Re: Bruno's argument

From: Brent Meeker <>
Date: Mon, 31 Jul 2006 09:51:56 -0700

Stathis Papaioannou wrote:
> Brent meeker writes:
>>>>[If] a computatation only "dreams" then how could you know whether it was
>>>>intelligence, or just noise?
>>>We wouldn't know, but the computation itself would know if it were conscious,
>>>creating its own observer. If we say that noise contains hidden information
>>>that may be true in a trivial sense, but it's meaningless: information hidden in
>>>noise is not accessible to anyone and is no different to no information at all.
>>>But if the information hidden in noise is a conscious computation, then it *is*
>>>accessible to someone: itself, by definition. If you don't like this conclusion
>>>then you have to either reject computationalism (as John Searle does using
>>>this argument) or impose ad hoc limitations on it, which amounts to the same
>>I'm considering rejecting the idea that a computation can be
>>distinguished from noise by some internal characteristic of the
>>computation. I don't think you can make the idea of "information hidden
>>in noise" well defined. By Shannon's measure noise is information.
> Would you allow that one machine or computation may be emulated by another
> following some sort of mapping rule, and that consciousness may be preserved
> in this process? This would seem to be an assumption at the basis of functionalism
> and computationalism. But what if the mapping rule were the equivalent of what
> in cryptography is called a one-time pad, determined by some stochastic process
> such as radioactive decay? The states of the emulated machine would then seem
> to vary randomly, but if you had access to the mapping rule you would be able to
> "read" it (and perhaps interact with it) just as if it followed some simpler code, like
> shifting each letter of the alphabet by one. Are you prepared to argue that the
> emulated machine is only conscious if an external observer has the relevant
> mapping rule at hand and/or is actually "reading" it or interacting with it using
> this information?
> Stathis Papaioannou

Yes, that's roughly my idea. Of course you can't insist that a
computation interact continuously to count as computation, only that it
does occasionally or potentially. In your example I would say that you
can only know that there is computation, as distinct from noise, going
on if the computer, via the emulation code, can still interact with its
environment (i.e. you). I don't believe the simplicity or complexity of
the internal operations is relevant. For example, if you could see the
movements of electrons in my computer, you couldn't tell whether it was
displaying this email or just doing something random - but if you look
at the dispaly screen you can. On the other hand, to the alien from
alpha centauri, the screen might also look random.

Brent Meeker

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Received on Mon Jul 31 2006 - 13:14:02 PDT

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