RE: computationalism and supervenience

From: Stathis Papaioannou <>
Date: Tue, 12 Sep 2006 20:20:05 +1000

Colin Hales writes:

> Please consider the plight of the zombie scientist with a huge set of
> sensory feeds and similar set of effectors. All carry similar signal
> encoding and all, in themselves, bestow no experiential qualities on the
> zombie.
> Add a capacity to detect regularity in the sensory feeds.
> Add a scientific goal-seeking behaviour.
> Note that this zombie...
> a) has the internal life of a dreamless sleep
> b) has no concept or percept of body or periphery
> c) has no concept that it is embedded in a universe.
> I put it to you that science (the extraction of regularity) is the science
> of zombie sensory fields, not the science of the natural world outside the
> zombie scientist. No amount of creativity (except maybe random choices)
> would ever lead to any abstraction of the outside world that gave it the
> ability to handle novelty in the natural world outside the zombie scientist.
> No matter how sophisticated the sensory feeds and any guesswork as to a
> model (abstraction) of the universe, the zombie would eventually find
> novelty invisible because the sensory feeds fail to depict the novelty .ie.
> same sensory feeds for different behaviour of the natural world.
> Technology built by a zombie scientist would replicate zombie sensory feeds,
> not deliver an independently operating novel chunk of hardware with a
> defined function(if the idea of function even has meaning in this instance).
> The purpose of consciousness is, IMO, to endow the cognitive agent with at
> least a repeatable (not accurate!) simile of the universe outside the
> cognitive agent so that novelty can be handled. Only then can the zombie
> scientist detect arbitrary levels of novelty and do open ended science (or
> survive in the wild world of novel environmental circumstance).
> In the absence of the functionality of phenomenal consciousness and with
> finite sensory feeds you cannot construct any world-model (abstraction) in
> the form of an innate (a-priori) belief system that will deliver an endless
> ability to discriminate novelty. In a very Godellian way eventually a limit
> would be reach where the abstracted model could not make any prediction that
> can be detected. The zombie is, in a very real way, faced with 'truths' that
> exist but can't be accessed/perceived. As such its behaviour will be
> fundamentally fragile in the face of novelty (just like all computer
> programs are).
> -----------------------------------
> Just to make the zombie a little more real... consider the industrial
> control system computer. I have designed, installed hundreds and wired up
> tens (hundreds?) of thousands of sensors and an unthinkable number of
> kilometers of cables. (NEVER again!) In all cases I put it to you that the
> phenomenal content of sensory connections may, at best, be characterised as
> whatever it is like to have electrons crash through wires, for that is what
> is actually going on. As far as the internal life of the CPU is concerned...
> whatever it is like to be an electrically noisy hot rock, regardless of the
> program....although the character of the noise may alter with different
> programs!
> I am a zombie expert! No that didn't come out right...erm....
> perhaps... "I think I might be a world expert in zombies".... yes, that's
> better.
> :-)
> Colin Hales

I'm not sure I understand why the zombie would be unable to respond to any
situation it was likely to encounter. Doing science and philosophy is just a happy
side-effect of a brain designed to help its owner survive and reproduce. Do you
think it would be impossible to program a computer to behave like an insect, or a
newborn infant, for example? You could add a random number generator to make
its behaviour less predictable (so predators can't catch it and parents don't get
complacent) or to help it decide what to do in a truly novel situation.

Stathis Papaioannou
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Received on Tue Sep 12 2006 - 06:21:04 PDT

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