mental states such as suffering, unsatisfactoriness and pleasure are qualia. These subjective experiences, which carry strong immediate meanings, do not exist in automata - mechanistic systems such as relay networks or computers.

It is for this reason that complex animals have evolved neural structures which attract and capture minds. Fundamentally, it is the suffering and grasping of their minds - the need to avoid pain and seek pleasure - that provides the driving force for survival and reproduction of complex animals. The physical body enters into a symbiotic relationship with a non-physical mind.

In Buddhist philosophy, the mind of a sentient being is not a product of biological processes, but something primordial which has existed since beginningless time, and which will be drawn into another body once the present one has died.

For a discussion of why the mind is a non-physical, fundamental aspect of the universe which is not derived from anything else, see Confronting Materialism and the Delusion of the Mechanical Mind.

Survival advantages of sentience
In evolutionary terms, any adaptation or feature must have some selective benefit for the organism that possesses it. Obviously, a physical body equipped with sentience will have an improved chance of surviving to propagate its genes over any mindless competitor which is not deterred by pain or motivated by pleasure.

But what does the mind gain from this symbiotic association?   Usually little or nothing. 

When the life of the biological partner comes to an end, it has to endure suffering and then leave its home, being able to take nothing with it. It must then enter the unstable state of the bardo and soon after find a new body. In Buddhist terminology these minds are wanderers or migrators in samsara (the realm of perpetual death and rebirth). The mind is non-evolved and non-evolving (at least not by the normal processes of natural selection).

Parasitic body, parasitized mind?
Perhaps the relationship between mind and body is more one of parasitism than symbiosis. The biological body gets a better chance to propagate itself.  But the mind has to endure dukkha -  the ever-changing experiences of craving, suffering and attachment that the body imposes upon it in order to force it to do what is necessary for survival, competition and reproduction.

The only way that the mind can escape being endlessly captured and used by biological systems is to permanently escape from the recurrent process of death, attraction to a body, and rebirth.  It is this cycle of 'samsara' that Buddhism claims to be able to break.

Participatory Anthropic Principle
Finally, according to one version of quantum theory, the eventual association of physical bodies with non-physical minds was inevitable in order to collapse the superposition of the entire universe.

- Sean Robsville

Evolution, Emptiness and Delusions of the Darwinian Mind
Rational Buddhism

Creationism: Crisis for Christianity = Opportunity for Buddhism
Is Richard Dawkins a Buddhist?
All Watched over by Machines of Loving Grace 



Sunday, 5 February 2012

The Church-Turing-Deutsch Principle and Buddhist Philosophy.

Alan Turing

The Church Turing Deutsch (CTD) principle states that a universal computing device can simulate every physical process.    

The principle appears to work fine when applied to purely physical systems, but it runs into some interesting problems when we try to extend it to simulating the mind.     If we assume that the CTD principle is universally applicable, then evidence suggests that aspects of the mind may lie outside the scope of physics.  

The Church Turing Deutsch principle is a wider and more general restatement of the 'Unreasonable Effectiveness' of mathematics in science and engineering.

Alonzo Church

The Church-Turing-Deutsch Thesis
To quote Michael Nielson 

'The Church-Turing-Deutsch (CTD)  Principle is a descendant of a famous idea known as the Church-Turing Thesis, taught to all computer scientists early in their degrees. I’ll talk later about the relationship between the Thesis and the Principle.

Just stating the CTD Principle makes it look deceptively obvious: Every physical process can be simulated by a universal computing device.
Most educated adults in the West today believe this Principle, whether they realize it or not.

We do not blink an eye to be told that a computer is being used to simulate a new aircraft, the explosion of a bomb, or even the creation of the Universe. The fact is, most people take it for granted that your standard desktop computer, given enough time and memory, can simulate pretty much any physical process.

Yet our ease with the CTD Principle is an ease brought by familiarity. One hundred years ago the statement would have been far more surprising, and, I suggest, even shocking to many people.

Viewed from the right angle, the CTD Principle still is shocking. All we have to do is look at it anew. How odd that there is a single physical system – albeit, an idealized system, with unbounded memory – which can be used to simulate any other system in the Universe... 

David Deutsch

Does the Church-Turing-Deutsch Principle apply to mind?
However, when we attempt to apply the CTD principle to the mind and mental processes (as some materialist philosophers have tried in the past) , we quickly come across a variety of limitations that lead us to question whether the mind is a physical entity at all.  

