RE: Belief Statements

From: Stathis Papaioannou <>
Date: Fri, 28 Jan 2005 10:41:49 +1100

Brent Meeker wrote:

> >For example, if I am running an AI program on my computer and a
> >bitstring is associated with the simulated being noting, "I think,
> >I am", then should not the same bitstring arising by chance in the course
> >of, say, a spreadsheet calculation give rise to the same moment of
> >consciousness - regardless of whether the spreadsheet user or anyone
> >than the simulated being himself is or can be aware of this?
>I think not. Consciousness is a narrative the brain constructs to form
>memories. It has a context. It is consciousness *of* something. A
>in a spreadsheet has a different context (unless the spreadsheet is
>of some "world") and isn't fulfilling the function of consciousness.
So, how long a bitstring do you need to create a context? You could change
the argument a little and consider the entire simulation of a world complete
with conscious inhabitants; it would still only amount to a very long
sequence of 1's and 0's running on a digital computer. If you believe in the
computational hypothesis of mind, you believe two things about this computer

(1) This sequence of binary digits has a special organisation, which can be
understood as conforming to certain rules and relationships in a particular
programming language;

(2) Implementing the binary sequence on a digital computer results in a
simulated world with inhabitants who are self-aware.

You can stipulate that (1) must be true for (2) to be true, but it does not
thereby follow that any conscious being in the physical world must be able
to understand the details of (1) in order for (2) to be true. For example,
suppose the computer language were devised by a long extinct civilization,
and no-one alive now is able to understand it: should that make any
difference to the simulation "from inside"? Similarly, if the entire
computation occurs by chance in the course of another computation - a
spreadsheet, a cryptography cracking program on the planet Zork, distributed
throughout a computer network in tiny pieces as in the Egan story - how can
the conscious beings "inside" possibly know this?

--Stathis Papaioannou

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Received on Thu Jan 27 2005 - 18:45:44 PST

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