Re: consciousness based on information or computation?

From: <>
Date: Wed, 27 Jan 1999 23:29:03 -0800

Wei Dai, <>, writes:
> The way I see it, the premise should not be used to draw conclusions, but
> rather serves as an explanation. Because you already know you are a human
> being named Hal Finney, it no longer matters that you are a random sample
> of all beings. However, the premise helps explain why you are Hal Finney
> and not some bug-eyed alien, namely that Hal has a larger measure than the
> alien (assuming that is actually true).
> Here's an analogy: suppose you have just been dealt a hand in a card game.
> Since you know what cards you have, the distribution from which they were
> chosen no longer matters and won't help you play, but that distribution
> helps explain why you got the cards you did.

Conclusions and explanations are not so different. Explanations seem to
be conclusions that are consistent with what you already know. Imagine
if it were possible to make a new prediction based on the everything-
exists hypothesis, something about the likely nature of the universe
which had not yet been observed. Then if that prediction were confirmed,
it would be dramatic evidence of the explanatory power of the hypothesis.
This would be both an explanation and a deduction.

I do have a problem with the way explanations use probability. In your
card game example, what happens when you are dealt an unlikely hand?
What kind of explanation can the theory offer? If you are playing many
times, you can say that the theory does give the frequency with which
such hands will appear. But in life, it seems like we only play once.

I look around the world and see that the vast majority of people are poor
third-worlders struggling with difficult lives. I am fortunate enough to
live in a wealthy country, have a good education, and tremendous riches
by the standards of most people. What kind of explanation is there for
this based on the assumption that I am a random selection from among
all people? We can't run the universe again and let me be a different
random selection next time. This is the same conceptual problem I keep
encountering with this notion.

It gets worse if you consider not just me as a random sample from among
all observers, but if you consider me-now as a random sample from among
all observer-instants. Now it seems that I have to adopt an atemporal
perspective where my consciousness dwells here in Hal Finney, 1999, for
an instant, then jumps back to a slave in ancient Rome, then dwells for
a moment in our bug-eyed alien. I can't make sense out of this.

This view is especially perplexing if my measure changes drastically
over time. With some of our thought experiments, I could boost the
measure of an instant of my consciousness by making copies of my brain
state (say, a high-resolution X-ray). But the next instant, my measure
drops again. Would I somehow expect to notice myself spending more
time in that amplified instant? Suppose I spent half my days with a
big brain and half my days with a small brain. Am I to be puzzled on
those days I am in the small brain, faced with the mystery of why I am
not experiencing the measure-enhanced big-brain days?

This is related to the quantum immortality question. As time goes on,
my measure becomes less. But it is hard to understand what I should
expect to experience as a result of this.

Received on Wed Jan 27 1999 - 23:38:37 PST

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