Of course Turing never intended his thesis to be an explanation of the mind,  and there is speculation that his friend Morcom’s death influenced Turing’s work on artificial intelligence, as he analysed the relationship between the material and the spiritual. 

Christopher Morcom

Limitations of Computer simulations
In order to compare the Church-Turing thesis with the Buddhist philosophical teachings of the three modes of existential dependence (Causal Relationships, Structural Relationships and Mental Designation), we first need to be more explicit about what we mean by a computer simulation.

A computer simulation consists of an algorithm or set of algorithms working on datastructures.  Translating to  Buddhist terminology, the algorithms correspond to causal relationships, and the datastructures correspond to physical structures ('mereology').

The third aspect of reality - mental designation or 'intentionality' - lies outside the scope of the Church-Turing-Deutsch principle, so the limitations of the CTD may tell us something about the mind.

Nonalgorithmic Phenomena
Computer simulations are, by their very nature, incapable of dealing with nonalgorithmic phenomena.

The great difficulty in talking about nonalgorithmic phenomena is that although we can say in general terms what they do, it is impossible by their very nature to describe how they do it. (If we could describe in a stepwise manner what was going on, then a phenomenon would be algorithmic!).

A typical example of a nonalgorithmic activity is assigning meaning to any object. For example, when is a chariot a heap of firewood? Or when is a car a pile of parts? (as discussed under sunyata). Many processes involving semantics, as distinct from syntax, appear to be non-algorithmic.

Other apparently nonalgorithmic phenomena are:

Qualia (singular 'quale') are internal, subjective, qualitative states such as the redness of red, aesthetic experiences of beauty and revulsion, pain, happiness, boredom, depression, elation, motivation, intention, the experience of understanding something for the first time, etc. Such states are subjective and private and are distinct from (though causally related to) physical and neural activities. Whether the causal relationship is one-way or two-way is open to debate.     The subject of qualia is closely linked to aesthetics.

- Freewill
Freewill is the ability to make conscious choices between options, which thus implies taking responsibility for one's actions. The assumption that sane citizens possess freewill is the basis for the rule of law in all civilised countries.

The Hard Problem
-The Hard Problem
It is hard to see how the mere enaction of a computation should give rise to an inner subjective life. 

'The 'Hard Problem' of consciousness is the problem of explaining how and why we have qualitative phenomenal experiences. David Chalmers contrasts this with the "easy problems" of explaining the ability to discriminate, integrate information, report mental states, focus attention, etc. Easy problems are easy because all that is required for their solution is to specify a mechanism that can perform the function. That is, their proposed solutions, regardless of how complex or poorly understood they may be, can be entirely consistent with the modern materialistic conception of natural phenomena. Chalmers claims that the problem of experience is distinct from this set, and he argues that the problem of experience will "persist even when the performance of all the relevant functions is explained".

The existence of a "hard problem" is controversial and has been disputed by some philosophers. Providing an answer to this question could lie in understanding the roles that physical processes play in creating consciousness and the extent to which these processes create our subjective qualities of experience.

Several questions about consciousness must be resolved in order to acquire a full understanding of it. These questions include, but are not limited to, whether being conscious could be wholly described in physical terms, such as the aggregation of neural processes in the brain. It follows that if consciousness cannot be explained exclusively by physical events in the brain, it must transcend the capabilities of physical systems and require an explanation of nonphysical means. For philosophers who assert that consciousness is nonphysical in nature, there remains a question about what outside of physical theory is required to explain consciousness.  - Wiki 


- Neuroplasticity and downward causation.
Neuroplasticity is essentially the reverse of the Hard Problem. In fact, it turns upside down the assumptions inherent in the previous statement: ‘this question could lie in understanding the roles that physical processes play in creating consciousness and the extent to which these processes create our subjective qualities of experience.‘  
Neuroplasticity seems to show that subjective qualitative awareness such as experienced during Buddhist meditation can actually produce ‘mind-over-matter’ effects on the structure of the brain.   Since the qualia of inner peace, universal compassion, and tranquillity have no known algorithms, it seems impossible to produce a computer model of this process, which has physical results, but no physical causes.

This form of causation, distinctive from physics, where mental/conscious agency exerts "downward" causal influence on brain plasticity and the various levels of brain functioning, has been studied by teams of neuroscientists and Buddhist meditators:

How thinking can change the brain
'The Dalai Lama, who had watched a brain operation during a visit to an American medical school over a decade earlier, asked the surgeons a startling question: Can the mind shape brain matter?

Over the years, he said, neuroscientists had explained to him that mental experiences reflect chemical and electrical changes in the brain. When electrical impulses zip through our visual cortex, for instance, we see; when neurochemicals course through the limbic system we feel.

