Re: consciousness based on information or computation?

From: Jacques M Mallah <>
Date: Sat, 23 Jan 1999 15:19:59 -0500

On Thu, 21 Jan 1999, Wei Dai wrote:
> Let me be more specific and precise about my proposal. I propose that the
> measure of a conscious experience is related to the measure of the
> associated state information, and take this measure to be the universal a
> priori distribution.
> The universal a priori probability of a string is inversely related to the
> length of the shortest program that outputs that string (the distribution
> actually takes into account all programs, but the shortest ones contribute
> most to the distribution). Now take an AI running on some computer, and
> consider its state at some given time. The shortest program (P1) that
> produces this state as output probably consists of two parts. The first
> part of the program simulates the physical universe (which let's say is a
> newtonian universe) which contains the computer running the AI. The second
> part of the program extracts the AI's state from this simulation.
> Now if the *memory* elements containing the AI's state were doubled in
> size, that should allow the second part of the program to be shorter,
> since it would take less information to "find" the AI's state in the
> wavefunction simulation. The smaller program size implies a larger measure
> of the state.
> If the AI were simultaneously running on two computers, there would be two
> shortest programs that produce the state as output (they would be
> identical in the simulation part but slightly different in the extraction
> part), and these two programs together would make twice as much
> contribution to the universal a priori distribution as P1, and again the
> measure of the state would be increased.

        It's an interesting idea, very similar to one I had and rejected a
while ago. But I see several problems with it.
        First of all, I don't think a string can give rise to
consciousness. It doesn't seem to have the right sort of structure. To
some degree it's a matter of personal intuition, and some people have the
same kind of problem with computationalism as dealing only with math and
not being able to give rise to consciousness. While I can convince myself
that a computation, with its decision making and counterfactuals, can do
the trick, I find it harder to believe that a mere string can.
        Second, I am not at all convinced that P1 would have the structure
that you mentioned. The second part - finding the brain state - would
require a huge amount of code. It might be more efficient to create a
bunch of neural nets, let them interact and breed for a while, and print
out their state once they show some sign of having evolved an
intelligence, for example.
        I don't think that having larger memory elements would really make
the algorithm much shorter. More important would be to have a regular
arrangement of memory elements - with the disturbing implication that an
artificial digital intelligence would have much more measure than a
messy human brain. Perhaps our own experience then argues against the
        Third, in order for such a distribution of strings to arise, it
must be the case that all of those programs are really in operation. You
call it the 'a priori distribution', but in fact it is a nontrivial
distribution, and nature surely does not know all of that information - it
must be calculated. The true default distribution would be to just let
each bit have an equal chance of being 0 or 1. That being the case,
strings that arise during such calculations ought to also be able to give
rise to consciousness.

                         - - - - - - -
              Jacques Mallah (
       Graduate Student / Many Worlder / Devil's Advocate
"I know what no one else knows" - 'Runaway Train', Soul Asylum
            My URL:
Received on Sat Jan 23 1999 - 12:22:27 PST

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