Excerpt from the book: “Intelligence, Self awareness, Awareness of others, Free will and Consciousness” by John Bladen


Chapter 1 Introduction

1.1 This book

This book describes a journey of discovery that started with an attempt to make a general purpose problem solving machine and resulted in a plausible and testable explanation of intelligence – including what it is, how it works, and how it can be used as the basis of intelligent organisms known as self aware thinking organisms or SATOs (pronounced say-toes). These organisms can understand their environment (and everything else they know) and can solve problems – including solving problems that involve inventing knowledge. They are autonomous, self aware, aware of others and possibly even conscious. They also have subjective perception, including the perception of free will, and perceive their environment from a first person perspective.

SATOs, it seems, are very much like us. In other words, it seems that we are a type of SATO. This suggests that the explanation of intelligence presented here also explains us, including how we exhibit intelligence and how we are self aware.

The explanation of intelligence is presented as an implementable, and hence testable, hypothesis. It is therefore a practical, not a theoretical, understanding of intelligence. It was inspired by observations of humans, but did not involve studies of the internal workings of the human brain. Instead, it arose from external and introspective observations of humans. Therefore, rather than being an attempt to explain the internal workings of the human brain, it is an attempt to explain the underlying mechanism of intelligence that appears to give rise to human-like intelligence – including self awareness. This mechanism can be implemented using only causal processes, i.e. processes that involve one thing causing another in conjunction with energy, which suggests that the human brain is also causal.

The book should be accessible to a wide audience as it involves only straightforward and readily understood concepts. Since it is concerned with the underlying mechanism of intelligence, not the internal workings of the human brain, it is not about neurons and neural firing patterns; nor is it about regions of the brain. Therefore, no knowledge of neuroscience is needed, though it should be of interest to neuroscientists. There is also no need for prior knowledge of psychology, though psychologists and anyone interested in psychology will, I think, be interested in how the model based intelligent organisms described here exhibit familiar characteristics and behaviours. The book considers the topics of consciousness and free will and hence should be of interest to philosophers. However, no prior knowledge of philosophy is required as these topics are considered in terms of how they work rather than in terms of philosophical concepts. There is also no need for knowledge of mathematics as no mathematics is involved.

The book should be acceptable to people of religious persuasion, as well as people of scientific persuasion, as it is concerned with how we work, not why we are here.

Finally, I have found thinking about the ideas in this book a profoundly fascinating, educational, and even life changing journey of discovery, and I hope you will too!

1.2 An astonishing hypothesis

In 1994, in his book An astonishing hypothesis, Francis Crick – the co-discoverer of the structure of the DNA molecule in 1953 – famously dared to claim that our mental activities are entirely due to our material construction. In other words, everything about us – including our external behaviour and our own experience of being us – is due to our physical makeup.

Given his background in genetics, it is easy to understand why he believed this to be true. Each human is formed when two biological cells – one from their mother and one from their father, each with its own payload of approximately one CD’s worth of digital DNA data – come together to form a zygote. This zygote, consuming only nutrition, goes on to self-assemble into what we call a human being. Since in this process there is no obvious point at which something non-physical – some sort of magic – gets added into the mix of each human being as it develops, it is reasonable to suppose that everything about us is determined by our physical makeup: that our zygote contained a plan for a biological machine that is us.

But Francis Crick was correct to call the idea that we are biological machines a hypothesis rather than a fact because it is something that we should accept or reject, not just on whether it seems reasonable from a biological viewpoint, but on whether we can find a plausible, viable and preferably testable explanation of how it can be so. If we can find no such explanation of these things then perhaps we are not causal organisms. Maybe we cannot be explained at all.

But suppose there is such an explanation? That is the subject of this book.

1.3 Another astonishing hypothesis?

In August 2008, whilst developing a medical simulator, I unexpectedly discovered an explanation of intelligence – including what it is and how it works. This explanation is not about artificial intelligence, it is about true intelligence – the same sort of intelligence that we have. It arose from a synthesis of work I did in 1993 on developing a general purpose problem solving machine for solving problems using intelligence, observations of my own inventive processes in my research, observations of my young children as they observed and understood their world and then used their understanding to solve problems in their world, and my experience of developing the medical simulator. The details of how this happened are explained in the next chapter.

Like Crick’s hypothesis, this explanation of intelligence is presented here in the form of a hypothesis; a plausible, viable and testable hypothesis that I’ve called the intelligence hypothesis. The hypothesis is deliberately concise and it may not be self evident how it can explain intelligent organisms. Therefore the hypothesis included in Appendix A and is elaborated in the main part of the book.

The intelligence hypothesis is also developed into a comprehensive framework known as the Theory of models that is included in Appendix B. This is referenced from within the main part of the book and can be used as a hyperlinked glossary of terms. It can also be used to assess the work. The latest version of the intelligence hypothesis and the theory of models is also available online at www.satos.co.uk.

The core concepts involved in the hypothesis are the familiar concepts of understanding, abstraction and invention. However, how they can be used to explain or give rise to complete autonomous self aware intelligent organisms, does not appear to be well known. Furthermore, for these concepts to be useful for understanding intelligence they must be well understood. For example, the concept of understanding is one that most people are familiar with to some extent. However, it is only when it is precisely understood that it can be used to explain or construct a knowledge system – known in this work as a model system – that is a self contained understanding of what is known and which can be used to solve problems, including inventing new knowledge. Something else that is generally not well understood is the degree to which problems must be broken down before they can be solved. Only by understanding this can we understand how problem solving works.

