RE: computationalism and supervenience

From: Stathis Papaioannou <>
Date: Sat, 9 Sep 2006 13:01:00 +1000

Peter Jones writes:

> > > With physical supervenience, it is possible for the same person to
> > > supervene on multiple physical objects. What is disallowed is multiple
> > > persons to supervene on the same physical object.
> >
> > That is what is usually understood, but there is no logical reason why
> > the relationship between the physical and the mental cannot be
> > one->many, in much the same way as a written message can have
> > several meanings depending on its interpretation.
> There is a reason: multiple meanings depend on external observers
> and interpretations. But who observes the multiverse ?

I'm not sure how the multiverse comes into the discussion, but you have
made the point several times that a computation depends on an observer
for its meaning. I agree, but *if* computations can be conscious (remember,
this is an assumption) then in that special case an external observer is not
needed. In fact, that is as good a definition of consciousness as any: it is
that aspect of an entity that cannot be captured by an external observer,
but only experienced by the entity itself. Once we learn every observable
fact about stars we know all about stars, but if we lean every observable
fact about bats, we still don't know what it is like to be a bat. To put it
differently, it would not add anything to our knowledge of stars if we could
become a star (assuming stars are not conscious), but it would add something
to our knowledge of bats if we could become or perhaps mind-meld with a

While it is possible, as Brent Meeker has argued, that environmental input is
necessary to maintain consciousness in a person, that would just be a technical
detail about brains, like the requirement for oxygen. The neurons in a brain could
fire in the same pattern as they do naturally but as a result of stimulation by
electrodes, or stimulation by self-exciting neurons grafted onto the brain. You
don't even need to accept the validity of computationalism or functionalism to
make that work.

Stathis Papaioannou
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Received on Sat Sep 09 2006 - 00:41:00 PDT

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