Re: computationalism and supervenience

From: 1Z <>
Date: Sat, 02 Sep 2006 14:04:26 -0000

Stathis Papaioannou wrote:
> Peter Jones writes:
> > Stathis Papaioannou wrote:
> > > Peter Jones writes:
> > >

> > > > The requirement that computations require counterfactuals isn't
> > > > ad hoc, it comes from the observation that computer programmes
> > > > include if-then statements.
> > > >
> > > > The idea that everyting is conscious unless there is a good
> > > > reason it isn't -- *that* is ad hoc!
> > >
> > > No, it follows from the idea that anything can be a computation. I think this is trivially obvious,
> > > like saying any string of apparently random characters is a translation of any English sentence
> > > of similar or shorter length, and if you have the correct dictionary, you can find out what that
> > > English sentence is.
> >
> > But that is actually quite a dubious idea. For one thing there
> > is an objective basis for claiming that one meaning is the
> > "real" meaning, and that is the meaning intended by the writer.
> There might have been a particular meaning intended by the writer, but remember materialism: all
> you have really is ink on paper, and neither the ink nor the paper knows anything about where it
> came from or what it means. Suppose a stream of gibberish is created today by the proverbial
> monkeys typing away randomly, and just by chance it turns out that this makes sense as a novel in
> a language that will be used one thousand years from now. Is it correct to say that the monkeys'
> manuscript has a certain meaning today?

If the "intention" criterion is correct it doesn't.
What is your point ?

> Or is it meaningless today, but meaningful in a thousand
> years? If the latter, does it suddenly become meaningful when the new language is defined, or when
> someone who understands the new language actually reads it? What if the manuscript never comes
> to light, or if it comes to light and is read but after another thousand years every trace of the language
> has disappeared?

If it was created intentionally, it had a menaing. The fact that the
can become lost does not affect that.

> I don't think it makes sense to say that the manuscript has intrinsic meaning; rather, it has meaning in
> the mind of an observer. Similarly, with a computation implemented on a computer, I don't think it makes
> sense to say that it has meaning except in its interaction with the environment or in the mind of an
> observer.

Why should computations have meaning at all ?

Maybe the criteria for something being a computation
are different fromt he criteria for something being a written message.

> Any string of characters or any physical process can be seen as implementing a language or
> a computation, if you have the right "dictionary".

Not by the intentionallity criterion.

> There is a very interesting special case of this if we
> allow that some computations can be self-aware, in the absence of any environmental interaction or
> external observer: by definition, they are their own observer and thus they bootstrap themselves into
> consciousness.

Assuming that computation requires interpretation. Maybe it doesn't.

> > For another, your translations would have to be complex
> > and arbitrary, which goes against the ususal modus operandi
> > of seeking simple and consistent explanations.
> It may be inefficient, but that does not mean it is invalid.

It *is* invalid by the standards of physical science.

> > > This is analogous to finding an alien computer which, when power is applied,
> > > is set into motion like an inscrutable Rube Goldberg machine. If you get your hands on the
> > > computer manual, you might be able to decipher the machine's activity as calculating pi.
> >
> > You might not need the manual. Numbers don't
> > have arbitrary semantics in the same way words do.
> > That's why SETI uses mathematical transmissions.
> Mathematical truths are eternal and observer-independent, but mathematical notation certainly is not.
> SETI assumes that there will likely be greater similarities in how different species express mathematical
> statements than in their non-mathematical communication.

Something that would only be possible if maths did not have
the same arbitrary semantics as natural language.

> There is nothing to stop the aliens using a
> mathematical notation that varies according to the moods of their emperor or something, making their
> broadcasts of mathematical theorems seem completely random to us.

If they understood the nature of mathematics, they would
realise that their approach *is* arbitrary.

> Maybe that's why we haven't
> recognised them yet.

> > It is also something Everythingist arguments rely on.
> > You can't exist as a computation in a numbers-only universe
> > if computations require external interpretation.
> The computation is a mathematical object that exists in Platonia. The implementation of a computation on
> a physical computer so that we can observe it is something else. It is like the difference between the
> number 3 and a collection of 3 oranges.

Do computations require intpretation or don't they ? You seem to
have come down on both sides of the question.

> > > Moreover,
> > > you might be able to reach inside and shift a few gears or discharge a few capacitors and make it
> > > calculate e instead, utilising the fact that the laws of physics determine that if the inputs change,
> > > the outputs will change (which, I trust you will agree, is the actual physical basis of the if-then
> > > statements).
> >
> >
> >
> > > Now, in human languages as in machine design, there are certain regularities to make things
> > > easier for user. It might be possible, albeit difficult, to decipher a foreign language or figure out
> > > what an alien computer is computing by looking for these regularities. However, it is not necessary
> > > that there be any pattern at all: the characters in the unknown language may change in meaning
> > > every time they appear in the string in accordance with a random number generator, a cryptographic
> > > method called a "one-time pad". Similarly, the meaning of the physical states of the alien computer
> > > could change with each clock cycle according to some random number sequence, so that if you had
> > > the key you could figure out that the computer was calculating pi, but if you did not its activity would
> > > seem random.
> >
> > Assuming that computational states have an external semantics like
> > words.
> Of course they do. Does Intel or Microsoft follow some universal rule of computer design?

What has that got to do with anything ? If computation
has no external semantics then there are not Intel
semantics or microsoft semantics.

> Any computer
> can be emulated on a UTM, but that doesn't mean the computer can't be based on otrageously bizarre
> and unpredictable rules, inscrutable to anyone not in the know.

*That* doesn't mean that implementing a computation
in an uneccearily complicated way turns it inot
a different computation.

1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1 is just a complicated
way of writing 17, not some completely different number.

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Received on Sat Sep 02 2006 - 10:06:18 PDT

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