The hypothesis starts by claiming that intelligence is fundamentally about solving problems by inventing new knowledge, and goes on to describe how intelligent organisms can achieve this using only causal processes i.e. processes that involve one thing causing another. It also describes how the mechanism of intelligence that enables intelligent organisms to solve problems by inventing new knowledge also gives rise naturally (and unexpectedly) to autonomy, self awareness, awareness of others, attention, volition, a perception of free will, and possibly even consciousness. It also gives rise to what we call our mind, to what we know as our self within our mind, and to our subjective perspective. It can also be used to implement vision (i.e. seeing), audition (i.e. hearing), and other sophisticated senses.

The intelligent organisms described by the intelligence hypothesis are self aware and think as we do, and hence are called self aware thinking organisms or SATOs (pronounced say-toes).

SATOs are autonomous intelligent organisms that can make observations of their environment, use their observations to construct understandings, use their understandings to solve problems (including making decision) by using existing knowledge and by inventing new knowledge. They can also enact solutions in their environment. They are self aware in the sense that they can observe, understand, think about, and solve problems relating to aspects of themselves; not just their external behaviour but also their internal thinking and problem solving processes. They are aware of others in the sense that they can think about others and solve problems relating to or involving others. They can also be happy and sad.

SATOs are therefore very much like us despite the fact that the intelligence hypothesis describes only a general purpose problem solving machine that solves problems using intelligence. They have not been contrived to be like us in any way. Even their autonomy exists, not to make them like us, but so that they have sufficient autonomy, i.e. freedom, to solve problems effectively.

The fact that SATOs are general purpose problems solving machines, and that they are also so like us, suggests that we too are primarily general purpose problem solving machines that solve problems using intelligence and that other aspects of us, including self awareness and subjective perspective etc, are natural consequences of that.

Initially this might seem surprising – it certainly surprised me. We might think that first and foremost we are – well – “us”; that we are about our feelings and emotions and being aware that we exist. We might think that though we have to solve problems from time to time it is just because we have to; that it is not central to who we are. We might think that we would not have to be self aware if all we were about was solving problems – though we would be left puzzling as to why we are self aware if it was not necessary.

But given our achievements as a species – particularly our recent technological achievements – it is perhaps not surprising to find that we are general purpose problem solving machines. Clearly we have applied our inventive problem solving to a vast range of problems including building cities, physical machines, novels, musical compositions, and software. Also, that humans are general purpose problem solving machines explains how it is possible for us to be explained so well by a single understanding of intelligent general purpose problem solving machines, without the need to study the internal workings of the brain. And when we find that general purpose problem solving machines are naturally self aware, it all makes sense.

Assuming the intelligence hypothesis is valid (and since it is implementable and testable, this can be ascertained – both for very simple intelligent organisms and more complex ones), and assuming that the resulting intelligent machines – i.e. SATOs – are indeed like us, then it validates Francis Crick’s hypothesis that we are biological machines.

1.4 Can we accept that we are a machine?

We have no problem accepting that much of our body is a biological machine – e.g. our muscles, heart, liver and digestive system – but can we accept that the person we know as ourself arises because of processes that occur within a biological machine? That is more difficult.

Before we can accept it we need satisfactory evidence that it is true – either by observing machines that are like us in every significant way (not just their external behaviour but also their internal behaviour and experiences as well), or by finding a plausible and testable explanation of how such machines work. This explanation must be in terms of causal processes, i.e. processes that involve one thing causing another, so that it can be evaluated. (Any explanation of how we work that is not causal is no explanation at all because it cannot be evaluated).

Certainly we are not like any existing machines we are familiar with, including computers running conventional software (including artificial intelligence software). I have been interested in how we work – including how we think and solve problems and how we are self aware and/or conscious – for around 40 years and in that time I have encountering many machines whilst working in the field of research, engineering and software. However, I have never once suspected that we are anything like these lifeless and emotionally cold machines. I certainly would not accept that we are biological machines based this evidence.

But the explanation of intelligence presented here redefines what a machine is, and hence our perception of what a machine is, because it describes a machine that is radically different from the machines we know. It describes a machine that is not just about behaviour – as other machines are – but one that can also understand and invent and hence be creative; a machine of immense sophistication and value; a machine that does not reduce us in any way; a machine that is very much like us. When we consider such machines, both as individual machines and as groups of machines, we find that they give rise to a world that is familiar to us – both in terms of our subjective experiences and in terms of what we observe around us.

Despite using only causal processes, these machines are intelligent organisms that are capable of immensely complex thinking, inventions and experiences; organisms that do not simply respond to external stimuli from the real world but  instead incorporate observations of the real world into a profoundly complex internal world that represents everything that is known by the organism, including itself.

Once we understand that causal intelligent organisms can readily be as complex as us, accepting that we are causal organisms is not as difficult as it first seems.

Furthermore, since this explanation is about how we work and not why we are here, it should be acceptable to people of religious persuasion as well as scientific persuasion. Even if there is a God that influences the state of our thinking machinery on an occasional basis, or a spirit or soul that does likewise, he/she/it certainly does not do this on a continuous basis or else we would not need thinking machinery. We also would not send people to school to learn, or try to correct them when they are wrong – since we do those things to change them in some way, i.e. to influence their thinking machinery, and hence change their future behaviour.

The remainder of this book is concerned, not with trying to prove or convince that we are a type of SATO, but with explaining and exploring the underlying principles of intelligence and how they give rise to SATOs. If the resulting organisms are indeed very much like us it will be self evident that we are a type of SATO.

Copyright © John Bladen 1993 to 2013.

[The book goes on to present an understanding of intelligence, including how it works]