Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Halfway in a dream

I managed to track down the Wigner quote I mentioned in an earlier post.

... Perhaps the consciousness of animals is more shadowy than ours and perhaps their perceptions are always dreamlike. On the opposite side, whenever I talked with the sharpest intellect I have ever known -- with von Neumann -- I always had the impression that only he was fully awake, that I was halfway in a dream.

It can be found on page 46 of Philosophical reflections and syntheses by Wigner et al.

11 comments:

Jean Huiskamps said...

“When I play with my cat, who knows whether she is not amusing herself with me more than I with her.”
Michel de Montaigne (French Philosopher and Writer. 1533-1592)

If you watch some types of animals - like cats, jackdaws or crows - you will notice that they are very much alert, awake en very conscious of themselves and their surroundings. I really can't believe that their consciousness is shadowy, I belive it is clear and razor sharp.

Stephen S said...

I got a little choked up just reading von Neumann's wikipedia page. To think that one mind could do so much good in so short a time. It is ludicrous that creating talent like this is not a priority worldwide.

Russell Knight said...

It was all a dream...

Jorge Donatello said...

Here's a video of him - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vLbllFHBQM4. Re: alertness, his eyes do seem a little wider open than ordinary. Maybe someone can find more...

Yan Shen said...

 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirror_test#Animals_that_have_been_observed_to_pass

Well here's a list of all the animals which have been known to pass the mirror test for self-awareness...

Seth Stafford said...

And of course the bright American youngster posing questions to vN is planning to study ... law.

jaim klein said...

"Jancsi (Yan-Chi, diminutive of J├ínos in Hungarian) was a human being, we are like animals." 

David Cohlton Harold Eaton said...

Is
the
kid, a future lawyer named Bill from
Arkansas, Bill Clinton?

ben_g said...

Dreams seem to have a different type of intelligence based on intuition.  Also, I find that I have a weird kind of heightened verbal intelligence during dreams, able to express complex ideas fluidly and in ways I could never come up with awake.

Matthew Carnegie said...

Yep, dreamlike is an interesting choice of analogy. With the caveat that peoples' dreams vary, of course in dreams we do find qualities we'd guess at animals as having, like an inability to question the logic of the wider world, weird gaps in understanding, broken perceptions of causal connections between events, hazily aware of the environment, heightened emotions, lack of a sense of personal agency (animal minds being a broad category of course that are all grouped by virtue of not being human).

On the other hand, what do we really know about what animal cognition is like? There is how Temple Grandin thinks of animals as thinking - http://tinyurl.com/k5fnd - with her comparison with animal thought to autistic thought. A strongly perceptual or visual spatial mode of thinking with a detail rather than holistic focus that isn't really marked by less perception or memory than by a lack of symbolic and linguistic content or structure. Less symbolic thought and language are not really what we think of dreams as like, or aren't the most consistent idea we have about them.

HL14 said...

Von Neumann stole credit for the invention of the "von Neumann Architecture."

From William Aspray's review of the book ENIAC: The Triumphs and Tragedies of the World's First Computer Company by Scott McCartney:

http://www.siam.org/news/news.php?id=795

"By the time von Neumann joined the project, the ENIAC design was set and construction was well under way. Eckert, Mauchly, and others had already been meeting occasionally for more than half a year to discuss the design of the successor machine, the EDVAC. Von Neumann joined in on these discussions when he was available, every month or two. During an extended stay at Los Alamos, he wrote the Draft Report on EDVAC, which Goldstine distributed widely. Much to Eckert and Mauchly's annoyance, von Neumann's name was the only one to appear on the document. The report gave a lucid description of the functional design of the stored-program computer, using the abstract language and concepts of neural nets that had recently been invented by Warren McCulloch and Walter Pitts to emphasize the "logical design," rather than discussing specific engineering implementations. Once the war ended, von Neumann returned to the Institute for Advanced Study, where he ran his own computer project to test the value of the computer in scientific research."

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