Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Book tip: Computing the mind

I'd like to discuss why, without having finished the book yet, I hand over heels love the book: Computing the mind, subtitled "How the mind really works", by Shimon Edelmann. I have to admit that I didn't have the highest hopes when I opened the book. I went so far as to skip the first couple of pages, to get to the fun parts a bit quicker. As I write these blog post, page 1 lies open on my desk, and it's the most beautiful start a non-fiction book could hope to offer:

If you are reading this in the first couple of decades of the third millennium of the common era, chances are that (1) the human brain is the most complex toy you'll ever come near, let alone get to play with, and (2) you're trapped inside one for the foreseeable future.

And then, on page 78, we get this teaser for what's to come later:
Claim: the brain is a programmable digital computer. If this were true, the brain would be like hardware to the mind's software. This claim does not stand up to scrutiny, mainly because in the brain it is not possible to separate the "program" from the architecture that executes it. It is very important to remember, however, that a digital computer can simulate the operation of a brain (because a digital computer can simulate any physical system down to an arbitrary precision), and hence the mind. The ramifications of the realization that the mind is what the brain does are far-reaching and profound; I shall describe and discuss them in later chapters.

He had me long before page 78, though. He quotes Karl Popper throughout the book. This book is amazing in clarity, it's funny, and it's mind-opening.