Re: Bruno's argument

From: Brent Meeker <>
Date: Tue, 01 Aug 2006 16:33:25 -0700

Stathis Papaioannou wrote:
> Brent Meeker writes:
>>>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
> That's fine in the case of an email, but consider a computer which is conscious and
> spends its time musing or dreaming. Would you say that this computer's consciousness
> is contingent on the existence of external observers who might be able to figure out
> what it's up to?
> Stathis Papaioannou

Consider a computer which is doing something (whether it is dreaming or
musing or just running is the point in question). If there is no
interaction between what it's running and the rest of the world I'd say
it's not conscious. It doesn't necessarily need an external observer
though. To invoke an external observer would require that we already
knew how to distinguish an observer from a non-observer. This just
pushes the problem away a step. One could as well claim that the walls
of the room which are struck by the photons from the screen constitute
an observer - under a suitable mapping of wall states. The computer
could, like a Mars rover, act directly on the rest of the world.

Brent Meeker

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Received on Tue Aug 01 2006 - 19:35:34 PDT

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