Re: computationalism and supervenience

From: Russell Standish <>
Date: Thu, 7 Sep 2006 12:05:09 +1000

On Thu, Sep 07, 2006 at 11:19:47AM +1000, Stathis Papaioannou wrote:
> Russell Standish writes:
> > In fact lets go one further and write a program that prints out all
> > combinations of 10^{30} bits in Library of Babel style. This is more
> > than enough information to encode all possible histories of neuronal
> > activity of a human brain, so most of us would bet this level of
> > substitution would satisfy "yes doctor".
> >
> > So does this mean that the entire library of babel is conscious, or
> > the dovetailer program (which is about 5 lines of Fortran) is
> > conscious? To me it is an emphatic no! Does it mean that one of the
> > 10^{30} length bitstrings is conscious? Again I also say no. The only
> > possible conscious thing is the subcollection of bitstrings that
> > corresponds to the actions of a program emulating a person under all
> > possible inputs. It will have complexity substantially less than
> > 10^{30}, but substantially greater than the 5 line dovetailer.
> Why do you disagree that one of the bitstrings is conscious? It seems to
> me that "the subcollection of bitstrings that corresponds to the actions of
> a program emulating a person under all possible inputs" is a collection of
> multiple individually conscious entities, each of which would be just as
> conscious if all the others were wiped out.
> Stathis Papaioannou

It is simply the absurdity of a recording being conscious. I know we
are on opposite sides of that fence. The question is whether you can
see a difference between one and the other.

To recap - there are three things being talked about here:

1) The set of all strings, which can be generated by a dovetailer or
   similar simple program

 2) A single string capturing the trace of a conscious observer in a
   single history, which whilst enormously complex itself, can be
   played back by a trivial program, or by Maudlin's construction a
   counterfactual handling device in which only the trivial playback
   device is active.

3) A set of strings corresponding to the trace of a conscious observer
   over all possible histories. This can only be generated by a
   program equivalent to the original observer, however I suppose it
   can be stored (since it is still finite) on a vastly longer tape
   (2^{complexity observer=10^15 (say)} bits) and played back using a
   dovetailer. In fact one way of doing this might be to use a
   2^{10^30} length tape, and mark a 1 for all those traces generated
   by the original observer, and 0 for those that are not. Then the
   dovetailer can do a simple search on this immense tape to see
   whether a particular branch appears as a prefix to the binary
   expansion of any of the conscious traces. Then one can do a
   Maudlin-type argument. However, even this construction will fail in
   the presence of subjective immortality (eg QTI or

So the question is 1), 2) or 3) conscious. I would argue only 3) is,
particularly with immortality. I'll leave this thread for now - I have
some more ideas based on physicality being phenomenal, which rules out
a Maudlin-like construction of the 1) (and possibly 3) case.


*PS: A number of people ask me about the attachment to my email, which
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A/Prof Russell Standish                  Phone 0425 253119 (mobile)
UNSW SYDNEY 2052                      
            International prefix  +612, Interstate prefix 02
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Received on Wed Sep 06 2006 - 22:07:03 PDT

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