I'm amused by things that almost make sense but don't. Arguably, that's the basis of all humor. Humor works best when there is some truth in it while still being an exaggeration into the realm of nonsense. It's the juxtaposition of truth and nonsense that triggers the brain hiccup called laughter.

I was reminded of this by a comment on this blog from Jengineer. Her argument was a bit different than the one I am about to make, but it sparked the following thought: There are only two conditions in the universe: Programmed or random. In other words, action is either a simple chain of cause and effect, or it is somehow immune to cause and effect.

Intelligence can't be random. That would be the opposite of intelligence. But intelligence also can't be programmed, for if that were allowed, your alarm clock would be called intelligent, and obviously it isn't.

So if there are only two possibilites -- programmed or random -- and intelligence can be neither then intelligence must not exist. It must be an illusion.

The thing that amuses me about that argument is that I'm sure it is wrong, but I don't know why. And that is further evidence that intelligence is an illusion. At least my own.

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Nov 17, 2008
It's really a big problem. You can suggest that universe is deterministic (or programmed, like Newtonian physics). Thus all your actions and decisions are based on your status quo. If were possible you be in the same situation, you would make the same decision (always). In this case there is no free will.
On the other hand, you can suggest that universe is non-deterministic (or random, like Quantic physics). Thus all your actions and decisions are random. In this case there is no free will, too.
The unique possibility to solve this question (and we know that we decide about all thinks!) is to create a new way to see our free will.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 17, 2008
Seems pretty simple to me...
1)If there are only two possibilities (programmed or random) then intelligence does not exist
2)intelligence does apparently exist
3)Therefore those are not the only two possibilities
Nov 17, 2008
Intelligence IS an illusion, if there is no free will.

Intelligence is what is used to program some aspect of the universe, whether an alarm clock or the Grand Scheme of Things.

If we have no free will, we are no more "intelligent" than an amoeba - we just respond in complex ways to stimulous - moist robots. Even our "reasoning" is a program, not a directive.

If your basic premise is right and there is no free will, then it follows that you are not intelligent.

Maybe that's why free will advocates call you "stupid" when you argue it!

Personally, while I agree that MOST of our behavior is not reasoned but responsed, I don't think that if follows that ALL of our behavior is deterministic. Just not as much as we'd like to believe in ourselves.
Nov 17, 2008
The huge flaw in the argument is considering intelligence to be something intangible, like an idea. Intelligence is physical, similar to a rock. You wouldn't describe a rock as either random or programmed. The illusion is that you assume that something that you can't see doesn't exist.
Nov 17, 2008
It's my belief that nothing is "random". "Randomness" is the same reason why the belief in "God" came about - simply because you don't know the processes doesn't mean it's "random" or the cause is unknown.

Look at it this way. Throw a pair of dice on the table. The odds say you won't be able to guess the roll with a high degree of accuracy.

Then, take all that you know and could possibly find out about dice - physics, atmospheric pressure, the effects of temperature on the dice, how the sound waves affect the dice rolls, how high your arm is above the table, what size the fold under the second knuckle on your middle finger is, etc. etc. etc., throw that all into a computer model, and it becomes a calculation, not a prediction. You'll reach the correct answer once all unknowns are removed. It's the same reason free will does not exist. Have someone make a decision, wipe their brain, ask them the same question, and they will make the same choice again and again.

Past history shows us that much of what was considered "random" or left to "divine intervention" has processes and interactions that we still may not understand (gravity anyone?). Give us time, we'll either wipe ourselves off the face of the planet or become gods ourselves.
Nov 17, 2008
I have to disagree that an alarm clock is not intelligent... we designed alarms clocks to be intelligent.
Anything that makes a decision (even an absurdly simple one) based on multiple input is intelligent. The alarm clock takes time and settings as input, and decides when to ring based on that. It's pretty lame as far as intelligence goes (doesn't even sense itself), but it's there.

People are a bazillion times more intelligent than the alarm clock, mind you; we take truckloads of input (sensory stuff) and have multiple processes that even affect other processes (memory, which includes learning and experiences), and have unique designs (genetics, personal traits and instincts). Our level of sophistication makes alarm clocks look pretty darn stupid.
Nov 17, 2008
For the second time in the day i find mysyelf wondering about intelligence. i'll have to google about this...

btw, the premises are wrong, but other people said it first
Nov 17, 2008
"Humor works best when there is some truth in it while still being an exaggeration into the realm of nonsense."

Have you read The Onion's book, "Our Dumb World?" It's hilarious--for the very reason you mentioned. I laughed til I cried on the Ethiopia pages. Examples.

"1941: Ethiopia enjoys a between-century snack."

"While many citizens live on $1 a day, their currency is, unfortunately, hard to chew, lacks protein, and tastes awful. Pregnant mothers suffer the most in Ethiopia, as they must starve for two, and, after giving birth, lactate for thousands. The constant threat of food shortages has also made life incredibly arduous for many of the nation's stress eaters."

[Hey, Lisa! You're a JERK! You shouldn't be laughing at that!]

Nov 17, 2008
The biggest flaw in your argument that I can see is here: "But intelligence also can't be programmed, for if that were allowed, your alarm clock would be called intelligent, and obviously it isn't."

