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User Journal

Journal Journal: Secret Mark

The following extract
needs some background. The current consensus of
the New Testament research community is that the pre-Easter Church had its
roots in the syncretic Graeco-Jewish communities of inter-testamental
Galilee. John Dominic Crossan, in particular, places Jesus squarely in
the Greek cynic tradition. The point that goes unsaid in this discussion
is that Classical and Hellenistic Greeks believed that sexual intercourse
between a teacher and a younger student was one method for passing on
gnosis (knowledge). Consequently, it would not be totally surprising to
historians if they encountered evidence for homosexual practices in the
pre-Easter church. That evidence exists.

In 1974, Morton Smith published an old manuscript he had photographed
in 1958 at the ancient monastery of Mar Saba in the Judean wilderness,
preserving a letter from Clement of Alexandria (150-215 CE). That letter
contains what appears to be an original sequence from the story of the
rich young man in Mark that describes Jesus indulging in homosexual
practices as part of a nude baptismal ritual. Clement regarded the
material as belonging to an authentic version of Mark's gospel that had
been enlarged by Mark for use by initiates. Crossan's position is that it
was more likely part of the first edition of Mark, possibly quickly
excised by Mark but preserved for some reason after misuse by members of
the community.

My point here is not that this is a correct reading of the evidence (I
have my doubts), but rather that the introduction of this material into a
discussion on the pre-Easter Church would be likely to generate massive
controversy. If that happens when scholars find their faith challenged,
consider how outsiders are likely to react. And if that outsider was in a
position to press charges, the poster could find himself or herself
extradited to stand trial for indecent speech in a town 3000 miles away
from his or her campus. The following is John Allegro's translation of
this passage:

And Jesus, being angered, went off with her into the garden
where the tomb was. And straightaway, a great cry was heard from the tomb.
And going near, Jesus rolled away the stone from the door of the tomb. And
straightaway, going in where the youth was, he stretched forth his hand.
But the youth, looking upon him, loved him, and began to beseech him that
he might continue with him. And going out of the tomb, they came into the
youth's house, for he was rich. And after six days, Jesus told him what to
do. In the evening, the youth came to him, wearing a linen robe over his
naked body. And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the
mystery of the Kingdom of God....

Smith, Morton, the Secret Gospel, Harper and Row, 1973, as
quoted in Allegro, John, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Christian
Prometheus Books, 1984, p. 242.

User Journal

Journal Journal: The Future of Robotics

If it won't be Vinge's Singularity, where do I think we'll
be in 50, 100, 150, 200, etc., years? I suspect I can probably
extrapolate based on the historical pattern of technological progress.
It won't be magic, but given enough engineering and hard
work, it may look like magic.

Let me take an area that I know something about--biomimetic
robotics. We're currently trying to map out the locations of higher
mental phenomena and use that to put together an architecture
for a robot brain. One of my PhD students (and a lot of other
people) are trying to understand the processing performed by individual
modules in the neocortex. Yet another of my PhD students is looking
at the connectivity of the auditory cortex to see how these processing
modules might be wired together to correlate sound sources to
elements of the acoustic scene. I'm looking at how various modules
in the auditory brainstem do their processing to feed those cortical
processes. At the current rate, we'll have this worked out for
the entire brain in about 50-75 years, at which point, if the
physicalist hypothesis is correct, we should be able to build
an intelligent robot (or AI). We're trying now.

As an aside, what is the physicalist hypothesis? It's basically
monism--the belief that there is no separable soul. When you're
dead, you're dead (unless God deigns to resurrect you in the body).
That was mainstream Christian belief until the fourth or fifth
century and continues to be mainstream Jewish belief. I'm a monist.

Whether that AI can think like a human may possibly depend
on whether we can do time and spatial scale transformations like
I have a suspicion that real brains do. I'm speculating, but there's
evidence that the brain can change the timing of event sequences
by a factor of 10 or more when they're being simulated or replayed.
There may be a similar capacity for spatial scales. That's probably
doable at that point. So conscious AIs capable of non-linear thinking
in 50-75 years.

