RE: Maudlin's argument

From: Stathis Papaioannou <>
Date: Sun, 15 Oct 2006 19:00:19 +1000

Russell Standish writes:

> I don't quite follow your argument. OMs are not computations. Whatever
> they are under computationalism, they must be defined by a set of
> information, a particular meaning to a particular observer.

Computationalists do sometimes say things like "cognition is computation" and leave
it at that. A more common formulation is that consciousness supervenes on the
physical activity underlying computation. It was Donald Davidson in 1970 who
introduced the term "supervenience" in philosophy of mind:

"Mental characteristics are in some sense dependent, or supervenient, on physical
characteristics. Such supervenience might be taken to mean that there cannot be
two events exactly alike in all physical respects but differing in some mental respects,
or that an object cannot alter in some mental respects without altering in some
physical respects.


That seemed perfectly reasonable and obvious to me a few years ago, but the more I
think about it the more problematic it becomes. The subject of the present post is that
it seems two objects or processes may in fact be physically identical but mentally different.
> Quantum states have this property. For observables that the state is
> an eigenvalue of, the state contains precise information about those
> observables. For observables that the state is not an eigenvalue of,
> there is still information about relative proportions of different
> outcomes of measurement.
> If I understand your argument correctly, you say that 1 string of bits could
> be interpreted in multiple ways by multiply different observers. This
> is true regardless of whether we accept computationalism. But you
> can't associate quantum states with uninterpreted strings - each quantum
> state is an interpretation.
> Perhaps where some confusion lies is when we use a quantum state to
> refer to a subsystem of the universe, eg that experiemental apparatus
> over there on the lab bench. This is the typical situation in QM
> calculations. What this state is is the projection of the full QM
> state onto the subspace of interest (the apparatus) with all other
> dimensions summed over ("traced out" in mathematical parlance).

I was using "quantum state" as synonymous with "physical state", which I guess
is what you are referring to in the above paragraph. The observer sees a classical
universe because in observing he collapses the wave function or selects one branch
of the multiverse. Traditional computationalism ignores the other branches/ other
elements of the superposition, but you have implied previously that these are
necessary for consciousness because they allow implementation of counterfactuals.
Does that mean consciousness would be impossible in a classical universe?

> In this case, this projected QM state describes not a full observer
> moment, but only a component of one. And of course there will be
> multiple observer moments sharing that component.

I didn't think an OM could have components, being the smallest unit of subjective
experience. Do you mean a component of the physical structures giving rise to the
OM? And how can you be sure that other OMs share that component?

> > > If the same QM state is associated with different observer moments,
> > > you must be talking about some non-functionalist approach to
> > > consciousness. The QM state, by definition, contains all information
> > > that can be extracted from observation.
> >
> > Functionalism explicitly allows that different physical states may implement
> > the same observer moment. For example, OM1 could be implemented on a
> > computer running Mac OS going through physical state S1, or by an equivalent
> > program running on the same computer emulating Windows XP on Mac OS
> > going through state S2. In this way, there is potentially a large number of
> > distinct physical states S1, S2... Sn on the one machine all implementing OM1.
> >
> > Is there any reason to suppose inclusion of a physical state in this set S1... Sn
> > prevents it from implementing any OM other than OM1? It seems that you would
> > quickly run out of useful states on a finite state machine if this were so. Perhaps
> > it would be possible in the case of any state Si to reverse engineer a language
> > or operating system under which Si is implementing OM1 (I don't know if this
> > can be shown rigorously), which would mean that any Si implementing another
> > observer moment OM2 would also be implementing OM1. The conclusion would
> > be that the relationship between QM states and OMs could be one->many.

Stathis Papaioannou
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Received on Sun Oct 15 2006 - 05:00:36 PDT

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