Tuesday, 26 September 2017

The Significance of Alan Turing

All physical systems can be modeled and simulated by the actions of a logical structure known as the universal Turing Machine.  If we can demonstrate any functions and activities of the mind which are beyond the capabilities of a Turing Machine then we have produced strong evidence that the mind is a non-physical entity. 
The challenge of materialism

The main intellectual challenge to Buddhism nowadays is materialism. There are other challenges, but they could hardly be described as intellectual.   Materialism comes in various flavors, but its bottom line is the mind is nothing more than the physical activities of the mechanism of the brain. This, of course, invalidates Buddhism and indeed all other spiritual paths. In this view, spirituality, ethics, art etc are just by-products of purely mechanistic processes.

So Buddhism, being a philosophically justified system rather than one based on blind faith, needs to refute materialism by logical argument. This is where Alan Turing comes in.  Although Turing is nowadays best known as a computer pioneer, code-cracker and victim of the British establishment's vicious homophobia, he first attained prominence as a philosopher of mathematics.

Negating the mechanistic model of mind
One of the methods used in Buddhist philosophy to refute erroneous views is to identify the 'Object of Negation'  This approach consists of  obtaining a precise definition of the assertion which is to be refuted, and then demolishing it by analyzing its contradictions and inadequacies. Such an object of negation is provided by the Turing Machine as a model for the mind.

The Turing Machine (TM) is a logical/mathematical structure, a kind of thought-experiment, which doesn't necessarily need to implemented as an actual physical machine to be of use for philosophy.

The first advantage of using the Turing Machine for philosophical discussion is its great precision and clear definition. We find it difficult to refute 'materialism' and its more modern variant 'physicalism', not because of the strengths of the arguments for them, but because of their fuzziness and incoherence. The definitions of matter and physics are, when examined in detail, surprisingly vague and imprecise.  On the other hand, the Turing Machine gives a precise definition of 'mechanism', in the philosophical sense of the fundamental basis of physical actions.

The second advantage of using the TM model is the all-encompassing generality of the Turing machine as the model for all physical systems.   It is the mother of all mechanisms, the archetypal computer and the basic method of implementing all algorithms. All the apps on your phone and tablet are Turing Machines. All physical systems may be simulated by appropriately programmed Turing Machines.

However, when we examine the components of the TM in detail, we find that none of them...

(i) are capable of holding meaning. They do not possess any semantic capabilities, or 'intentionality' to use the technical term.

(ii) are capable of registering qualitative states ('qualia') such as sensations of greenness,  pleasure, pain etc.

And when we check the basic repertoire of operations that the TM can carry out (which corresponds the the instruction-set of a general purpose computer) we fail to find any combination of these operations that can operate on the components to produce semantic or qualitative phenomena.  In Buddhist terminology the Turing Machine is all rupa and no nama. 


The archetypal physical mechanism of the Turing Machine cannot of itself produce mental phenomena.  If we want to completely explore the mind, we need to look elsewhere than the physical, mechanistic structure of the brain.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Recipe - Kale soup with optional turmeric, suitable for vegetarians and vegans.

500g kale in 3 liter pan

Kale is one of the most nutritious vegetables, being a good source of vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants and substances that protect eyesight, especially as we get older.  It is also a good source of calcium for vegans.

Unfortunately kale isn't the most exciting or appetizing vegetable in its own right, it needs to be combined with something else to make it more tasty and digestible. This is a recipe for a delicious and nutritious thick soup which is ideal as a winter warmer. In this recipe olive oil is used to solubilize the lutein and other lipophilic nutrients so that they can be taken up by the digestive system.

- 500g fresh kale as whole leaves (avoid the ready-chopped kale stocked by some supermarkets as this is full of stalk and of uncertain freshness).

- Two medium onions

- Three cloves of garlic

- 350 g peeled chopped potatoes

- Extra virgin olive oil.

- Ground black pepper

- Stock cubes or bouillon powder sufficient for 1500ml of stock (typically seven vegetable Oxo cubes or five level teaspoons of Marigold vegetarian or vegan bouillon. Check the instructions on the packaging).

- Turmeric powder (optional)

One 3 liter capacity pan
One 2 liter capacity pan
Frying pan
Spatula or wooden spoon
Hand-held blender

Wash the kale leaves, then strip leaf portions from the central stalk, which should be discarded. Also discard any damaged or yellow patches of leaf.

Put 300ml of water and 40ml (2 tablespoons) of extra virgin olive oil into the 3 liter pan, then add the leaf portions. These are quite springy when uncooked and will need a lid on top to press them down (see picture above) until they wilt and soften in the rising steam.   When the pan begins to boil, press the kale down with the spatula and stir occasionally to ensure thorough cooking and contact with the oil/water. Simmer for 15 minutes.

Simmer the 350g chopped potatoes in 1 liter water till soft.

Chop two medium onions and three cloves of garlic and fry gently in 40ml (2 tablespoons) extra virgin oil till soft.

When all ingredients are cooked...
Add the crumbled stock cubes or bouillon powder to the simmering potatoes, remove from heat and stir well. 

Add 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. 

Add the fried onion and any remaining oil from the frying pan and liquidize.

Add the kale gradually (in five or six batches) and liquidize. Adding the kale in small portions avoids clogging the liquidizer.

Add and mix the oil/water that the kale has been cooked in as this contains nutrients.

Finally check for taste and add more pepper or stock if necessary.

The soup can be frozen as portions in suitable microwaveable containers and reheated as required.

You can supercharge this soup with anti-oxidants by adding two level tablespoons of turmeric  and mixing well just before adding the stock powder to the potatoes.  This will give the recommended daily dose of 1 teaspoon of turmeric per 250ml  portion of soup.  However, be aware that some people need to be cautious about taking turmeric, and it does affect the taste of the soup in a way that may not  be to everyone's liking. So turmeric is probably best left out if you're preparing the soup as part of a meal for guests.

SEE ALSO Secondary Metabolites