The mammalian cortex is not specialized for particular tasks - this is the primary advantage of it's architecture over it's predecessors (at the cost of a much larger size than more specialized circuitry).

How do you reconcile this claim with the fact that some people are faceblind from an early age and never develop the ability to recognize faces? This would suggest that there's at least one aspect of humans that is normally somewhat hard-wired.

How do you reconcile this claim with the fact that some people are faceblind from an early age and never develop the ability to recognize faces? This would suggest that there's at least one aspect of humans that is normally somewhat hard-wired.

There are all sorts of aspects of humans that are normally somewhat - or nearly entirely - hard-wired. The cortex just doesn't tend to be. Even the parts of the cortex that are similarly specialised in most humans seem to be so due to what they are connected to. (As can be seen by looking at how the atypical cases... (read more)

3jacob_cannell9yI've read a great deal about the cortex, and my immediate reaction to your statement was "no, that's just not how it works". (strong priors) About one minute later on the Prosopagnosia [] wikipedia article, I find the first reference to this idea (that of congenital Prosopagnosia): The idea of congenital prosopagnosia appears to be a new theory supported by one researcher and one? study: The last part about it being "commonly accompanied by other forms of visual agnosia" gives it away - this is not anything close to what you originally thought/claimed, even if this new research is actually correct. Known cases of true prosopagnosia are caused by brain damage - what this research is describing is probably a disorder of the higher region (V4 I believe) which typically learns to recognize faces and other complex objects. However, there is an easy way to cause prosopagnosia during development - prevent the creature from ever seeing faces. I dont have the link on hand, but there have been experiments in cats where you mess with their vision - by using grating patterns or carefully controlled visual environments, and you can create cats that literally can't even see vertical lines. So even the simplest most basic thing which nature could hard-code - a vertical line feature detector, actually develops from the same extremely flexible general cortical circuit - the same circuit which can learn to represent everything from sounds to quantum mechanics. Humans can represent a massive number of faces, and in general the brain's vast information storage capacity over the genome (10^15 ish vs 10^9 ish) more or less require a generalized learning circuit. The cortical circuits do basically nothing but fire randomly when you are born - you really are a blank slate in that respect (although obviously the rest of the brain has plenty of genetically fixed functionality). Of course the arrangement of the brain's regions with respect

Theists are wrong; is theism?

by Will_Newsome 1 min read20th Jan 2011539 comments


Many folk here on LW take the simulation argument (in its more general forms) seriously. Many others take Singularitarianism1 seriously. Still others take Tegmark cosmology (and related big universe hypotheses) seriously. But then I see them proceed to self-describe as atheist (instead of omnitheist, theist, deist, having a predictive distribution over states of religious belief, et cetera), and many tend to be overtly dismissive of theism. Is this signalling cultural affiliation, an attempt to communicate a point estimate, or what?

I am especially confused that the theism/atheism debate is considered a closed question on Less Wrong. Eliezer's reformulations of the Problem of Evil in terms of Fun Theory provided a fresh look at theodicy, but I do not find those arguments conclusive. A look at Luke Muehlhauser's blog surprised me; the arguments against theism are just not nearly as convincing as I'd been brought up to believe2, nor nearly convincing enough to cause what I saw as massive overconfidence on the part of most atheists, aspiring rationalists or no.

It may be that theism is in the class of hypotheses that we have yet to develop a strong enough practice of rationality to handle, even if the hypothesis has non-negligible probability given our best understanding of the evidence. We are becoming adept at wielding Occam's razor, but it may be that we are still too foolhardy to wield Solomonoff's lightsaber Tegmark's Black Blade of Disaster without chopping off our own arm. The literature on cognitive biases gives us every reason to believe we are poorly equipped to reason about infinite cosmology, decision theory, the motives of superintelligences, or our place in the universe.

Due to these considerations, it is unclear if we should go ahead doing the equivalent of philosoraptorizing amidst these poorly asked questions so far outside the realm of science. This is not the sort of domain where one should tread if one is feeling insecure in one's sanity, and it is possible that no one should tread here. Human philosophers are probably not as good at philosophy as hypothetical Friendly AI philosophers (though we've seen in the cases of decision theory and utility functions that not everything can be left for the AI to solve). I don't want to stress your epistemology too much, since it's not like your immortal soul3 matters very much. Does it?

Added: By theism I do not mean the hypothesis that Jehovah created the universe. (Well, mostly.) I am talking about the possibility of agenty processes in general creating this universe, as opposed to impersonal math-like processes like cosmological natural selection.

Added: The answer to the question raised by the post is "Yes, theism is wrong, and we don't have good words for the thing that looks a lot like theism but has less unfortunate connotations, but we do know that calling it theism would be stupid." As to whether this universe gets most of its reality fluid from agenty creators... perhaps we will come back to that argument on a day with less distracting terminology on the table.



1 Of either the 'AI-go-FOOM' or 'someday we'll be able to do lots of brain emulations' variety.

2 I was never a theist, and only recently began to question some old assumptions about the likelihood of various Creators. This perhaps either lends credibility to my interest, or lends credibility to the idea that I'm insane.

Or the set of things that would have been translated to Archimedes by the Chronophone as the equivalent of an immortal soul (id est, whatever concept ends up being actually significant).