Re: consciousness based on information or computation?

From: Wei Dai <>
Date: Fri, 29 Jan 1999 21:28:31 -0800

On Fri, Jan 29, 1999 at 03:10:43PM -0500, Jacques M Mallah wrote:
> I'd hardly say that only I have access to it, since there are a
> lot of computationalists around.
> It applies both ways. I do agree that it's not the sort of
> thing we can expect to resolve. Like reductionism vs. dualism, there are
> always going to be disagreements, I think.

The fact that different people have wildly different intuitions about this
is a good reason not to rely too heavily on your own intuition. My own
decision to draw the line at binary strings is based on the fact that
there is good reason why nothing simpler can give rise to consciousness
(nothing simpler can contain information), while there doesn't seem to be
any reason why binary strings can't give rise to consciousness. If you
know such a reason, you should explain it. If you don't then you should
consider the possibility that your intuition is flawed. (BTW there is
reason to expect that one's intuition about this is likely to be flawed.
After all having a good intuition about what abstract objects can be
conscious and what can't is not a significant evolutionary advantage in
the environment our ancestors faced.)

> There are very likely telltale signs that a neuron has recently
> been firing, which is just as good in your proposal. But suppose it's an
> AI with non-volatile memory. It would still have experiences when turned
> off, or just stored on a CD, in your proposal.

I agree in the AI case, the CD containing the AI's state will contribute
to its measure. However I do not see this as more counterintuitive than
your own proposal, where something similar happens if you program a
computer to repeatly load the AI's state from the CD and then run the AI
algorithm for a few clock cycles.

> You obviously don't need to replace proteins and DNA, just the
> neural net.

I meant what are you going to use as the evolutionary mechanism?

> So where are we going to get that authoritative estimate? I don't
> really know any computer scientists, though NYU has them of course. It
> would have to be someone interested, but not so interested as to take sides.

It's going to be difficult to find an appropriate authority. This person
would have to be an expert in computer science, physics, chemistry,
biology, and neurology.

> Again, I'm not seeing it the same way as you. You still have not
> answered my question: are you proposing that the program must print out
> the conscious part of the string at the beginning of the tape, then erase
> the rest of the program? Otherwise it is still a substring.

No I'm adopting the standard definition of a prefix machine (see Li and
Vitanyi) which has seperate input and output tapes.

> What about
> the fact that it is surrounded by other bits in the orthogonal direction
> from the other Turing machines?

But the concept of surround doesn't make sense if the spacial dimension in
the orthorgonal direction is continuous. You can't even give a
definition for the values of the neighboring bits of a given bit. It's
like asking what are the two real numbers surrounding PI.
Received on Fri Jan 29 1999 - 21:30:01 PST

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