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Humanist Archives: Jan. 24, 2022, 7:54 a.m. Humanist 35.484 - oracles and intelligence

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 484.
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    [1]    From: Henry Schaffer <>
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 35.483: oracles and intelligence (54)

    [2]    From: James Rovira <>
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 35.483: oracles and intelligence (12)

        Date: 2022-01-23 14:45:42+00:00
        From: Henry Schaffer <>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 35.483: oracles and intelligence

>         Date: 2022-01-22 09:07:58+00:00
>         From: Willard McCarty <>
>         Subject: oracles
> This is briefly to comment on Jim Rovira's closing comment to the
> posting, "intelligence, artificial and biological", specifically to the
> Turing Test question:
> > Let us not forget the very human tendency, also existing for millennia,
> for
> > people to build things then kneel before them in veneration, offer
> > sacrifices, treat as oracles.
> In an effort to distance oneself from the belief involved, one has to be
> careful here not to sweep away what all such people were (and are, in
> fact are) trying to do. As Walter Burkert pointed out, one doesn't have to
> share the belief to understand how oracular practices work. Further,
> should we not be attempting to build bridges to them rather than
> distance ourselves from them? Seek common ground, not signing up to
> their beliefs but imagining what it is to be as they are?

  I'll submit that there are two meanings of what is being built and
venerated, and that while they are often merged, this is a real distinction. 
The "things" which are built/venerated can be considered either as symbols 
of which should be venerated or as things which should be venerated. When 
we attempt to seek understanding with the believers we need to keep in mind
which aspect is being considered. Various religions had gone from one end
of this spectrum to the other - perhaps in attempts to cope with human
belief tendencies.

> Turing was perhaps the first to make room for an oracular function of
> smart machines (in his 1938 dissertation); later, in an interview by a
> Times (London) reporter at a presentation of the Manchester Mark I in
> 1949, he used prophetic language to advise that the readership should
> keep its eyes open for what was coming: “This is only a foretaste of
> what is to come, and only the shadow of what is going to be.” Yes, he
> was a mischievous, playful fellow, but do we not learn by entertaining
> all manner of ideas playfully? Is there not a parallel between a diviner's
> and the combinatorial machine's manipulations? See Italo Calvino's
> "Cybernetics and Ghosts".
> Comments?
> Yours,
> WM
> --
> Willard McCarty,
> Professor emeritus, King's College London;
> Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews;  Humanist

        Date: 2022-01-24 00:29:38+00:00
        From: James Rovira <>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 35.483: oracles and intelligence

Build bridges to what, though? People applying for a research grant or
trying to sell a product? There's really no reason to believe consciousness
is possible outside of organic life. But a rigorous, serious discussion
about that possibility based on available science and conscious of the
history of the discussion?

Sure, I'm always open to that. There's just too much sloppiness in the
discussion, though. Too many unexamined assumptions. If you could copy the
brain's electrical patterns exactly, would that be consciousness? Why would

Jim R

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