Re: How would a computer know if it were conscious?

From: David Nyman <>
Date: Sun, 17 Jun 2007 23:17:50 -0000

On Jun 17, 2:33 am, Russell Standish <> wrote:

> You're obviously suggesting single neurons have qualia. Forgive me for
> being a little sceptical of this suggestion...

Russell, this is daft! Surely the argument is getting completely lost
in the terminology here. What on earth could you (or Colin, or
anyone), whether arguing pro or con, imagine 'qualia' could possibly
mean in this context? And yet something (presumably) based on neurons
(and on whatever one's model-of-choice claims neurons are based on)
'possesses' them. Or rather (since I think the 'possessing qualia'
way of speaking leads to utter incoherence) whatever exists
intrinsically (e.g. our personal world) is based on them. Which is
equivalent to saying that this 'base' exists 'completely' (as opposed
to its *incomplete* - because abstract(ed) - 'physical description').

As I've argued (interminably) elsewhere, when we analyse our personal
worlds stringently, we find that our claims about them rest
principally on two capabilities (that are actually inseparable when
examined): 'sensing' and 'acting'. These are the primitive intrinsic
semantic components of relationship, or 'grasp'. 'Absolute qualities'
are not at issue here. These are ineluctably sui generis: a 'personal
modelling medium' can't *in itself* be communicated in terms of
'extrinsic objects' modelled within it. But we can refer to it
ostensively: i.e. we *demonstrate* how elements of our personal worlds
relate to an inter-subjective 'extrinsic reality' (which is I think is
at root what Colin calls 'doing science'). But we *must* postulate
that all 'emergent' motivational and sensory modalities - i.e. what
comprises our personal worlds - *must* 'reduce' to components of the
same *completed* ontic category.

Now, if you want to try to imagine 'what it's like to be a neuron', I
can't help you. But I do say that you shouldn't expect the relation
between this and 'what it's like to be Russell' to be any less complex
than, say, what a 'physical' description of a neuron 'is like' as
compared to an equivalent description of Russell. IOW, pretty
tenuous. But - crucially - we accept in the case of the 'physical'
account that the components and the assembly belong in (a 'reduced'
version of) the *same ontic category*. And, mutatis mutandis, the
'completed' relationships at fundamental and emergent levels likewise
belong in the same completed ontic category (i.e. the unique one - the
'abstracted physical' one now being revealed as merely partial).

A crucial aspect of this is that it emphasises - but crucially
*completes* - the causal closure of our explanations. We can now see
that any 'physical' action-only account is radically incomplete - in
the massively real sense that *it can't work at all*. Without the
'sensing' component of 'grasp', 'action' is snuffed out at the root
(Kant had to invoke divine intervention to get out of this one). And
the 'grasp' itself must crucially be intuited as intrinsically self-
motivated (i.e. 'physical law' reduces to the self-motivated relating
of differentiated 'ultimate actors'). The self-motivation of the
'componentry' can then emerge somewhat later, transformed but intact
(mutatis mutandis) as the self-motivation of all manner of personal
and extrinsic emergents.

Our explanations about our motivations and the causal sequence from
personal to extrinsic worlds can now 'emerge' as indeed 'something
like' what we intuit in our personal worlds (phew!!). I really did go
'ouch' *because it hurt*. I fled the situation *because I was really
suffering*. The computer isn't conscious *purely in virtue of any
program I impute to it* (though like any other entity it is an
emergent with its proper fundamental 'grasp'). And BTW (pace Bruno)
all this could AFAICS equally well be postulated on AR - i.e. the
'self-motivated' primitive elements (relata) and operators (mediators)
of COMP.

What this means is that 'neurons' - whether further reduced to
particles, electromagnetic fields, or indeed the number realm: however
we choose to model the 'base' - must supervene on 'ultimate relata'
that interact in virtue of intrinsic 'grasp' (see my posts to Colin
and Bruno for more): i.e. 'sense' and 'action' united. If we lose
this basic insight, we also lose the ability to map emergent 'mental'
and 'physical' phenomena to any ultimate entities on which we can
coherently claim they supervene. Or rather, we retain only the
ability to map the *action* half of the sense-action 'grasp' (an
omission which should now be seen as fatally incoherent - how can
entities be claimed to act on each other without mutually sensing
their presence?).