But something had always bothered him about this explanation, the Dalai Lama said. Could it work the other way around? That is, in addition to the brain giving rise to thoughts and hopes and beliefs and emotions that add up to this thing we call the mind, maybe the mind also acts back on the brain to cause physical changes in the very matter that created it. If so, then pure thought would change the brain's activity, its circuits or even its structure.

One brain surgeon hardly paused. Physical states give rise to mental states, he asserted; 'downward' causation from the mental to the physical is not possible. The Dalai Lama let the matter drop. This wasn't the first time a man of science had dismissed the possibility that the mind can change the brain. But 'I thought then and still think that there is yet no scientific basis for such a categorical claim,' he later explained. 'I am interested in the extent to which the mind itself, and specific subtle thoughts, may have an influence upon the brain.'

The Dalai Lama had put his finger on an emerging revolution in brain research. In the last decade of the 20th century, neuroscientists overthrew the dogma that the adult brain can't change. To the contrary, its structure and activity can morph in response to experience, an ability called neuroplasticity. The discovery has led to promising new treatments for children with dyslexia and for stroke patients, among others.

But the brain changes that were discovered in the first rounds of the neuroplasticity revolution reflected input from the outside world. For instance, certain synthesized speech can alter the auditory cortex of dyslexic kids in a way that lets their brains hear previously garbled syllables; intensely practiced movements can alter the motor cortex of stroke patients and allow them to move once paralyzed arms or legs.

The kind of change the Dalai Lama asked about was different. It would come from inside. Something as intangible and insubstantial as a thought would rewire the brain. To the mandarins of neuroscience, the very idea seemed as likely as the wings of a butterfly leaving a dent on an armored tank…’ 

Buddhists build a better brain
'Participating in an eight-week mindfulness meditation program appears to make measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress. In a study that will appear in the Jan. 30 issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, a team led by Harvard-affiliated researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) reported the results of their study, the first to document meditation-produced changes over time in the brain’s gray matter.

Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day,” says study senior author Sara Lazar of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program and a Harvard Medical School instructor in psychology. “This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.”

Previous studies from Lazar’s group and others found structural differences between the brains of experienced meditation practitioners and individuals with no history of meditation, observing thickening of the cerebral cortex in areas associated with attention and emotional integration. But those investigations could not document that those differences were actually produced by meditation.

For the current study, magnetic resonance (MR) images were taken of the brain structure of 16 study participants two weeks before and after they took part in the eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program at the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness. In addition to weekly meetings that included practice of mindfulness meditation — which focuses on nonjudgmental awareness of sensations, feelings, and state of mind — participants received audio recordings for guided meditation practice and were asked to keep track of how much time they practiced each day. A set of MR brain images was also taken of a control group of nonmeditators over a similar time interval.

Meditation group participants reported spending an average of 27 minutes each day practicing mindfulness exercises, and their responses to a mindfulness questionnaire indicated significant improvements compared with pre-participation responses. The analysis of MR images, which focused on areas where meditation-associated differences were seen in earlier studies, found increased gray-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection.

Participant-reported reductions in stress also were correlated with decreased gray-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress. Although no change was seen in a self-awareness-associated structure called the insula, which had been identified in earlier studies, the authors suggest that longer-term meditation practice might be needed to produce changes in that area. None of these changes were seen in the control group, indicating that they had not resulted merely from the passage of time.

“It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life,” says Britta Hölzel, first author of the paper and a research fellow at MGH and Giessen University in Germany. “Other studies in different patient populations have shown that meditation can make significant improvements in a variety of symptoms, and we are now investigating the underlying mechanisms in the brain that facilitate this change.”

Mind and Meaning - Algorithms are not self-interpreting.
Something else, other than the ability to deal with non-algorithmic phenomena, is missing from attempts to apply the Church-Turing-Deutsch model to the mind.  All meaning is stripped out of an algorithm before it can be processed by a machine, an operation known as compilation.  For example, the following two statements reduce to exactly the same algorithm within the memory of a computer

(i) IF RoomLength * RoomWidth > CarpetArea THEN NeedMoreCarpet = TRUE

(ii) IF Audience * TicketPrice > HireOfVenue THEN AvoidedBankruptcy = TRUE

both, when compiled, will appear to the machine as an anonymous executable form such as
IF a*b > c THEN d=1

The algorithmic models for carpet laying and theatrical success are said to be 'isomorphic' - they both have the same form, though they are 'about' very different phenomena.   This 'aboutness' is called 'intentionality' by philosophers, and is something that minds can process and machines can't.

