Re: Questions on Russell's "Why Occam" paper

From: Russell Standish <>
Date: Sun, 12 Jun 2005 09:51:19 +1000

On Fri, Jun 10, 2005 at 01:59:16PM +0100, Patrick Leahy wrote:
> On Thu, 9 Jun 2005, Russell Standish wrote:
> >Yes, if you think there is a concrete reality in which everything exists
> >(your question of where does the observer live?), then the AP is a
> >tautology.
> What I meant by "where does the observer live", in more formal language,
> is "how do you account for the (apparent) sense data we have?".

Perhaps you ask too much. Your question is something along the lines
of "what explains qualia", or "what breathes fire into the

I could state baldly that descriptions can conscious. This is no more
preposterous than Tegmarks "mathematical systems can be
conscious". Maybe that satisfies you, maybe not. What can be stated
more convincingly is that all experience (including internal conscious
experience) is a description, a bunch of data interpreted by an
observer. Consequently, the set of all descriptions will contain a
description of your current conscious experience. Hence we can make
strong claims about appearances - the phenomenon. As to whether there
is a Noumenon - I take Laplace's rather agnostic point of view - I have
no need of that hypothesis. Perhaps you do.

> I also
> have a strong preference for an account where the description of at least
> our "world" doesn't privilege one particular observer. In particular, this
> is hard to square with your insistence that "the observer provides the
> interpretation" of each of your bitstring universes.

The situation is symmetric with respect to all observers. That is
hardly priveleging an observer.

> As both Hal and I keep trying to emphasise, we are interested in how, or
> whether, your theory can account for our own existence and the reality (or
> appearance, if you prefer) that we see around us. So the case of
> disembodied intelligences is a total a red herring. I don't really care
> whether these feature in your theory or not, but I do care whether you can
> account for (apparently) embodied intelligences.

Apparently embodied intelligences are part of the space of all
descriptions by definition. The anthropic principle accounts for the
fact that we observer them, and not (say) flying white rabbits.

> >
> >Instead, one can take the Anthropic Principle as an assertion of the
> >reality we inhabit...
> Again, you are using a private language... the AP is not regarded as any
> such assertion by anyone else I've ever heard of. Most people regard their
> existence as proved by their own subjective experience, not some invented
> principle.

Of course - Decartes and all that. The AP applies to what we see in
the world around us, not a proof or otherwise of our own existence.

> > ... and experimentally test it. In all such cases is has been shown to
> >be true, sometimes spectacularly.
> If we know "experimentally" "the reality we inhabit" (?!), which I guess
> I've just claimed that we do, why do we need a principle to assert it?
> Likely you mean something completely different, in which case please
> explain (with examples of said experiments!).

The experiments are the usual suspects showing fine tuning of physical
parameters in the universe. Tegmark's paper is a good review of the
topic. As is Barrow and Tipler's book.

> <snip> Quoting me:
> >>
> >>Then you are implying that the observer can, in a finite time, read and
> >>attach meaning to a full (space-time) description of itself, including
> >>the act of reading this description and so on recursively.
> >>
> >
> >Not at all. Consistency is the only requirement. If the observer goes
> >looking for erself, then e will find erself in the description. It
> >doesn't imply the observer is doing this all the time.
> I think here we have run into the same inconsistency that you admitted in
> your discussion with Hal. In your first reply to Hal you assert that the
> observer O(x) attaches a unique meaning to the description string. Which
> would imply processing all bits of the string up to the start of the
> "don't care" region. A later reply suggest that we should in different
> contexts assume (a) this and (b) what your paper actually says, i.e. the
> meanings are updated as further bits are read. Now you have changed this
> again, and the observer is not (modelled by) a simple mapping but is a
> free agent who can choose to apply mappings to different "regions" of the
> bitstring at will.

Yes, as I've further clarified to Hal, O(x) is actually a function of
time. One imagines that in general the region of sigificant bits of x
expands as a function of (psychological) time.

In my defence, the paper was written over a period of 4 years, and the
O(x) was a later addition to try to clarify points in section 2. I
didn't realise at the time that it introduced some ambiguities into
section 3.

> And even that doesn't actually answer my problem: let's assume the
> observer *does* "go looking for erself". You claim he will find himself,
> but if the description is *complete* my original problem remains: he will
> never finish reading his own description. Consequently the description
> will remain uninterpreted. In particular, he will never get to the part
> which would be interpreted as "himself now". So is there any sense in
> which *himself now* exists?

Of course, since all descriptions "exist".

> This assumes that the string description contained a complete definition
> of the observer, which is a natural interpretation of your phrase:
> "Since some of these descriptions describe self aware substructures,..."
> But maybe you just meant that the string contains references to (tokens
> of) the observer. This would be consistent with your comment a couple of
> posts ago that both "observers" and "descriptions" are primary. This also
> seems to be consistent with your other recent post in response to Hal, in
> which the bitstrings are treated not so much as universes in the usual
> sense but as either the stream of sense data entering the observer's
> conciousness, or as a continuously-updated description of that
> conciousness itself.
> In which case your paper should have specified the set of observers which
> are deemed to exist, e.g. is it all maps from prefix strings to natural
> numbers? Or maybe you only need one observer if its target domain is the
> full set of natural numbers, because you can then reach any of them from
> one or another of your bitstrings.

What is wrong with all possible observers? What I'm asserting is that
all observers corresponds to a prefix map, or perhaps more precisely
an _evolving_ prefix map O(t,x). The prefix map is not the be all and
end all of the observer, merely a property.

In my private ontology I would also say that some of the descriptions
can be conscious observers, and so the whole thing is complete, but I
do not make this point in the paper as it is beside the point - this
paper only deals with appearances, which are descriptions.

> Well at least we agree on that. No strange loops in this picture, so
> it is unlike the picture you outline in your paper.

Depends if you call the AP a "strange loop"

> >>But it will still be absurd to claim that the Sims are responsible for
> >>construction of PCs (assuming they are not connected to robot arms etc,
> >>for which no analogs exist in your theory). Let alone for them to
> >>construct the actual PC on which they are running, as apparently
> >>implied by your last message... even robot arms wouldn't help there.
> >
> >No, it is called stretching an an analogy too far!
> I havn't stretched it at all from the analogy you originally accepted (see
> above). I've just removed your get-out about your AP not applying.
> Paddy Leahy

In my picture there is no "hardware" running a simulation of the set
of all descriptions. There is in Schmidhuber's. Please don't confuse us!

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Received on Sat Jun 11 2005 - 19:59:45 PDT

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