RE: computationalism and supervenience

From: Stathis Papaioannou <>
Date: Sat, 16 Sep 2006 19:47:32 +1000

Peter Jones writes (quoting SP):

> > OK, but then you have the situation whereby a very complex, and to
> mind disorganised, conscious
> > computer might be designed and built by aliens, then discovered by
> after the aliens have become
> > extinct and their design blueprints, programming manuals and so on
> all been lost. We plug in the
> > computer (all we can figure out about it is the voltage and current
> needs to run) and it starts whirring
> > and flashing. Although we have no idea what it's up to when it does
> this, had we been the aliens, we
> > would have been able to determine from observation that it was doing
> philosophy or proving mathematical
> > theorems. The point is, would we now say that it is *not* doing
> philosophy or proving mathematical theorems
> > because there are no aliens to observe it and interpret it?
> Yes, and we would be correct, because the interpretation by th ealiens
> is a part of the process.
> The "computer" we recover is only one component, a subroutine.
> If you only recover part of an artifiact, it is only natural that you
> cannot
> necessarily figure out the funtion of the whole.
> > You might say, the interpretation has still occurred in the initial
> design, even though the designers are no
> > more. But what if exactly the same physical computer had come about
> incredible accident, as a result of
> > a storm bringing together the appropriate metal, semiconductors,
> insulators etc.: if the purposely built computer
> > were conscious, wouldn't its accidental twin also be conscious?
> Interpretation is an activity. If the total systems of
> computer+intepretation is
> consicous, that *would* be true of an accidental system, if the
> interpretational subssytem were accidentally formed as wll, Otherwise,
> not.
> > Finally, reverse the last step: a "computer" is as a matter of fact
> thrown together randomly from various
> > components, but it is like no computer ever designed, and just seems
> whir and flash randomly. Given that there
> > are no universal laws of computer design that everyone has to
> isn't it possible that some bizarre alien
> > engineer *could* have put this strange machine together, so that its
> seemingly random activity to that alien
> > engineer would have been purposely designed to implement conscious
> computation?
> "To the alien engineer" means "interpreted by the alien
> engineer". Interpretation is an activity, so it means additional
> computaiton. All your
> examples are of subsytems that *could* be conscious
> if they were plugged into a specific larger system.
> And if so, is it any more
> > reasonable to deny that this computer is conscious because its
> has not yet been born than it is to deny
> > that the first computer was conscious because its designer has died,
> because it was made accidentally rather
> > than purposely built in a factory?
> Interpretation is an activity. Possible designers and dictionaries
> don't lead to actual
> consciousness.

Perhaps you could suggest an experiment that would demonstrate the point
you are making? That is, a putatively conscious computer under various
situations, so it could be tested to see under what circumstances it is
conscious and under what circumstances its consciousness disappears.

Stathis Papaioannou

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Received on Sat Sep 16 2006 - 05:48:32 PDT

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