RE: computationalism and supervenience

From: Stathis Papaioannou <>
Date: Fri, 15 Sep 2006 20:09:25 +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've had another think about this after reading the paper you sent me. It seems that
you are making two separate claims. The first is that a zombie would not be able to
behave like a conscious being in every situation: specifically, when called upon to be
scientifically creative. If this is correct it would be a corollary of the Turing test, i.e.,
if it behaves as if it is conscious under every situation, then it's conscious. However,
you are being quite specific in describing what types of behaviour could only occur
in the setting of phenomenal consciousness. Could you perhaps be even more specific
and give an example of the simplest possible behaviour or scientific theory which an
unconscious machine would be unable to mimic?

The second claim is that a computer could only ever be a zombie, and therefore could
never be scientifically creative. However, it is possible to agree with the first claim and
reject this one. Perhaps if a computer were complex enough to truly mimic the behaviour
of a conscious being, including being scientifically creative, then it would indeed be
conscious. Perhaps our present computers are either unconscious because they are too
primitive or they are indeed conscious, but at the very low end of a consciousness
continuum, like single-celled organisms or organisms with relatively simple nervous systems
like planaria.

Stathis Papaioannou
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Received on Fri Sep 15 2006 - 06:10:21 PDT

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