Ray Kurzweil's presentation at the 2010 H+ Summit [1] was largely a mix and mash of his talks from the past 5 years.  I had hoped he would give some insight into his upcoming book on how to reverse engineer the mind, but on the subject of the mind he just repeated old stuff from his 5-year-old book.  (And his mention of "new" theories of consciousness like Penrose's quantum consciousness theories were not even new in 2005, let alone 2010.)

As far as consciousness, he reiterated chapter 7 ("Ich bin ein Singularitarian") from The Singularity is Near [2].  According to chapter 7: "There exists no objective test that can conclusively determine its [consciousness] presence."

Kurzweil states we are stuck at one level (neurological) of measuring correlates objectively, and "we cannot penetrate to the core of subjective experience through objective measurement."

It seems that Kurzweil is in a phenomenological path, not for the whole mind, but at least for consciousness.  According to Paul Churchland's introductory book, Matter and Consciousness [3], "Many suppose that, through scientific research, the mind can make conceptual progress: toward the goal of reconceiving the material world, and the mind, in conceptual terms that do correspond at last to the true nature of things-in-themselves.  This is the hope of scientific realism..."

Whereas for Phenomenology: "its various advocates are all agree that a true understanding of the nature of mind can be achieved only by methods that are radically different from those that guide science generally...They are keenly aware, as are almost all philosophers since the work of Kant, that the world-of-our-experience is in large measure a constructed world...Standard scientific activity, on their view, is just a continuation of certain of these 'constructive' activities of the mind" [3].

The phenomenologist path, while important, doesn't seem like a very fruitful set of commitments for making progress.  Especially since one of their hopeful methods, which is to use the "special access" the mind might have to itself in order comprehend the truth, is not special knowledge at all if all knowledge is conceptual construction.

Given his influence, I pose the question, should Kurzweil be taking this phenomenologist stance?  Why doesn't he encourage scientific research into consciousness (and how to recognize it)?  If he's a patternist, why can't he imagine definitions of patterns for consciousness and imagine engineering pattern recognizers for that?


[1] R. Kurzweil, "The Power of Hierarchical Thinking".  H+ Summit: Harvard University, Cambridge MA, 2010. Notes: Ben Scarlato's liveblog, Video: livestream.

[2] R. Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near. Viking, 2005.

[3] P.M. Churchland, Matter and Consciousness. MIT Press, 1988.