I seriously considered not posting this one. Two things went wrong: I didn’t get my choice of topic in time, meaning I was assigned the negative side of a topic I would usually argue affirmatively on. Secondly, I was super busy this weekend and didn’t leave myself enough time to do a proper job. But I thought in order to maintain the intellectual honesty of this series I should post the less stellar examples along with the ones I am more proud of. It was an interesting exercise the try and argue a position I am opposed to. It’s something everyone should try at least once; I think if you don’t find it difficult you should question how secure your positions really are. So as a last disclaimer, I’m not sure how effective the following arguments are. You decide!
Topic: Human cognitive processes can be investigated by creating computational models. (CON)
Computer models, though important to the study of cognition itself, are of limited use in studying specifically human cognitive processes.
In order to be useful in the study of specifically human cognitive processes, computer models would have to function in exactly the same way – same structure, same speed and, to a certain extent, the same material. Since this is not the case with a computer simulation, we should not expect to garner much serious insight by using these techniques. The differences between a computer model and the real functioning of a human brain are currently too large. Even the most highly parallelized computers nowadays have nowhere near the parallelism necessary to properly emulate the functioning of a human brain. They also run at different speeds, which makes the way they process information vastly different. These problems mean the knowledge gained from computer models based on human will be suspect at best.
Attempting to investigate cognitive processes by building computer models creates a serious boot-strapping problem. The models created will only be as good as the knowledge we have, and so will not be very helpful in gaining new knowledge. We cannot build a good model without good research to base it on – research which must come from primary investigation of humans themselves. At best, computer models can help us evaluate the validity of theories garnered from primary research, but they will not be helpful in adding new knowledge to our understanding.
Looking into the future, as our computer models become more and more accurate, and begin to take on aspects of conciousness, the ethical dilemmas involved with experimenting on such a computer model will approach those involved with experimenting on humans. Afterall, if our computer models can achieve conciousness we will be forced to really seriously consider granting them the rights which go along with such capabilities. We will have to grapple with the fact that a concious system cannot just be tampered with as we would a modern program. It is, afterall, a mind. Therefore computer models will be add nothing of value to our research, and we will be better served investigating real humans instead.