This only ever *seemed* to make sense insofar as the physical
description of the world yields models abstracted from the 'completed'
existents to which they refer - not those existents themselves. The
puzzlement over the lost 'sensing', however, returns with a vengeance
when the modelled existent becomes reflexive - i.e. it's *ourselves*.
Why aren't we zombies? Because the physical model of ourselves is
just that - an incomplete, uninhabited abstraction - 'action' without
'sense' - a zombie in fact. But the completed version can't be a
zombie, because like one, it wouldn't work at all. And, crucially,
neither would anything else.

All this has massive implications for issues of will (free or
otherwise), suffering, software uploading of minds, etc., etc. - which
I've indicated in other posts. Consequently, I'd be really interested
in your response, because AFAICS this must be either right(ish),
wrong(ish), or not-even-wrong(ish). But if right(ish), potentially it
gives us a basis for speaking the same language, even if my suggested
vocabulary is jettisoned for an improved version. It's certainly
intended to be Occamish.


> On Sun, Jun 17, 2007 at 10:02:28AM +1000, Colin Hales wrote:
> > Hi,
> > I am going to have to be a bit targetted in my responses.... I am a TAD
> > whelmed at the moment.....
> > >> 4) Belief in 'magical emergence' .... qualitative novelty of a kind
> > utterly unrelated to the componentry.
> > > The latter clause refers to "emergence" (without the "magical"
> > > qualifier), and it is impossible IMHO to have creativity without
> > emergence.
> > The distinction between 'magical emergence' and 'emergence' is quite
> > obviously intended by me. A lake is not apparent in the chemical formula
> > for water. I would defy anyone to quote any example of real-world
> > 'emergence' that does not ultimately rely on a necessary primitive.
> > 'Magical emergence' is when you claim 'qualitative novelty' without having
> > any idea (you can't point at it) of the necessary primitive, or by
> > defining an arbitrary one that is actually a notional construct (such as
> > 'information'), rather than anything real.
> All I can say is that I don't understand your distinction. You have
> introduced a new term "necessary primitive" - what on earth is that?
> But I'll let this pass, it probably isn't important.
> > Ok. Here's where we find the big assumption. Feedback? HOW? who's
> > rules? Your rules. This is the real circularity which underpins
> > computationalism. It's the circularity that my real physical qualia model
> > cuts and kills. Mathematically:
> > * You have knowledge KNOWLEDGE(t) of 'out there'
> > * You want more knowledge of 'out there'
> > * KNOWLEDGE(t+1) is more than KNOWLEDGE(t)
> > * in computationalism who defines the necessary route to this?...
> > d(KNOWLEDGE(t))
> > --------------- = something you know = YOU DO.
> > dt
> > So this means that in a computer abstraction.
> > d(KNOWLEDGE(t))
> > --------------- is already part of KNOWLEDGE(t)
> > dt
> No its not. dK/dt is generated by the interaction of the rules with
> the environment. Evolutionary algorithms are highly effective
> information pumps, pumping information from the environment into the
> genome, or whatever representation you're using to store the solutions.
> > >> My scientific claim is that the electromagnetic field structure
> > literally the third person view of qualia.
> > > Eh? Electromagnetic field of what? The brain? If so, do you think that
> > chemical potentiation plays no role at all in qualia?
> > Chemical potentiation IS electric field.
> Bollocks. A hydrogen molecule and an oxygen atom held 1m apart have
> chemical potential, but there is precious little electric field
> between them. Furthermore, the chemical potential is independent on
> the separation, unlike the electric field.
> > There's no such thing as
> > 'mechanical' there's no such thing as 'chemical'. These are all metaphors
> > in certain contexts for what is and charge (yes...and mass
> > associated with certain charge carriers). Where did you get this weird
> > idea that a metaphor can make qualia?
> Why do you think space and charge are not metaphors also? I would not
> be so sure on this matter.
> > The electric field across the membrane of cells (astrocytes and neurons)
> > is MASSIVE. MEGAVOLTS/METER. Think SPARKS and LIGHTNIING. It dominates the
> > entire structure! It does not have to go anywhere. It just has to 'be'.
> > You 'be' it to get what it delivers. Less than 50% of the signalling in
> > the brain is synaptic, anyway! The dominant cortical process is actually
> > an astrocyte syncytium. (look it up!). I would be very silly to ignore the
> > single biggest, most dominant process of the brain that is so far
> > completely correlated in every way with favour of any other
> > cause.
> You're obviously suggesting single neurons have qualia. Forgive me for
> being a little sceptical of this suggestion...
> --
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------------
> A/Prof Russell Standish Phone 0425 253119 (mobile)
> Mathematics
> Australia
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------------

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Received on Sun Jun 17 2007 - 19:18:04 PDT

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