Re: computationalism and supervenience

From: Brent Meeker <>
Date: Tue, 12 Sep 2006 18:37:49 -0700

Stathis Papaioannou wrote:
> Peter Jones writes:
>>>That's what I'm saying, but I certainly don't think everyone agrees with me on the list, and
>>>I'm not completely decided as to which of the three is more absurd: every physical system
>>>implements every conscious computation, no physical system implements any conscious
>>>computation (they are all implemented non-physically in Platonia), or the idea that a
>>>computation can be conscious in the first place.
>>You haven't made it clear why you don't accept that every physical
>>implements one computation, whether it is a
>>conscious computation or not. I don't see what
>>contradicts it.
> Every physical system does implement every computation, in a trivial sense, as every rock
> is a hammer and a doorstop and contains a bust of Albert Einstein inside it. Those three aspects
> of rocks are not of any consequence unless there is someone around to appreciate them.
> Similarly, if the vibration of atoms in a rock under some complex mapping are calculating pi
> that is not of any consequence unless someone goes to the trouble of determining that mapping,
> and even then it wouldn't be of any use as a general purpose computer unless you built another
> general purpose computer to dynamically interpret the vibrations (which does not mean the rock
> isn't doing the calculation without this extra computer).

I think there are some constraints on what the rock must be doing in order that it
can be said to be calculating pi instead of the interpreting computer. For example
if the rock states were just 1,0,1,0,1,0... then there are several arguments based on
for example information theory that would rule out that being a computation of pi.

>However, if busts of Einstein were conscious
> regardless of the excess rock around them, or calculations of pi were conscious regardless of the
> absence of anyone being able to appreciate them, then the existence of the rock in an otherwise
> empty universe would necessitate the existence of at least those two conscious processes.
> Computationalism says that some computations are conscious. It is also a general principle of
> computer science that equivalent computations can be implemented on very different hardware
> and software platforms; by extension, the vibration of atoms in a rock can be seen as implementing
> any computation under the right interpretation. Normally, it is of no consequence that a rock
> implements all these computations. But if some of these computations are conscious (a consequence
> of computationalism)

It's not a consequence of my more modest idea of computationalism.

>and if some of the conscious computations are conscious in the absence of
> environmental input, then every rock is constantly implementing all these conscious computations.
> To get around this you would have to deny that computations can be conscious, or at least restrict
> the conscious computations to specific hardware platforms and programming languages.

Why not some more complex and subtle critereon based on the computation? Why just
hardware or language - both of which seem easy to rule out as definitive of
consciousness or even computation?

Brent Meeker

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Received on Tue Sep 12 2006 - 21:38:48 PDT

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