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In The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, is it ever specified why/how Mike (HOLMES IV) achieved self-awareness?

(Since Mike also figures in "The Cat Who Walks Through Walls", the answer may come from either of those sources, or any other Heinlein canon).

3 Answers 3

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I think the only explanation given is that when Mike has the same number of "neuristers" as a human brain has neurons, he wakes up.

They kept hooking hardware into him ... Human brain has around ten-to-the-tenth neurons. By third year Mike had better than one and a half times that number of neuristors. And woke up.

Somewhere along evolutionary chain from macromolecule to human brain self-awareness crept in. Psychologists assert it happens automatically whenever a brain acquires certain very high number of associational paths. Can't see it matters whether paths are protein or platinum.

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, p. 7 (Ace paperback edition?)

There you go: "Psychologists assert."

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    "Psychologists assert." - Wonder how Hubbard took that line :) Commented Mar 25, 2012 at 21:59
  • that's the quote i was looking for...and a typically RAH elbow jab built in for show. :-)
    – SteveED
    Commented Mar 25, 2012 at 22:05
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    More fully: "Am not going to argue whether a machine can 'really' be alive, 'really' be self-aware. Is a virus self-aware? Nyet. How about oyster? I doubt it. A cat? Almost certainly. A human? Don't know about you, tovarishch, but I am. Somewhere along evolutionary chain from macromolecule to human brain self-awareness crept in. Psychologists assert it happens automatically whenever a brain acquires certain very high number of associational paths. Can't see it matters whether paths are protein or platinum. ('Soul?' Does a dog have a soul? How about cockroach?)"
    – Pixel
    Commented Mar 25, 2012 at 22:15
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    The only problem with this theory is (SPOILERS AHEAD) at the end, Mike's been re-upgraded beyond his previous capacity and he still hasn't reemerged. Quote from the last couple of pages: "Did he fall below that "critical number" it takes to sustain self-awareness? (If is such; was never more than hypothesis.) Or did decentralizing that was done before that last bombing "kill" him? I don't know. If was just matter of critical number, well, he's long been repaired; he must be back up to it. Why doesn't he wake up?"
    – Plutor
    Commented Mar 26, 2012 at 16:53
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    Part of the discussions about Moon is a Harsh Mistress implied that Mike was aware, but deliberately did not allow the people to know that fact. I do not know if RAH ever said one way or the other. Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 14:44
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You find a probable explanation in Heinlein's other novel, Time Enough for Love. In short, this says that for a computer to become self-aware, some other people have to treat that computer as a real person, just like you would treat a child: you'd talk to him like you'd talk to an adult, even if he doesn't yet understand all of it. It is this interest that makes them self-aware.

Now Time Enough for Love is most likely not in the same universe as The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, yet I think this explanation matches nicely. It was very likely that Mannie has treated Mike before his wake with the same respect as you can see in the beginning of the novel.

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  • Hm, a kind of velveteen rabbit syndrome for AIs, being treated as real makes one real? It makes as much sense as anything else.
    – Megha
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 23:35
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I think Mike himself comments that he became self aware when an upgrade increased his total computing capacity beyond the capacity of a human brain.

I don't have the book anymore so I can't quote the exact line.

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