Also if the physicalist hypothesis is correct, we should eventually
be able to transfer minds to AIs. This will require a detailed
mapping of every synapse and every neuron. That's something like
10^11 neurons and 10^4 synapses per neuron = 10^15 total synapses
in a liter-plus of brain = 10^3 cubic centimeters. That basically
would involve mapping the brain with a resolution of 10^-6 meter.
That's just engineering. Allow 20 years for the technology to
be developed--that suggests mind to AI transference in 2100.

The reverse engineering will be more complicated, as it will
require local control over cell growth. On the other hand, nanosurgery
would be useful in the near future, so we're probably talking
about 2100 for robot-to-AI transference as well.

Perhaps it will be Vinge's Singularity after all.

User Journal

Journal Journal: A Personal God

Another feature of most Christian faith is a belief in a personal
God--a God you can pray to and interact with as a person. The
problem is this is inconsistent with a belief in divine omnipotence/omniscience.
The Greek philosophers were aware of a version of this problem--a
perfect god cannot be affected by events in time. Here's the argument:
Einstein's theory of special relativity implies that there is
no preferred definition of 'now'-- any two events separated by
a space-like interval will be simultaneous for some accelerated
observer. Hence an omniscient God will be able to perceive both
locations simultaneously. This argument can be done a second time
for all points in a time-like relationship to the first, implying
that our space-time can be perceived simultaneously as a whole
by an omniscient God. Hence the Christian God is outside space-time,
making the existence of a personal relationship a dubious proposition.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Monism

Over the years, I have been an ordained Presbyterian elder
and the equivalent in three other protestant denominations. I
am currently a Lay Administrant in the Church of England. That
doesn't mean I bother myself much with doctrine or theology, and
the clergy have learned to avoid asking me theological questions
that relate to neuroscience. They can find my answers uncomfortable...

I believe you can be religious and a scientist, and you don't
need to keep the two domains separate, but you will find
that you make some religious people uncomfortable, especially
the ones with strong (and hence experimentally testable) beliefs.

My personal research centers around understanding what might
be described as 'belief' in bats. Bats are wonderful research
subjects for questions in a number of areas: audition, echolocation,
flight control, and internal models of the world. Internal
models of the world? you ask. The evidence for this was
first reported by Moehres and Oettingen-Spielberg in 1949.

* Erstorientierung-when bats first encounter a novel situation.

* Wiederorientierung-when bats fly in a familiar space.

These phenomena were observed in the behavior of a bat that was
accustomed to roosting in a cage in a room. The researchers rotated
the cage and eventually removed it, and noted that the bat continued
to behave as if the cage were in its normal position until forced
to reorient. This suggests that a bat uses and maintains a world
model that is only modified if circumstances force it to.

Rawson and Griffin investigated this further (see Griffin,
Listening in the dark, the Acoustic Orientation of Bats and
Yale, 1958, and Griffin, "Cognitive aspects of echolocation,"
in Nachtigall and Moore, ed., Animal Sonar: Processes and Performance,
Plenum Press, 1988). They asked whether the bats even cried
at all. Experiment involved placing and moving obstacles in a
flight room. Answer: the bat still cried, but seemed to ignore
the resulting returns. The point is that bats seem to use an internal
model of the world to control their behavior, and the model is
only updated when sensory input is markedly inconsistent with
the model--very much like human religious belief. So by understanding
how bats create and update their internal model, I might understand
better how humans do the same.

One of the most reliable experimental results of neuroscience
over the last 150 years is that the (separable) soul almost certainly
does not exist. The research project I'm involved in at the University
of Sunderland is actually relevant to this. We are working on
localizing higher mental phenomena to specific areas of
the brain and using that information to develop an architecture
for a biomimetic robot. The following site discusses the evidence
and the religious issues:

Hence neuroscience suggests strongly that the brain generates
mental phenomena, rather than those phenomena being generated
by a separable soul controlling the brain. John Eccles did try
to develop a theory of mind based on a soul controlling the brain
by modulating vesicle release probabilities at presynaptic terminals,
but his theory ran into difficulties with experimental data (and
Occam's razor). An implication of the experimental data is that
at death, the mind (='soul') is also destroyed, so that a hope
for eternal life cannot be based on the survival of an indestructable
soul, but must instead be based on resurrection by God. This is
probably an uncomfortable conclusion for many, but it doesn't
stop me from going to church.

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