Edmund Blair Bolles
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Edmund Blair Bolles (1942 - ) is an American humanist and author who argues that human freedom, and originality are real and natural, deriving their powers from modifications of animal memory systems. He developed this doctrine in three books written in the 1980s.
So Much to Say (1980) is about the language of children from birth to age five. It proposes that children are driven to talk because they have "something to say," have private emotions and thoughts to report. Language is presented as subjective - i.e., not necessarily controlled by objective determinants, established laws, or even real-world phenomena. This dependence on the subjective distinguishes human language from animal and machine communications which are concerned with control and the exchange of data. It also differs from mathematical languages that are concerned with the expression of logical truth. Language is the clearest evidence that people have internal lives, and with this book Bolles began his effort to understand the natural basis of that subjectivity.
Remembering and Forgetting (1986) opens with the sentence, "Remembering is an act of imagination." As he did with language, Bolles makes a sharp distinction between computer memory (storage) and human remembering (recreating sensory experiences); however, while human language is radically unlike that of even chimpanzee communication, human remembering is much more like animal remembering and much of human memory is built on the same biological systems that serve mammals, birds, etc. There is, however, an "interpretive memory" that is unlike anything else in the animal world. It does not depend on the evolution of an unprecedented organ, but rests on the linkage of memory systems common to many animals, recall and recognition.
Recognition is a response to something when it is encountered. (Bolles does not accept the computer-based definition of recognition as pattern recognition.) For example, a person walking along a path sees a house and recognizes it as the place where he turns right. By this definition, a great deal of conditioned learning would be recognition.
Recall is the re-experiencing of something. A person hears the words "Marilyn Monroe" and subjectively sees an image of her. Bolles believes these abilities of recognition and recall are biological inheritances from animals.
In interpretive memory recall and recognition combine to produce a new understanding of the nature of something. He gives an example from his own life. When he was a small boy he saw a pair of bridges high above a gorge where he was walking. His mother identified one of the bridges and he then simultaneously recognized the relationship between the two bridges above him and recalled an image of how they looked from above. The recognition from below combined with his recall of the scene above to produce a new understanding of the physical layout of the area. Two distinct scenes became one big space. Without having to actually explore the terrain, he understood how it was connected and became free to move correctly through it. Thus, in Bolles's humanism, human insight and understanding build on natural powers of memory.
A Second Way of Knowing (1991) is about perception, which Bolles defines as knowing the meaning of what your senses present. The book contrasts the sensory-based knowledge of animal and humans with symbolically-based computation available to computers. Artificial intelligence workers focus exclusively on symbolic knowledge. For them, a table is whatever the definition of the word "table" says. Sensory-based knowledge of a table rests on the experience and sensations of encountering tables. The more experience or understanding of tables people have, the more free they are to create original, functioning tables. Bolles describes a major conflict in this book between physicalists and humanists. Physicalists insist everything must ultimately be explainable according to the laws of physics, which (as defined by Galileo) are objective and leave no room for subjective causes. Therefore, they say, all action must be reflex and all knowledge must rest on the symbolic information used by computers. Humanists, however, favor sensation-based perceptions that free people from reflex and enable them to discover meanings.
After developing his theory, Bolles's books changed dramatically. He became a story teller, showing freedom, originality, imagination and meaning at work in human history, particularly in the history of science. These stories serve as case histories, illustrating the power of the subjective elements he described in the 1980s. His two most notable books from this later period are:
The Ice Finders (1999), tells the story of the discovery of the ice age. The book opens by asking why the classic limitation on computer results (garbage in; garbage out) does not always apply to humans. He then describes the long, lonely struggle of Louis Agassiz to convince people that much of the earth was recently (in geologic terms) covered with ice. The turning point comes when a "necessary poet" provides a metaphor for the ice age: Greenland. Now people could picture what Agassiz himself had imagined, thus making intellectual progress of the sort that is impossible for computers.
Einstein Defiant (2004) recounts the famous Bohr-Einstein debates over quantum physics. The story reveals the internal lives of both of these giants of twentieth-century thought, watching their minds struggle with puzzles until they snap separate things together into a meaningful insight. Bolles refers to Einstein's "almost perfect scientific imagination," suggesting why the subject appealed to him. The book provides a picture of the ultimate in free and original imaginations. Computers are never mentioned in this story, but there is no need. No computer could accomplish the merest jot of what Einstein and Bohr quarreled over and dreamt up.
Although they are presented as works in the history of science, these books read like novels. The earlier works seems to have given Bolles the understanding he needed to tell stories about the public and internal lives of even the most creative imaginers.[original research?]
The chief argument against Bolles's work is the main argument against all the classic humanists: it is scientifically impossible for subjective causes to produce objective effects. That would literally be mind over matter. So human imagination must ultimately resolve itself into the matter, energy, and information that drive computers. For Bolles and other such humanists to be right, there really must be more in the heavens and earth than are dreamt of in Galileo's philosophy.[original research?]