Re: consciousness based on information or computation?

From: Wei Dai <>
Date: Thu, 28 Jan 1999 14:32:25 -0800

On Thu, Jan 28, 1999 at 03:50:18PM -0500, Jacques M Mallah wrote:
> A lot of things are illusions, but you need to start out with
> something that is not too trivial either. Strings seem too trivial;
> dynamics and decisions seem to supply the missing ingredient. Of course
> there are plenty of people who would object at this point and say that
> even computations are too trivial. I know what my intuition has to say
> about where to draw the line. I think there is a deep reason, but I am
> not able to explain it in words.

It is your responsibility to explain and justify your intuition.
We can't continue this discussion if you are going to appeal to an
intuition that only you have access to.

> Of course your way has rather counterintuitive consequences which
> computationalism avoids. The recently dead, for example, could have about
> as much measure in your scheme as the living, since the brain would have
> about the same chemical structure but would no longer compute. What do
> you think it would feel like to be such a consciousness? I doubt it would
> feel like anything, but that's just a restatement of my above position.

It doesn't feel like anything because consciousness depends on the
structure of neuron firing patterns. Since the brain-dead have no brain
activity they obviously lack this structure. I don't see how this is a
problem for my proposal.

> I doubt that. Remember, in these artificial neural nets, brain
> size is already present (easy to make em' big). All that remains is for
> them to start exploiting the niche of intelligence, and since it would
> have advantages, it should be a fairly steady and stable progression,
> with plenty of time to let it happen.

I'm not convinced that if you add in the code for evolving the neural nets
(what are you going to replace DNA, proteins, etc. with?) and simulating
the external environment (what environment are you going to use?), and
interfacing the neural nets with the external environment, that it's going
to be shorter than the program form I proposed. But I agree that without a
more authoratative estimate this discussion probably won't get very far.

> That doesn't make much sense to me. If there's something that
> it's like to be a string, why should that be ruined just because it's
> surrounded by other strings? There are no external observers here, just
> internal observers. Is your idea that the concious part of the tape must
> be printed out at the beginning of the tape?

Why should it be ruined if it's interspersed with a 0 every other bit? Why
should it be ruined if it is intermingled with this other string in this
particular way? But notice that in all three cases you're introducing new
information that is not present in the original string, namely the
algorithm for extracting the substring from the original string. Clearly a
line has to be drawn somewhere and the natural place to draw it is to
disallow any extra information. Thus a substring cannot be conscious
because it is not a self-contained carrier of information, and it can only
be made into one by the introduction of new information.

> > That is not the model I have in mind. It doesn't seem sensible to think of
> > a universe with a continuous infinity of Turing machines.
> Why not? The set of all possible programs - what could be more
> natural than that? It seems closest to Max's 'everything' idea as well.

Sorry, I was wrong. It's not insensible to think of a universe with a
continuous infinity of Turing machines. All you need is a three
dimensional Turing machine and a universe with four spacial dimensions.
Received on Thu Jan 28 1999 - 14:36:50 PST

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