RE: consciousness based on information or computation?

From: Jacques Bailhache <>
Date: Fri, 29 Jan 1999 10:19:11 -0000

Is it really a fundamental difference between static and dynamic structures
Any machine can be represented by a string. A program can be considered
either as a static character string, or as the description of the rules of
evolution of a dynamic process.
It seems to me that this opposition static/dynamic is a question of point of
view, and that the difference unconscient/conscient should be founded on an
opposition of intrinsic nature, for example finite/infinite (see and my
previous messages).
Jacques Bailhache
Y2K Centre of Expertise (BRO)
DTN: 856 ext. 7662
Tel: +32-2 729.7662, Fax: +32-2 729.7985
Visit my home page :

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Jacques M Mallah []
> Sent: Thursday, January 28, 1999 9:50 PM
> To: Wei Dai
> Cc:
> Subject: Re: consciousness based on information or computation?
> On Wed, 27 Jan 1999, Wei Dai wrote:
> > On Wed, Jan 27, 1999 at 01:22:02PM -0500, Jacques M Mallah wrote:
> > > And it's not at all clear to me that static strings, without
> > > dynamics or decisions, could have anything to do with consciousness.
> > > Stalemate. We may never agree on this one. I think more people
> > > would support my position than yours, but that's not saying much.
> >
> > You don't seem to think that pure structure is sufficient for
> > consciousness. Why? Clearly we experience dynamics and decisions, but
> > could they not just be illusions? Is there a deeper reason why dynamics
> > and decisions are necessary for consciousness?
> 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.
> 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.
> > > No, that's not what I said. For the shortest program, the
> > > simulated environment would no doubt be vastly simplified compared to
> what
> > > we observe. But the basic elements of competition for survival and
> > > the advantages of communication would be there. It will take many
> > > generations to evolve intelligence, of course.
> >
> > But there is no reason to think that intelligence will easily evolve in
> > any competitive environment. Neural networks have been in existence a
> lot
> > longer than intelligence. Some people even argue that the evolution of
> > intelligence on earth is a pure coincidence. I wouldn't go that far, but
> > the evolution of intelligence clearly depends on a fairly small set of
> > environments.
> 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 think your approach is an interesting one, and not hopeless (as far as
> I
> > can see). But then it's quite difficult to discuss an approach that
> > is missing the definition for a basic concept.
> These are uncharted waters.
> Right now, an implementation is like pornography vs. art: you know
> it when you see it, but it's hard to define precisely. I think the
> approach described on my home page is a step in the right direction.
> Implementations are a way of characterizing a system, of quantifying the
> structure of the dynamics in terms of structures (computations) thought to
> be conscious, and therefore of quantifying the consciousness in the
> original dynamics.
> > > Just that it would take a big program.
> > Ok, you have your estimate, and I have mine.
> Which is why we could use a neutral and authoritative estimate.
> > > On the contrary. Some programs will just rewrite the same part of
> > > the tape, and those we can neglect for now. But some will keep
> printing
> > > out copies of the same string end on end, and the ones that halt will
> have
> > > zero measure compared to those, since more copies means more measure.
> > > This gives a slight advantage to short strings.
> >
> > No I assume that each tape only contributes to the measure of the entire
> > string on the tape, not to the measures of substrings. (I.e., you can
> only
> > be an entire tape, not part of a tape, if you want to think of it that
> > way)
> 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?
> Compuations would not be ruined just because they're surrounded by
> other computations, that's for sure.
> > Otherwise the measure will be completely dominated by simple counting
> > programs that write out 0's and 1's as fast as they can.
> Je ne comprende pas aussi! Most strings that counting programs
> would print would not be conscious, and the fraction that are would be
> negligable compared to what the repeat printers of the same string would
> print out.
> > > Here is a serious problem for you. The Turing machines start out
> > > will all possible programs, that is, with all possible infinite
> strings on
> > > the tapes. At any finite time, no matter how large [and therefore in
> the
> > > limit], the fraction of the tape that even the repeat printers have
> > > covered is equal to zero. So the printed strings have zero measure
> > > compared to the infinity of random strings on the as yet untouched
> part of
> > > the tape, even though the fraction of those that are conscious is
> small.
> >
> > 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.
> > Instead I assume
> > that the universe starts with one Turing machine with a blank
> (read-only)
> > input tape, then before each clock cycle each existing Turing machine is
> > cloned, with 0 appended to the input tape of one copy, and 1 appended to
> > the input tape of the other.
> Why should nature do it that way? That's just one particular
> model of physics, and far from the most natural. It sounds like you've
> concocted it specifically to avoid the problem I mentioned above, with no
> other justification. That's what gives free parameters a bad name.
> Note that with the set of all possible programs, the random
> strings on the untouched parts of the tapes would be completely harmless
> with computationalism, since they don't implement computations. Most of
> the measure would be in the shortest programs that implement conscious
> computations (and presumably restart if need be should they stop doing so,
> e.g. due to heat death of the simulated universe). Such programs would
> not have to find any brain states, just run the simulation, so would be
> shorter than with your proposal. The artificial neural net programs would
> still compete, but against a shorter competitor (those estimates would
> still come in handy so we can try to rule this idea out).
> - - - - - - -
> Jacques Mallah (
> Graduate Student / Many Worlder / Devil's Advocate
> "I know what no one else knows" - 'Runaway Train', Soul Asylum
> My URL:
Received on Fri Jan 29 1999 - 02:25:21 PST

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