Some thoughts from Grandma

From: David Nyman <>
Date: Mon, 02 Jul 2007 16:12:26 -0000

After very kindly concurring with bits of my recent posts, Bruno
nonetheless quite reasonably questioned whether I followed his way of
proceeding. Having read the UDA carefully, I would say that in a
'grandmotherly' way I do, although not remotely at his technical
level. But I had been doing thought experiments of a somewhat similar
nature literally for decades, based on questions like "why am I me and
not you?" or "how do I know that me now is the same as me 5 minutes
ago?" or "is the person who gets out of the transporter the same
person as the one who began the journey?" For some time, faced
largely with incomprehension or disinterest, and seeing hardly
anything remotely like this referred to in print, I despaired of
finding others who believed these questions were anything but
irrelevant or crazy. But gradually these topics seemed to emerge into
discussion from a variety of directions, and now I've found a
community of similarly crazy people on the Internet.

The conclusion I had come to is broadly summarised in my recent
posts. It seemed to me that the 'transporter' questions could only be
resolved if I thought in terms of my being incorporated in some unique
or 'global' pre-differentiated manner, which nonetheless
multifariously self-localised by differentiation of structures that
embodied distinct 'histories'. This seemed somehow to entail the
emergence of finitude from the not-finite, which seemed weirdly
right. Anyway, it would be the histories that differed, not the
'self'. The histories would break the symmetry of the self into
differentiated sub-selves that would be 'I' with respect to their own
private environments. These environments, being participatory, could
only be shared with other such sub-selves by signalling', and the sum
total of shareable signals, re-embodied, would be the 'objective' or
'outside' physical description of the situation. But since these
'entities' could only be self-defined emergents of the original self-
relativisation, everything was in fact 'outside-less' and continued to
exist uniquely or monistically as a network of self-relation.
Depending on whether the participatory or 'objective' perspective was
adopted, self-relation could apparently decompose into 'sense' or
'action' narratives, but such decomposition was in fact illusory, or
perspective-dependent. Self-relation in fact remained singular or
decomposable in nature

Having said this, I can now perhaps contextualise more clearly my
concern about functionalism. Functionalism is the doctrine that
consciousness is a function of the relationship between parts. This
entails that, discounting eliminativism, consciousness must be
actualised by such relations, and that if such parts were to be
considered 'ultimately' to be physical, then the relevant relations
could only be physical relations. If this were so, the actual or
realised relationships existent in a physical structure would be
exhausted by its physical description, and the ascription of a super-
added set of 'computational' relationships would merely be
metaphorical and hence not real enough to be "I". Consequently, if
physics is held to be fundamental to consciousness, and consciousness
is an observer effect, then such observers must be fully describable
by physical relationships, not functional ones, and the appropriate
substitution level is physical duplication, to some level of

By contrast, if the reality of parts and relationships is to be
considered fundamentally numerical, then consciousness and physics
could indeed be derived functionally or computationally from this kit
of parts and their relations. From this perspective, the physical
structure of the body and the observational structure of the mind
could be held to emerge respectively from 'action' and 'sense'
decompositions of the fundamental self-relative nature of number-
relations. Nonetheless, if the observer decomposition continues to be
regarded as 'functional' with respect to the physical one, they remain
in some deep sense orthogonal - i.e. the 'functionalism' is that of
'imaginary parts' and 'imaginary relations' with respect to the
physical description. It follows that there may be no final way of
'de-crypting' any unambiguous observer structure from the physical
description alone. We would then be left unavoidably with an
'objectively' unknowable and unprovable imputation of consciousness to
any physically-defined structure. So be it. But it might then be
questioned how observer and physical narratives could somehow
'converge' on a common or consistent environmental interface as a
result of any form of co-evolution. Such a notion would seem to imply
that equivalent selection effects could be operating on both
environments despite their orthogonal orientation. It is not
immediately apparent why this should be so.

It may consequently offer some theoretical advantages to suppose that
a single evolutionary path is followed as a consequence of one-to-one
reciprocity at some level between sense and action components of a
primitively self-relative narrative, and that consciousness is
consequently not 'functional' with respect to the physical
description, but in some real sense isomorphic or analogic. This
would not, ISTM, be to postulate any fundamental 'material' substrate,
but rather to be saying something about the way a 'neutral'
fundamentally self-relative process could 'decompose' into apparently
reciprocal components as a consequence of the embodiment of
observation. However, I can't at this point see whether such
alternatives can be resolved purely theoretically, or whether they are
fundamentally empirical issues.


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Received on Mon Jul 02 2007 - 12:12:50 PDT

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