The premise that all intelligence is programmed doesn't imply that everything that's programmed is intelligence, so we could assume that we are programmed and still not have to consider our alarm clocks to be intelligent.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 17, 2008
What's amusing to me is the fact that the universe has been around for billions of years, but some humans who've been on this planet for all of 20 years have already figured everything out. That's gotta be some new definition of God or something.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 17, 2008
The real humor here is that the majority of the comments here declare a superior understanding of reality from our beloved author! Following the formula of..."juxtaposition of truth and nonsense that triggers the brain hiccup called laughter" the comments make me laugh the hardest!!!

Now, not being one who consumes without contribution: Scott, don't you think that your perception of reality is merely the illusion? Therefore intelligence must exist or the story of 10,000 monkeys held captive for 10,000 years (with a word processor, of course) can produce Shakespeare must be true!
Nov 17, 2008
I'm confused. Where do random number generators fit in this dilemma?
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 17, 2008
My alarm clock is offended by this.
Nov 17, 2008
forget who said it (& too lazy to google) but: "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic". isn't calling something "random" pretty close to calling it "magic"? or put another way there are phenomena whose cause(s) are at least partially understood which can be predicted with some accuracy/precision >0 and some that aren't which we can predict with no more precision/accuracy than a theoretical random distribution.

just because nobody's cracked the pattern of any given phenomenon doesn't mean there isn't one present. when we liven in Louisiana in the late 70s we visited an old plantation that had been converted to a museum. the little family plot on the estate contained the graves of people who had been killed by hurricanes which in the 1800s probably seemed completely random but nowadays we start tracking systems as soon as they form off the coast of Africa and know with at least 24 hrs notice which 100 mile stretch to tell to get the hell out of dodge. even things like tornadoes, earthquakes & volcanoes we can to a lot better (statistically speaking) than pulling numbered ping-pong balls out of a hopper...
Nov 17, 2008
If we accept that there are only two possible conditions, then the rest of your argument is logical and clearly correct. However, you have offered no proof of this initial assumption, merely stated it as a fact without evidence of any type. I for one think it foolish and unprovable: while you'd have little trouble proving that both random and programmed responses exist, you'd find it much more difficult to prove that no other type exists at all. That's why your argument is wrong: because it's based on false premises.
Nov 17, 2008
With all the power that community college formal logic classes bestowed upon me, I declare the argument a 'false dilemma'!
I see a lot of these in Dilbert brand humor. They are funny because the formula of the argument works sometimes. If you keep the formula and insert a different premise, it becomes mad-lib funny.
False dilemmas are also especially fun when you want to get people arguing vehemently, or run for political office.
See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_dilemma
Nov 17, 2008
Consider a couple clarifications to your premise:

* Random is contextual. If you get far enough away from any deliberate action, observers of the effects of that action will perceive the effects to be "random". Said another way, everything appears random when I don't understand what caused the action.

* Intelligence is subjective. "I think, therefore I am," implies that I evaluate intelligence relative to my own perception of my intelligence. It also implies that since I am self-aware, I require a similar quality in something before I consider it "intelligent". This one is hard to pin down without sounding like the sperm whale in Hitchhiker's Guide, but I think you get the idea. Each of us defines intelligence as a reflection of ourselves.
Nov 17, 2008
Let me provide another take on your post:
- your premises are wrong
- your conclusion is right

Intelligence can be programmed, but at the same time is an illusion because is not what people imagine it is. I won't get into intelligence definitions here, but since you don't believe in free will and most of the people do you'll understand my point (you have no choice but to understand it).

Nov 17, 2008
Others have pointed out some of the "less fun" flaws in your proposition. However let's look at what it means to be intelligent. We could say that it is being aware enough of cause and effect to be able to predict the future BUT FOR your actions and make decisions accordingly.

A tin can isn't aware of the boulder rolling down the hill that is going to crush it. Cause (boulder) = effect (crushed can).

A human (or other intelligence) could predict that if I don't move I will get crushed, therefore I should move (even if cannot move, I know that I should). I would argue the ability to predict and alter the chain of cause and effect demonstrates free will. You could argue that it's just another type of deterministic cause and effect. I just think it's different enough to be distinguished from regular "determinism."
Nov 17, 2008
Your premise is faulty - that a certain behavior is either random or programmed. You assume that to be programmed, the programming must come from another source. But there's no reason you couldn't create a program that modifies its own code! So, maybe intelligence should be defined as "the ability to self-re-program in response to external stimuli."

This raises the question, "At what point in the evolutionary ladder does intelligence arise?" Certainly, humans have the ability to learn new behavior. As do dogs, cats, monkeys, parrots, and dolphins. All these creatures frequently learn new tricks, like rolling over to get a treat.. Do insects? Depends on how you define it. Sure a fly will decide to fly away if a hand comes to swat it - but that's probably not a consideration, but an instinct. You can't teach it to fly away on command, without attacking it. It doesn't integrate new behavior into its repertoire.

Of course, it's possible some alien race with a profound understanding of everything biological, chemical, physical and quantom mechanical seeded humanity, knowing enough that for them we act in a predictable fashion, and we're little more than a program destined to reach some conclusion. My response to that? So what? We don't know for sure one way or another, but it's useful to act as if we control our own destiny, so we act accordingly. Or die.
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