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

From: Russell Standish <>
Date: Sat, 23 Jun 2007 09:29:55 +1000

On Fri, Jun 22, 2007 at 02:06:14PM +0100, David Nyman wrote:
> RS:
> Terminology is terminology, it doesn't have a point of view.
> DN:
> This may be a nub of disagreement. I'd be interested if you could clarify.
> My characterisation of a narrative as '3-person' is when (ISTM) that it's an
> abstraction from, or projection of, some 'situation' that is fundamentally
> 'participative'. Do you disagree with this?
> By contrast, I've been struggling recently with language that engages
> directly with 'participation'. But this leads to your next point.....

Terminology is about describing communicable notions. As such, the
only things words can ever describe are 1st person plural
things. Since you are familiar with my book, you can look up the
distinction between 1st person (singular), 1st person plural and 3rd
person, but these concepts have often been discussed on this list. I
can use the term "Green" for instance, in a sentence to you, and we
can be sure of its meaning when referring to shared experience of
phenomena, however I can never communicate to you how green appears to
me, so that you can compare it with your green qualia.

> RS:
> Terms
> should have accepted meaning, unless we agree on a different meaning
> for the purposes of discussion.
> DN:
> But where there is no generally accepted meaning, or a disputed one, how can
> we then proceed? Hence my attempts at definition (which I hate BTW), and
> which you find to be gibberish. Is there a way out of this?

This sometimes happens. We can point to examples of what the word
means, and see if we agree on those. There are bound to be borderline
cases where we disagree, but these are often unimportant unless we are
searching for a definition.

> BTW, when I read 'Theory of Nothing', which I find very cogent, ISTM that
> virtually its entire focus is on aspects of a 'participatory' approach. So
> I'm more puzzled than ever why we're in disagreement.

You are correct that it is 'particpatory', at least in the sense John
Wheeler uses it. I don't think I ever really found myself in
disagreement with you. Rather, what is happening is symptomatic of us
trying to reach across the divide of JP Snow's two cultures. You are
obviously comfortable with the world of literary criticism, and your
style of writing reflects this. The trouble is that to someone brought
up on a diet of scientific and technical writing, the literary paper
may as well be written in ancient greek. Gibberish doesn't mean
rubbish or nonsense, just unintelligible.

I had my first experience of the modern academic humanities just two
years ago, and it was quite a shock. I attended a conference entitled
"The two cultures: Reconsidering the division between the Sciences and
Humanities". I was invited to speak as one of the scientific
representatives, and basically spoke about the core thesis of my book,
which seemed appropriate. I kept the language simple and
interdisciplinary, used lots of pictures to illustrate the concepts,
and I'm sure had a reasonable connect with the audience. All of the
other scientists did the same. They all knew better than to fall back
into jargon and dense forests of mathematical formulae (I have suffered
enough of those types of seminars, to be sure).

By contrast, the speakers from the humanities all read their papers
word-for-word. There were no illustrations to help one follow the gist
of the arguments. The sentences were long-winded, and attempted to
cover every nuance possible. A style I'm sure you're very familiar
with. I tried to ask a few questions of the speakers at the end, not
so as to appear smart or anything, but just to try to clarify some of
the few points I thought I might have understood. The responses from
the speakers, however, was in the same long-winded, heavily nuanced

The one thing I drew from this conference was that the divide between
Snow's two cultures is alive and well, and vaster than I ever imagined.

> I've really been
> trying to say that points-of-view (or 'worlds') emerge from *structure*
> defined somehow, and that (tautologically, surely) the 'primitives' of such
> structure (in whatever theoretical terms we choose) must be capable of
> 'animating' such povs or worlds. IOW povs are always 'takes' on the whole
> situation, not inherent in individuated 'things'.

To say that a "point of view" (which I would translate as "observer")
emerges from the worlds structure, is another way of saying that the
observer must supervene on observed physical structures. And I agree
with you, basically because of the "Occam catastrophe"
problem. However, how or why this emergence happens is rather

I think is has something to do with self-awareness, without a self
existing with the observed physical world, one cannot be
self-aware. The corrolary of this is that self-awareness must be
necessary for consciousness. Note this doesn't mean that you have to
be self-aware every second you are awake, but you have to be capable
of introspection.

> RS:
> 2) Oxygen and hydrogen atoms as counterexamples of a chemical
> potential that is not an electric field
> DN:
> I certainly didn't mean to imply this! I just meant that we seemed to be
> counterposing 'abstracted' and 'participative' accounts, in the sense I
> indicate above. Something would really help me at this point: could I ask
> how would you relate 'physical' levels of description you've used (e.g.
> 'oxygen and hydrogen atoms') to the 'participative' approach of 'TON'?
> IOW, how do these narratives converge on the range of phenomena to be
> explained?
> David

I don't see a problem with this. Some sentences are necessarily
reflective "Joan gave the ball to me", and other aren't "Joan gave the
ball to Russell". A lot of phenomena can be adequately described
without reference to any observer. Others require the presence of the
observer to be explicitly acknowledged.

A/Prof Russell Standish                  Phone 0425 253119 (mobile)
UNSW SYDNEY 2052         
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Received on Sat Jun 23 2007 - 09:09:25 PDT

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