Re: Fwd: Implementation/Relativity

From: Hans Moravec <>
Date: Wed, 28 Jul 1999 22:14:06 -0400

Christopher Maloney <>:
> I'm sure that there are ... universes in which a detective named
> Sherlock Holmes actually exists, fitting all the right descriptions.
> ... but they are not accessible by us.

The Connan-Doyle books are an access to such universes! Like a spycam
peeking into them. Universes are, after all, abstractions, exactly as
are fictional scenarios. Simulations, whether in computers or authors'
and readers' imaginations, connect alternative worlds to us.

I think, deep down, you harbor the conventional illusion that our
physical world is somehow more real than other possible worlds. You
should try to liberate yourself from that notion.

As an exercise to make Sherlock' reality more apparent, imagine the
following progression of alternate implementations:

The adventures of Sherlock Holmes described in a book (as you read it,
a simulation of Sherlock's world is created in your head, but you
(mistakenly) discount that as not real)

The same stories portrayed by Jeremy Brett and other actors. There is
now a lot more specific detail, including visual. Sherlock Holmes
really exists as an interpretation of the behavior of Jeremy Brett
(there is another interpretation in which Brett is an actor portraying
Holmes, but that is interesting mainly to acting students).

The same stories embedded into interactive video game. You can now
not only watch Sherlock, but interact and he will respond to you.
When game AI is sufficiently advanced, you can have long, insightful
conversations with him.

The same AI programs that control the virtual characters installed in
full-size robot bodies. Not only can you talk with him, you can run
with him across the moors, and when the story is over, take him out
and introduce him to your friends, as real a part of the particular
fantasy we call physical reality as you or I.

(I thought the Star Trek TNG explorations of these kind of ideas
via holodeck virtual reality was pretty good, and much better than
some of the pedestrian sentiments I've seen on this list recently.)

> If our tools were sophisticated enough, we could figure out what
> that creature was experiencing at that moment, independent of his or
> her report.

NO! We may determine the full physical structure of an organism well
enough to simulate it faithfully as a purely physical object.

However, any experiences we impute to it will remain a subjective
matter with different answers for different observers. Some observers
will be content to say there are no experiences in any case, including
when they simulate you or me.

Physical measurements don't objectively reveal experiences, because
experiences are not physical properties. Pain, pleasure, belief and
the other psychological components of consciousness are abstractions
that can be mapped onto physical structures, but not in a unique way.

Some mappings are useful for particular purposes. Psychological
mappings surely evolved so we could coordinate better in social
groups. It helps me (read "me") act effectively to classify your
state as hungry or sad or in pain, or liking or disliking me.

It also helps me plan my own activities to similarly classify my own
state, and a richer classification is possible because I have
privileged access to all sorts of internal variables like signals
from my peripheral and visceral nerves and brain systems, hormone
concentrations and so on.

The resulting abstract psychological self-interpretation (our internal
sense of consciousness) is so tightly integrated to our physical
functioning that it may seem absolute and inevitable, but it's not.

The standard self-interpretation is replaced by other interpretations,
for instance when we sleep, become unconscious, are hypnotized or
otherwise influenced by compelling suggestions or go into meditative
trances (even as we perform tasks excellently). In many such cases
seemingly absolute sensations like intense pain simply vanish, no
longer part of our self-interpretation.

Multiple-personality syndrome also seems to be an example of a body
and brain interpreting itself differently at different times.

Western philosophy of mind, influenced by soulist religious ideas, has
hyperinflated the significance of our own mutable self-interpretations
into absolute immutable bedrocks of existence. But that idea just
doesn't work, it only befuddles its holders.
Received on Wed Jul 28 1999 - 19:19:35 PDT

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