RE: computationalism and supervenience

From: Stathis Papaioannou <>
Date: Thu, 14 Sep 2006 17:59:55 +1000

Brent Meeker writes:

> > I don't have a clear idea in my mind of disembodied computation except in rather simple cases,
> > like numbers and arithmetic. The number 5 exists as a Platonic ideal, and it can also be implemented
> > so we can interact with it, as when there is a collection of 5 oranges, or 3 oranges and 2 apples,
> > or 3 pairs of oranges and 2 triplets of apples, and so on, in infinite variety. The difficulty is that if we
> > say that "3+2=5" as exemplified by 3 oranges and 2 apples is conscious, then should we also say
> > that the pairs+triplets of fruit are also conscious? If so, where do we draw the line?
> I'm not sure I understand your example. Are you saying that by simply existing, two
> apples and 3 oranges compute 2+3=5? If so I would disagree. I would say it is our
> comprehending them as individual objects and also as a set that is the computation.
> Just hanging there on the trees they may be "computing" apple hanging on a tree,
> apple hanging on a tree,... but they're not computing 2+3=5.

What about my example in an earlier post of beads on an abacus? You can slide 2 beads to the left, then another
3 beads to the left, and count a total of 5 beads; or 2 pairs of beads and 3 pairs of beads and count a total of 5
pairs of beads, or any other variation. Perhaps it seems a silly example when discussing consciousness, but the most
elaborate (and putatively conscious) computation can be reduced to a complex bead-sliding exercise. And if sliding
beads computes 2+3=5, why not if 2 birds and then 3 birds happen to land on a tree, or a flock of birds of which 2
are red lands on one tree and another flock of birds of which 3 are red lands on an adjacent tree? It is true that these
birds and beads are not of much consequence computationally unless someone is there to observe them and interpret
them, but what about the computer that is conscious chug-chugging away all on its own?
> >That is what I mean
> > when I say that any computation can map onto any physical system.
> But as you've noted before the computation is almost all in the mapping. And not
> just in the map, but in the application of the map - which is something we do. That
> action can't be abstracted away. You can't just say there's a physical system and
> there's a manual that would map it into some computation and stop there as though the
> computation has been done. The mapping, an action, still needs to be performed.

What if the computer is built according to some ridiculously complex plan, plugged in, then all the engineers, manuals,
etc. disappear. If it was conscious to begin with, does it suddenly cease being conscious because no-one is able to
understand it? It could have been designed according to the radioactive decay patterns of a sacred stone, in which
case without the documentation, its internal states might appear completely random. With the documentation, it may be
possible to understand what it is doing or even interact with it, and you have said previously that it is the potential for
interaction that allows it to be conscious, but does that mean it gradually becomes less conscious as pages of the manual
are ripped out one by one and destroyed, even though the computer itself does not change its activity as a result?

> >The physical structure and activity
> > of computer A implementing program a may be completely different to that of computer B implementing
> > program b, but program b may be an emulation of program a, which should make the two machines
> > functionally equivalent and, under computationalism, equivalently conscious.
> I don't see any problem with supposing that A and B are equally conscious (or
> unconscious).

But there is a mapping under which any machine B is emulating a machine A. Figuring out this mapping does not change the
physical activity of either A or B. You can argue that therefore the physical activity of A or B is irrelevant and consciousness
is implemented non-corporeally by virtue of its existence as a Platonic object; or you can argue that this is clearly nonsense and
consciousness is implemented as a result of some special physical property of a particular machine.

Stathis Papaioannou
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Received on Thu Sep 14 2006 - 04:00:51 PDT

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