The computer will perform the same internal operations whether its consequences are a visit to the carpet store, or an embarrassing surplus in Max Bialystock’s bank account.

Audience * TicketPrice > HireOfVenue


John Searle's critique of Computationalism
This critique of the possibility of machine intelligence has been further developed by John Searle in the famous Chinese Room Argument, which claims to demonstrate that a computer cannot understand what it is doing or why.

So procedure and structure, no matter how programmed, or as implemented on any sort of physical machine, are inadequate to describe the capabilities of human mental processes. (See computationalism).

This limitation will not be solved by hardware improvements. No matter how many terabytes, gigaflops, neural nets or iterations of Moore's law we throw at the problem of producing artificial intelligence, the difficulties will remain insurmountable as long as the hardware is only capable of dealing with truth values which can be treated as binary or numeric, and as long as compilers strip out all meaning from the source code in order to produce machine code.

But what other computer architecture is there?.   Every computer is equivalent to a Turing machine, which is itself a state-transition table coupled to a tape of symbols, neither of which are capable of holding intrinsic meaning.

For a discussion of why the mind is a non-physical, fundamental aspect of the universe which is not derived from anything else, see Confronting Materialism and the Delusion of the Mechanical Mind.

Towards a definition of non-physical mind.
So we are beginning to see a definition of Mind emerging  from the limitations of the Church Turing Thesis.  The Mind is that which gives meaning and is ultimately formless and non-algorithmic.

Minds can perform algorithmic operations such as mental arithmetic (though remarkably poorly compared with machines), and are capable of perceiving structure, yet when both algorithms and structures are factored out of mental processes, there remains a non-algorithmic residuum, which is a clear formless awareness.   

This foundational ‘formless’ mind is without form itself, either as datastructures,  or as algorithmic operations expressed as structures such as state transition tables and flowcharts.

Nevertheless, the mind can grasp, comprehend and give meaning to such external structures, and also to structures of its own imaginative creation.

The mental faculty that creates algorithms in the mind of the scientist, analyst or programmer ('The Mother of all Algorithms') is probably itself partly ‘intuitive’ and  nonalgorithmic.


Was Alan Turing a Buddhist?
Despite his Anglican background, it's unlikely that Turing was a Christian, or would have been accepted by any church. He was persecuted mercilessly by Christians because he was gay, (there were no Muslims around in Britain at that time, or at least not enough to cause a problem)

The fact that he ranked along Churchill and Eisenhower as one of the people who had done most to defeat Hitler counted for nothing among the religious establishment, who wanted him either dead or castrated.     In 1954 they got what they wanted.

However, Alan Turing did seem to have sympathies with Buddhism.    In his biography of Turing,   Andrew Hodges refers to a letter he wrote to the mother of his deceased boyfriend:

'He fell in unrequited love with Christopher Morcom, a very talented youth in the school sixth form, and his longing for friendship brought him to communicate. A brief flowering of scientific collaboration perished when Morcom suddenly died in February 1930. Turing's correspondence with the dead boy's mother gives insight into the development of his ideas in the aftermath. He was concerned to believe the dead boy could still exist in spirit, and to reconcile such a belief with science. To this end he wrote for Mrs Morcom an essay, probably in 1932. It is the private writing of a twenty-year-old, and must be read as testament to background and not as a thesis upheld in public; nevertheless it is a key to Turing's future development.

'It used to be supposed in Science that if everything was known about the Universe at any particular moment then we can predict what it will be through all the future... More modern science however has come to the conclusion that when we are dealing with atoms and electrons we are quite unable to know the exact state of them; our instruments being made of atoms and electrons themselves. The conception then of being able to know the exact state of the universe then must really break down on the small scale. This means that the theory which held that as eclipses etc. are predestined so were all our actions breaks down too. We have a will which is able to determine the action of the atoms probably in a small portion of the brain, or possibly all over it. The rest of the body acts so as to amplify this...

In stating the classic paradox of physical determinism and freewill, Turing is influenced by Eddington's assertion that quantum mechanical physics ('more modern science') yields room for human will. Eddington asked how could 'this collection of ordinary atoms be a thinking machine?' and Turing tries to find some answer. His essay goes on to espouse belief in a spirit unconstrained by the body: 'when the body dies the 'mechanism' of the body, holding the spirit is gone and the spirit finds a new body sooner or later perhaps immediately.' 

- Sean Robsville