Re: 3 possible views of "consciousness"

From: Jesse Mazer <>
Date: Thu, 15 Feb 2001 12:38:49 -0500 wrote:

>"Jesse Mazer" <>:
> > [re: rock is a good implementation of any computation]
> > It depends what you mean by "good implementation." The context of my
> > comment above was, *if* you believe there is a single true set of
> > psychophysical laws, are the laws likely to be defined in terms of
> > "computation" or not? If you don't believe in these sorts of laws,
> > then the question of what's a "good" implementation is somewhat
> > academic--it's really just a question of what's the neatest way to
> > define our terms.
>Many of the people on this list (in common with a lot of western
>philosophy at least since Descartes) are hoping to construct their
>existence measures on the bedrock of the objectively decidable
>self-awareness. They've built very interesting structures, but you
>may notice there's been no progress at all on stabilizing the
>foundation. Instead we have on this list the same debates that
>endlessly, repetitively and inconclusively flood,
>never mind philosophy journals and books.

But my position isn't just "consciousness is real, therefore there must be a
mathematical theory to describe it so it'll have firm foundations." Rather,
I was drawn to the idea of a "theory of consciousness" based on
consideration of the anthropic principle, as well as "continuity of
consciousness" thought-experiments like the one where I'll be replicated
only if the coin falls heads. In both cases we're dealing with
probabilistic questions that seem to call out for a well-defined
mathematical the replicator experiment, do you think there's a
single true answer to the question of whether I should expect a 1/2 or 2/3
(or something else) chance that I will see the coin fall heads?

In any case, It might be useful to temporarily shift this debate away from
the question of "consciousness"--what I want to know is, do you believe in a
global "existence measure" at all? As I said, the main problem I have with
the TOE you've been advocating is that it seems as though it would be
impossible to have a single global measure of any kind. After all, you're
not just saying that any physical system can be interpreted as implementing
any computation--since you believe that the "physical" universe is itself
just a sort of Platonic computation, you're essentially saying that any
Platonic computation can be interpreted as any other Platonic computation,
which would seem to make it impossible to put a global measure on this set.

Without a global existence measure there's no way to talk about probability,
and no reason at all to say I'm any more likely to find myself in a universe
where the laws of physics will stay stable than one where they will suddenly
go haywire. So do you admit the possibility of *some* kind of global
existence measure on "everything?" If you do, then it's a separate argument
as to whether or not the measure should be on all possible conscious
observer-moments or on some other notion of "everything." Personally, I
think the measure needs to be on observer-moments to avoid having a
fundamentally dualistic theory in which the existence measure is completely
separate from anthropic considerations...but there wouldn't be much point in
discussing this if you didn't even believe in a global existence measure in
the first place.

>Gerard O'Neill, the late Princeton physicist best known for his space
>colony studies, once said that if you met a race that insisted that
>logical developments must be built step by step from a firm
>foundation, you could be pretty sure they were planet dwellers. Races
>that live in space realize that it's perfectly OK to build structures
>that have no foundation at all. They can be circular and unsupported,
>yet if you spin them they'll have gravity just like the ponderous
>planetary piles!

I don't think that's such a good analogy--space station builders have to
take into account the same "foundations" that planet-bound builders do,
namely the laws of physics. Anyway, anyone who believes in any kind of
global existence measure is making just as much use of foundations as I's just that I happen to think the measure should be on the set of
all possible observer-moments, while others have some different notion of
the appropriate set of "everything" to put a measure on.

>I think your insistence on the absolute underpinning of an objective
>consciousness is just planet-bound thinking. Bruno's, Juergen's,
>Russell's or Max Tegmark's analyses can just as well be built on
>arbitrary selections of what's conscious (Turing test passers?
>biological brains? red-haired people? teddy bears?). The teddy bear
>universes may have different probabilities than the biological brain
>universes or the Turing test universes, but so what? Each is as
>likely to be self-consistent as another.

True, once you have an existence measure you can then choose an arbitrary
definition of "observer" and do a weighted sum over all universes to see
where "observers" are most likely to be. The problem is that you will get
very different answers as to what's a "likely" universe depending on your
original definition. But the fact that I find myself in *this* particular
type of universe doesn't depend on my own "choice of reference class"--it's
thrust upon me by reality. If you want to explain that, I think you need
reality to have a single "true" definition of what it means to be an

With a weird definition of "observer" I could no doubt predict that I'm
exceedingly likely to see the laws of physics break down within the next
minute (perhaps by saying that those who don't observe such a thing don't
count as 'observers' at all). Is this definition as good as any other? If
so, why shouldn't I take this prediction as seriously as any other one?
Again, the problem is that whatever we think about the matter, reality seems
to have its own ideas, and a coherent TOE really should take this into

>i.e. You don't have to give up the goals of this list just because you
>don't believe there is an objective fact of the matter to
> > My question for you is, does your Platonic view of things rule out
> > the idea of a single global theory of consciousness?
>Don't need it, don't want it.

Is there any reason to predict that the laws-of-physics-going-crazy scenario
is less likely than anything else in your theory? If not I think you *do*
need to modify your theory in some way, whether or not that involves a
"theory of consciousness."

> > I believe that there is more to me than my outward actions.
>So does a lookup table. Just ask it, it will tell you all about
>its complex motives and internal mental life.

Well, I can build a program that just prints out "I have a lot of complex
feelings and thoughts that I'm not gonna tell you anything about, so nyeah
nyeah." And I suppose you'd say that under the right interpretation it does
have such thoughts--but even so, the fact that it *says* it has these kinds
of thoughts has zilch to do with anything, since according to you the same
would be true of a clock or any other system. That's basically the
situation we have with a lookup table as well...what the lookup table does
or doesn't say isn't relevant to your case here.

> > I'm making the assumption that there's *some* set of objective
> > psychophysical laws, and that these laws would tell you a lookup
> > table doesn't give rise to the same experiences as a detailed
> > simulation.
>Groundhog! I make no such assumption.

...Space cadet! Seriously, I think good theories depend on a balance
between "spacey" intuitive leaps and "grounded" critical
not to pit one against the other in the first place.

Jesse Mazer

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Received on Thu Feb 15 2001 - 10:33:58 PST

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