Intuition and the two brains, revisited

Written by: Stephen Hsu

Primary Source: Information Processing, 9/29/18.


Iain McGilchrist, author of The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, in conversation with Jordan Peterson.

I wrote about McGilchrist in 2012: Intuition and the two brains.

Albert Einstein:
“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

Wigner on Einstein and von Neumann:
“But Einstein’s understanding was deeper even than von Neumann’s. His mind was both more penetrating and more original than von Neumann’s. And that is a very remarkable statement. Einstein took an extraordinary pleasure in invention. Two of his greatest inventions are the Special and General Theories of Relativity; and for all of Jansci’s brilliance, he never produced anything as original.”

From Schwinger’s Feynman eulogy:
“An honest man, the outstanding intuitionist of our age…”

Feynman:
“We know a lot more than we can prove.”

… “if the brain is all about making connections, why is it that it’s evolved with this whopping divide down the middle?”

… [chicks] use the eye connected to the left hemisphere to attend to the fine detail of picking seeds from amongst grit, whilst the other eye attends to the broader threat from predators. According to the author, “The left hemisphere has its own agenda, to manipulate and use the world”; its world view is essentially that of a mechanism. The right has a broader outlook, “has no preconceptions, and simply looks out to the world for whatever might be. In other words it does not have any allegiance to any particular set of values.”

… “The right hemisphere sees a great deal, but in order to refine it, and to make sense of it in certain ways—in order to be able to use what it understands of the world and to be able to manipulate the world—it needs to delegate the job of simplifying it and turning it into a usable form to another part of the brain” [the left hemisphere]. … the left hemisphere has a “narrow, decontextualised and theoretically based model of the world which is self consistent and is therefore quite powerful” and to the problem of the left hemisphere’s lack of awareness of its own shortcomings; whilst in contrast, the right hemisphere is aware that it is in a symbiotic relationship.

Roger Sperry: … each hemisphere is “indeed a conscious system in its own right, perceiving, thinking, remembering, reasoning, willing, and emoting, all at a characteristically human level, and . . . both the left and the right hemisphere may be conscious simultaneously in different, even in mutually conflicting, mental experiences that run along in parallel.”

Much more here.

Split-brain structure (with the different hemispheres having very distinct structures and morphologies) is common to all higher organisms (as far as I know). Is this structure just an accident of evolution? Or does the (putative) split between a systematizing core and a big-picture intuitive core play an important role in higher cognition?

AGI optimists sometimes claim that deep learning and existing neural net structures are capable of taking us all the way to AGI (human-like cognition and beyond). I think there is a significant chance that neural-architectural structures necessary for, e.g., recurrent memory, meta-reasoning, theory of mind, creative generation of ideas, integration of inferences developed from observation into more general hypotheses/models, etc. still need to be developed. Any step requiring development of novel neural architecture could easily take researchers a decade to accomplish. So a timescale > 30-50 years for AGI, even in highly optimistic scenarios, seems quite possible to me.

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Stephen Hsu
Stephen Hsu is vice president for Research and Graduate Studies at Michigan State University. He also serves as scientific adviser to BGI (formerly Beijing Genomics Institute) and as a member of its Cognitive Genomics Lab. Hsu’s primary work has been in applications of quantum field theory, particularly to problems in quantum chromodynamics, dark energy, black holes, entropy bounds, and particle physics beyond the standard model. He has also made contributions to genomics and bioinformatics, the theory of modern finance, and in encryption and information security. Founder of two Silicon Valley companies—SafeWeb, a pioneer in SSL VPN (Secure Sockets Layer Virtual Private Networks) appliances, which was acquired by Symantec in 2003, and Robot Genius Inc., which developed anti-malware technologies—Hsu has given invited research seminars and colloquia at leading research universities and laboratories around the world.