Re: Consciousness is information?

From: Kelly Harmon <>
Date: Sat, 23 May 2009 17:56:21 -0400

On Sat, May 23, 2009 at 8:47 AM, Bruno Marchal <> wrote:
>> To repeat my
>> earlier Chalmers quote, "Experience is information from the inside;
>> physics is information from the outside." It is this subjective
>> experience of information that provides meaning to the otherwise
>> completely abstract "platonic" symbols.
> I insist on this well before Chalmers. We are agreeing on this.
> But then you associate consciousness with the experience of information.
> This is what I told you. I can understand the relation between
> consciousness and information content.

Information. Information content. Hmmmmmmmm. Well, I'm not entirely
sure what you're saying here. Maybe I don't have a problem with this,
but maybe I do. Maybe we're really saying the same thing here, but
maybe we're not. Hmmmmm.

>> Note that I don't have Bruno's fear of white rabbits.
> Then you disagree with all reader of David Lewis, including David
> lewis himself who recognizes this inflation of to many realities as a
> weakness of its modal realism. My point is that the comp constraints
> leads to a solution of that problem, indeed a solution close to the
> quantum Everett solution. But the existence of white rabbits, and thus
> the correctness of comp remains to be tested.

True, Lewis apparently saw it as a cost, BUT not so high a cost as to
abandon modal realism. I don't even see it as a high cost, I see it
as a logical consequence. Again, it's easy to imagine a computer
simulation/virtual reality in which a conscious observer would see
disembodied talking heads and flying pigs. So it certainly seems
possible for a conscious being to be in a state of observing an
unattached talking head.

Given that it's possible, why wouldn't it be actual?

The only reason to think that it wouldn't be actual is that our
external objectively existing physical universe doesn't have physical
laws that can lead easily to the existance of such talking heads to be
observed. But once you've abandoned the external universe and
embraced platonism, then where does the constraint against observing
talking heads come from?

Assuming platonism, I can explain why "I" don't see talking heads:
because every possible Kelly is realized, and that includes a Kelly
who doesn't observe disembodied talking heads and who doesn't know
anyone who has ever seen such a head.

So given that my observations aren't in conflict with my theory, I
don't see a problem. The fact that nothing that I could observe would
ever conflict with my theory is also not particularly troubling to me
because I didn't arrive at my theory as means of explaining any
particular observed fact about the external universe.

My theory isn't intended to explain the contingent details of what I
observe. It's intended to explain the fact THAT I subjectively
observe anything at all.

Given that it seems theoretically possible to create a computer
simulation that would manifest any imaginable conscious being
observing any imaginable "world", including schizophrenic beings
observing psychodelic realities, I don't see why you are trying to
constrain the platonic realities that can be experienced to those that
are extremely similar to ours.

> It is just a question of testing a theory. You seem to say something
> like "if the theory predict that water under fire will typically boil,
> and that experience does not confirm that typicality (water froze
> regularly) then it means we are just very unlucky". But then all
> theories are correct.

I say there is no water. There is just our subjective experience of
observing water. Trying to constrain a Platonic theory of
consciousness so that it matches a particular observed physical
reality seems like a mistake to me.

Is there a limit to what we could experience in a computer simulated
reality? If not, why would there be a limit to what we could
experience in Platonia?

>> The double-aspect principle stems from the observation that there is a
>> direct isomorphism between certain physically embodied information
>> spaces and certain phenomenal (or experiential) information spaces.
> This can be shown false in Quantum theory without collapse, and more
> easily with the comp assumption.
> No problem if you tell me that you reject both Everett and comp.
> Chalmers seems in some place to accept both Everett and comp, indeed.
> He explains to me that he stops at step 3. He believes that after a
> duplication you feel to be simultaneously at the both place, even
> assuming comp. I think and can argue that this is non sense. Nobody
> defends this on the list. Are you defending an idea like that?

I included the Chalmers quote because I think it provides a good image
of how abstract information seems to supervene on physical systems.
BUT by quoting the passage I'm not saying that I think that this
appearance of supervenience is the source of consciousness. I still
buy into the putnam mapping view that there is no 1-to-1 mapping from
information or computation to any physical system, which of course
makes physicalism untenable as an explanation for consciousness.

As for Everettian MWI, I don't think that quantum mechanics has
anything to do with conscious experience. The fact that we see a
world which is apparently quantum mechanical in nature is a
coincidence. A fluke. In keeping with an unconstrained platonic
theory of consciousness, I would expect that there are other conscious
observers who experience other very different worlds where they make
observations that are not consistent with quantum mechanics.

> Perhaps. I don't see the relevance. It is quite coherent with comp
> that some form of meaning can be approached in this or similar ways.
> Assuming comp, what can be considered as lacking is the self-reference
> of the universal machine involved in the attribution of meaning.

I included the LSA discussion because I think it gives a good image of
how I see information being structured in a platonic sense, as
relationships between symbols, and also because it said some
interesting things about the symbol grounding problem.

> With comp, those other "sensory modalities" are coded before being
> processed by the brain, or the universal machine under consideration.

I agree, other sensory modalities are just more ungrounded tokenized
information that is included in the web of relationships which
ultimately, when consciously experienced "from the inside", provides
meaning to the otherwise purely abstract "ungrounded" platonic

> Kelly, the question is: do we disagree?

I've wondered that too. It could be that we only differ on a few
relatively minor points.

> I criticize your statement
> "consciousness = information" for vagueness, but only BECAUSE you have
> oppose it to the computationalist hypothesis,

I don't deny that there are computational/arithmetical descriptions of
how instances of consciousness can be related. We agree on that. I
just question what role, OTHER than describing the possible
relationships between sets of information, that computation plays.
Given that many algorithms can produce the same output from the same
input, I am inclined to say that it's the output that matters for
consciousness, not the algorithm.

It seems to me that connections between instances of consciousness are
implied, but that there's nothing "real" actually binding these
instances together other than the subjective feelings of continuity
arising from the memory each instant has of previous instances. But
"memory" would seem to be a informational/data related concept I'd
think, not an algorithmic one.

If an algorithm results in the overwriting or erasure of memory, then
there is no longer the flow of conscious experience. The algorithm
doesn't provide that "subjective" connection between instances of
consciousness. The information stored in memory does.

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Received on Sat May 23 2009 - 17:56:21 PDT

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