Re: Consciousness is information?

From: Brent Meeker <>
Date: Fri, 24 Apr 2009 10:00:28 -0700

Jason Resch wrote:
> Kelly,
> Your arguments are compelling and logical, you have put a lot of doubt
> in my mind about computationalism. I have actually been in somewhat
> of a state of confusion since Bruno's movie graph argument coupled
> with a paper by Max Tegmark. In Tegmark's paper, he was explaining
> that there is an appeal to many people of associating the time
> dimension with the computational clock, but argued there is no reason
> to do so, time is just another dimension after all, and everything
> being an atemporal platonic/mathematical object any perception of
> change is illusory.

That's a common model but it's certainly not a settled question in
physics. Just recently Sean Carroll wrote a paper titled "What if Time
Really Exists?" And even in a block
universe model the time dimension is still different from the space

> Later, when Bruno explained his movie graph
> argument, it came to the point where we were asked: Is a recording of
> Alice's brain activity itself conscious? I first thought obviously
> no, but then realized the contradiction with space-time. Could the
> block-time view of the universe not be considered a recording?
> Perhaps the difference between a recording (like Tape or CD) and the
> universe (or a computer program/simulation) is that with a physical
> recording it is possible to alter a state at one point in time without
> affecting future/past states.

This implicitly assumes that you can dispense with the continuum and
treat the process as a succession of discrete states. I question that.
It is how we think and how we write and describe computer programs and
we know that if we make the time step small enough in the simulation we
can accurately reproduce processes. But I think we are fooling
ourselves by taking the description in terms of discrete states to be
sufficient - actually we are relying on the physics of the computer to
join one state to the next. Bruno proposes to abstract this whole
process up to Platonia where the role of the computer in interpreting
the program is taken over by abstract computations. But then to avoid
any choice he must allow all possible (countably infinite) computations
between any two states. ISTM this implies a strange topology of states
and I'm not clear on how it models consciousness.

> Or maybe consciousness is only created
> from platonic objects / information or relationships that exist within
> them. The appeal of computationalism for me is that it creates a
> self-interpreting structure, the information or state has meaning only
> because it is part a state machine. We, being creatures who can only
> experience through time might be fooled into thinking change over time
> is necessary for consciousness, but what if we could make a computer
> that computed over the X-dimension instead of T, what would such a
> computer look like and how would it be logically different from a
> recording (which is static over T), and how is it logically different
> from a computer that computes accross the T dimension?

I don't think it is *logically* different. Before computers, a
computation was something written out on sheets of paper (I know because
my first summer job in college was calculating coordinates and depths
for a geological research company and my official job title was
"Computer".) :-)

> I very much look forward to reading your and others' opinions on this.
> Jason
> On Thu, Apr 23, 2009 at 11:14 PM, Kelly <> wrote:
>> On Apr 22, 12:24 pm, Bruno Marchal <> wrote:
>>>> So for that to be a plausible scenario we have to
>>>> say that a person at a particular instant in time can be fully
>>>> described by some set of data.
>>> Not fully. I agree with Brent that you need an interpreter to make
>>> that person manifest herself in front of you. A bit like a CD, you
>>> will need a player to get the music.
>> It seems to me that consciousness is the self-interpretion of
>> information. David Chalmers has a good line: "Experience is
>> information from the inside; physics is information from the outside."
>> I still don't see what an interpreter adds, except to satisfy the
>> intuition that something is "happening" that "produces"
>> consciousness. Which I think is an attempt to reintroduce "time".
>> But I don't see any advantage of this view over the idea that
>> conscious states just "exist" as a type of platonic form (as Brent
>> mentioned earlier). At any given instant that I'm awake, I'm
>> conscious of SOMETHING. And I'm conscious of it by virtue of my
>> mental state at that instant. In the materialist view, my mental
>> state is just the state of the particles of my brain at that
>> instant.
>> But I say that what this really means is that my mental state is just
>> the information represented by the particles of my brain at that
>> instant. And that if you transfer that information to a computer and
>> run a simulation that updates that information appropriately, my
>> consciousness will continue in that computer simulation, regardless of
>> the hardware (digital computer, mechanical computer, massively
>> parallel or single processor, etc) or algorithmic details of that
>> computer simulation.
>> But, what is information? I think it has nothing to do with physical
>> storage or instantiation. I think it has an existence seperate from
>> that. A platonic existence. And since the information that
>> represents my brain exists platonically, then the information for
>> every possible brain (including variations of my brain) should also
>> exist platonically.
>>>> Conscious experience is with the information.
>>> Conscious experience is more the content, or the interpretation of
>>> that information, made by a person or by a universal machine.
>>> If the doctor makes a copy of your brain, and then codes it into a bit
>>> string, and then put the bit string in the fridge, in our probable
>>> history, well in that case you will not survive, in our local probable
>>> history.
>> Given the platonic nature of information, this isn't really a
>> concern. In Platonia, you always have a "next moment". In fact, you
>> experience all possible "next moments". The "no cul-de-sac" rule
>> applies I think.
>>> If you say yes to a doctor for a digital brain, you will ask for a
>>> brain which functions relatively to our probable computational
>>> history. No?
>> I won't worry about it too much, as there is no doctor, only my
>> perceptions of a doctor. Every possible outcome of the "brain
>> replacement operation" that I can perceive, I will perceive.
>> Including outcomes that don't make any sense.
>> Additionally, every possible outcome of the operation that the doctor
>> can percieve, he will perceive. Including outcomes that don't make
>> any sense.
>> So it seems to me that a lot of your effort goes into explaining why
>> we don't see strange "white rabbit" universes. Thus the talk of
>> probabilities and measures. I'm willing to just say that all
>> universes are experienced. Strange ones, normal ones, good ones, bad
>> ones, ones with unbreakable physical laws, ones with no obvious
>> physical laws at all. It's all a matter of perception, not a matter
>> of physical realization.
>>> Yes there is a world in which you computer will transform itself into
>>> a green flying pig. The "scientific", but really everyday life
>>> question, is, what is the "probability" this will happen to "me" here
>>> and now.
>> I'm not sure what it means to ask, "what is the probability that my
>> computer will turn into a green pig". One of me will observe
>> everything that can be observed in the next instant. How many things
>> is that? I'm not sure. More than 10...ha! Setting aside physical
>> limits, maybe infinitely many? Given that I might also get extra
>> sensory capacity in that instant, or extra cognitive capacity, or
>> whatever.
>> So, of course all of that sounds somewhat crazy, but that's where you
>> end up when you try to explain consciousness I think. Any explanation
>> that doesn't involve eliminativism is going to be strange I think.
>> But, if you are willing to say that consciousness is an illusion, then
>> you can just stick with materialism/physicalism and you're fine. In
>> that case there's no need to invoke any of this more esoteric stuff
>> like platonism. Right?
> >

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Received on Fri Apr 24 2009 - 10:00:28 PDT

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