Re: computationalism and supervenience

From: Brent Meeker <>
Date: Tue, 12 Sep 2006 11:00:36 -0700

1Z wrote:
> Stathis Papaioannou wrote:
>>Brent meeker writes:
>>>Stathis Papaioannou wrote:
>>>>Peter Jones writes:
>>>We should ask ourselves how do we know the thermometer isn't conscious of the
>>>temperature? It seems that the answer has been that it's state or activity *could*
>>>be intepreted in many ways other than indicating the temperature; therefore it must
>>>be said to unconscious of the temperature or we must allow that it implements all
>>>conscious thought (or at least all for which there is a possible interpretative
>>>mapping). But I see it's state and activity as relative to our shared environment;
>>>and this greatly constrains what it can be said to "compute", e.g. the temperature,
>>>the expansion coefficient of Hg... With this constraint, then I think there is no
>>>problem in saying the thermometer is conscious at the extremely low level of being
>>>aware of the temperature or the expansion coefficient of Hg or whatever else is
>>>within the constraint.
>>I would basically agree with that. Consciousness would probably have to be a continuum
>>if computationalism is true.
> I don't think that follows remotely. It is true that it is vastly
> better to interpret a column of mercury as a temperature-sensor than
> a pressure-sensor or a radiation-sensor. That doesn't mean the
> thermometer
> knows that in itself.
> Computationalism does not claim that every computation is conscious.
> If consciousness supervenes on inherent non-interprtation-dependent
> features,
> it can supervene on features which are binary, either present or
> absent.

It could, depending on what it is. But that's why we need some independent
operational definition of consciousness before we can say what has it and what
doens't. It's pretty clear that there are degrees of consciousness. My dog is aware
of where he is and who he is relative to the family etc. But I don't think he passes
the mirror test. So whether a thermometer is conscious or not is likely to be a
matter of how we define and quantify consciousness.

> For instance, whether a programme examines or modifies its own code is
> surely
> such a feature.
>>Even if computationalism were false and only those machines
>>specially blessed by God were conscious there would have to be a continuum, across
>>different species and within the lifespan of an individual from birth to death. The possibility
>>that consciousness comes on like a light at some point in your life, or at some point in the
>>evolution of a species, seems unlikely to me.
> Surely it comes on like a light whenver you wake up.

Not at all. If someone whispers your name while you're asleep, you will wake up -
showing you were conscious of sounds and their meaning.

On the other hand, it does come on like a light (or a slow sunrise) when you come out
of anesthesia.

Brent Meeker

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Received on Tue Sep 12 2006 - 14:02:17 PDT

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