Re: consciousness based on information or computation?

From: Wei Dai <>
Date: Mon, 25 Jan 1999 16:13:05 -0800

On Mon, Jan 25, 1999 at 05:06:39PM -0500, Jacques M Mallah wrote:
> I basically have told you the definition, as well as referred you
> to my web page for a more detailed discussion.
> A computation involves a set of states, labeled by one or more
> indices, with state transition rules between them. A trace of the
> computation occurs when it starts out in one state, transits to the next
> state indicated by the rules, and so on. A physical system implements
> such a trace when there is a legitimate mapping from the physical states
> to the formal states, such that the states mapped to perform the trace.
> The unsolved problem is which mappings are legitimate and reflect the
> information in the physical system, and which are illegitimate and
> artificially introduce too much information.
> What a string lacks is the state transition laws. There is no way
> that what the concept of 'if ... then' refers to can be a property of a
> string. A string just is what it is; counterfactuals have no meaning for
> it. A physical system has not only functions like x(t) and y(x), it has
> laws of nature such as x(t+1) = y(x(t)), and computations reflect that
> very important aspect of nature, dynamics. Note that a law must be a true
> equation, but a true equation is just a coincidence, a mere fact (even if
> it holds for all x,y,t) unless it is a law. Laws are prescriptive, not
> descriptive, unlike information; they make decisions.

It's not at all clear to me what counterfactuals have to do with
consciousness. So what if counterfactuals have no meaning for strings?

> I doubt that. Remember, they are printed out at the end, but
> having that criterion would confer no evolutionary advantage in the
> meantime. Intelligence would. I think it would be very likely that some
> criterion could be selected that would be both easy to recognize and
> unlikely to occur before the evolution of intelligence.

Ok, I didn't realize that you wanted to evolve the neural nets in a
(simulated) natural environment. Presumably it would be the same
environment as we and our ancestors faced. If you're right and this really
is the shortest program to output the state of an intelligent being, then
I have no objection to the possibility that my consciousness is actually
produced by such a program.

> I think that would have to be a huge program. Huge. Each step -
> Plank scale to low energy, wave functional to particles, types of atoms,
> molecules, neurons and their connections, etc. - huge. I mean, you try
> writing that algorithm. How long would it take you? If not long, then
> show me the money.

Well it would take me a long time to write the program, but the result
shouldn't be too long. (Of course you do know that finding the shortest
program to output a string is a noncomputable problem?) Of course I don't
have time to do it (unless someone wants to give me a research grant?) so
I can't show it to you. But your own proposal is even less complete.

> Structure labeled how? By connections and interaction strengths
> among the neurons? For the AI, the pattern of spatial locations of the
> momory elements would be much of the needed info. Not so the human.

Yes, what's wrong with by connection and interaction strengths?

> That's just one choice of model among the many possibilities. And
> what about the computations that never terminate?

What other models do you have in mind? As for the computations that don't
halt, first of all we don't have to worry about the ones that don't
repeat, since they contribute zero measure. For the ones that do repeat,
we can count their contribution, but I think it would be negligible.
Received on Mon Jan 25 1999 - 16:15:27 PST

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