So I just went on a bit of a tangent with one of the point you brought up
I’ll have to look into Wolfram more thoroughly when I have time. He seems interesting, thanks for turning me on to him! From the small amount I’ve read on Wolfram (curtesy of wiki), I’ll put forward two possible weaknesses to consider, in light of his materialist theory of the mind, both stemming from a potentially mistaken perspective.
First: professional deformation, the idea that people who are accomplished specialists in a specific field, skew their world view so that it fits their range of personal expertise. For example, Douglas MacArthur, the revered U.S. General of World War II, argued that the best way to solve international problems was to simply go to war with problematic countries (e.g. China and USSR). Hence the saying, “To a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail.” In the same way, computer scientists tend to reduce all natural processes to that of the functioning of a computer. The tools a person works with, becomes the same tools they use to understand the world, whether or not they are appropriate.
Second: taking a metaphor literally. It’s interesting to note that the idea that the human mind is a byproduct of the mechanical functioning of the brain has been around since at least the 1700’s. But, in those days, the human mind was likened to a mechanical watch. The French physician L. Mettri in L’Homme Machine (1748) described the brain as, “a machine that winds its own springs - the living image of perpetual motion … man is an assemblage of springs that are activated reciprocally by one another.”
Today it is common to compare the human brain to a computer, its neurons and dendrites to that of a motherboard’s microchips and circuitry. Taken as a metaphor, comparing the human brain to a computer works well to a point, but falls short in some areas. For example. human memory can be compared to the memory on a home desk top computer, but if you hold that memory on your desk top is literally the same as the mind’s memory, you run in to problems. The major one being, that memory on your desk top is finite, while the limits of human memory have yet to be determined. People who suffer from Hyperthymia partly lose the ability to forget and remember the countless varied details that make up every moment of their day. People who possess savant syndrome often have an encyclopedic memory. And of course, in Buddhism, there is Ananda, who could recollect thousands of the Buddha’s discourses. In all these cases, no matter how much information is added to their memory, there always appears to be room for more, with no loss of previous information.
Where and how this information is stored is not well understood and does not seem to directly comparable to the finite capacity of computer hardware. So, I think it is fine to use the metaphor of a computer for the mind, but when you take the metaphor literally, you start to run into problems. I would not take either of the above arguments as refuting Wolfram’s materialist views, but rather as interesting points to keep in mind when looking at his perspective.
Here is a cool slide show I found on various metaphors for the mind used in different periods:
One thing I do wonder about is, when the day comes that computing power is able to simulate an entire human brain, with all its neurons and synapses, when they flip the switch, will consciousness pop out? And, if it isn’t … why not?
We should find out within the next 50 years or so .