Jug wrote:I have suffered through one too many baseball matches at the SF AT&T park (office outings). Dear god... if not for all the other stuff going on (kiss cam, the band, music, food, drunk ppl, etc), I would have died of boredom.
The patterns of evolutionary change emerge so slowly that they are invisible at our normal rate of information uptake, so it's easy to overlook their intentional interpretation, or to dismiss it as mere whimsy or metaphor. This bias in favor of our normal pace might be called timescale chauvinism. Take the smartest, quickest-witted person you know, and imagine filming her in action in ultraslow motion--say, thirty thousand frames per second, to be projected at the normal rate of thirty frames per second. A single lightning riposte, a witticism offered "without skipping a beat," would now emerge like a glacier from her mouth, boring even the most patient moviegoer. Who could divine the intelligence of her performance, an intelligence that would be unmistakable at normal speed? We are also charmed by mismatched timescales going in the other direction, as time-lapse photography has vividly demonstrated. To watch flowers growing, budding, and blooming in a few seconds, is to be drawn almost irresistibly into the intentional stance. See how that plant is striving upward, racing its neighbor for a favored place in the sun, defiantly thrusting its own leaves into the light, parrying the counterblows, ducking and weaving like a boxer! The very same patterns, projected at different speeds, can reveal or conceal the presence of a mind or the absence of a mind--or so it seems. (Spatial scale also shows a powerful built-in bias; if gnats were the size of seagulls, more people would be sure they had minds, and if we had to look through microscopes to see the antics of otters, we would be less confident that they were fun-loving.)
In order for us to see things as mindful, they have to happen at the right pace, and when we do see something as mindful, we don't have much choice; the perception is almost irresistible. But is this just a fact about our bias as observers, or is it a fact about minds? What is the actual role of speed in the phenomenon of mind? Could there be minds, as real as any minds anywhere, that conducted their activities orders of magnitude slower than our minds do? Here is a reason for thinking that there could be: if our planet were visited by Martians who thought the same sorts of thoughts we do but thousands or millions of times faster than we do, we would seem to them to be about as stupid as trees, and they would be inclined to scoff at the hypothesis that we had minds. If they did, they would be wrong, wouldn't they--victims of their own timescale chauvinism. So if we want to deny that there could be a radically slow-thinking mind, we will have to find some grounds other than our preference for the human thought rate. What grounds might there be? Perhaps, you may think, there is a minimum speed for a mind, rather like the minimum escape velocity required to overcome gravity and leave the planet. For this idea to have any claim on our attention, let alone allegiance, we would need a theory that says why this should be. What could it be about running a system faster and faster that eventually would "break the mind barrier" and create a mind where before there was none? Does the friction of the moving parts create heat, which above a certain temperature leads to the transformation of something at the chemical level? And why would that make a mind? Is it like particles in an accelerator approaching the speed of light and becoming hugely massive? Why would that make a mind? Does the rapid spinning of the brain parts somehow weave a containment vessel to prevent the escape of the accumulating mind particles until a critical mass of them coheres into a mind? Unless something along these lines can be proposed and defended, the idea that sheer speed is essential for minds is unappealing, since there is such a good reason for holding that it's the relative speed that matters: perception, deliberation, and action all swift enough--relative to the unfolding environment--to accomplish the purposes of a mind. Producing future is no use to any intentional system if its "predictions" arrive too late to be acted on. Evolution will always favor the quick-witted over the slow-witted, other things being equal, and extinguish those who can't meet their deadlines well on a regular basis.
But what if there were a planet on which the speed of light was 100 kilometers per hour, and all other physical events and processes were slowed down to keep pace? Since in fact the pace of events in the physical world can't be sped up or slowed down by orders of magnitude (except in philosophers' fantastic thought experiments), a relative speed requirement works as well as an absolute speed requirement. Given the speed at which thrown stones approach their targets, and given the speed at which light bounces off those incoming stones, and given the speed at which audible warning calls can be propagated through the atmosphere, and given the force that must be marshaled to get 100 kilograms of body running at 20 kilometers per hour to veer sharply to the left or right--given these and a host of other firmly fixed performance specifications, useful brains have to operate at quite definite minimum speeds, independently of any fanciful "emergent properties" that might also be produced only at certain speeds. These speed-of-operation requirements, in turn, force brains to use media of information transmission that can sustain those speeds. That's one good reason why it can matter what a mind is made of. There may be others.
-Daniel Dennett, Kinds of Minds: Towards an Understanding of Consciousness (1996)
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