Re: Subjective counterfactuals

Dan Fabulich (
Mon, 05 Apr 1999 00:38:34 -0400

At 10:16 PM 4/4/99 -0500, Eliezer S. Yudkowsky wrote:
>I think we all agree that even if a million monkeys typing on a million
>typewriters generated the paragraph above, it wouldn't make the Hal who
>wrote it real. Only Hal's brain or a simulation thereof - being
>instantiated - can put actual qualia behind the statement. It's not
>enough to have the inputs and outputs in a Giant Lookup Table. So the
>question is, if the playback was generated by random chance, can the Hal
>it "records" be said to exist? Will he ever, even once, have said
>"cogito ergo sum", or is there only a text-based representation of the
>words? For the purposes of this argument we are *assuming* that an
>actual neuron-by-neuron simulation would make the Hal real; the question
>is, *given* that, does a randomly generated recording also make Hal real?

Forgive me... I've been keeping my eye on this debate for a while, and I've got to admit that it seems to be dealing with problems which just aren't there.

I'm a functionalist. I think that if a thing can pass the Turing test, that thing is conscious. I think most people find functionalism implausible because it claims that certain things are conscious which we generally wouldn't expect to be conscious. I don't actually see that as a problem; my intuition tells me that consciousness is all around us in places we generally don't expect.

Is a playback conscious? Why don't we just Turing test it? If it passes, it's conscious. If it doesn't, it's not. I have a sneaky suspicion that no ordinary playback will pass any reasonable Turing test. Barring extremely improbable playbacks, a playback could not answer a question like: "I'm going to tell you a random ten digit number, and I'd like for you to repeat it back to me: 3502580921. OK. What was my number?"

Descartes' "proof" is a logical joke. If I exist, then I accept the claim that I exist on pragmatic grounds only. This is more than enough to satisfy me, but some people seem to think that claims about their own existence have a certain pre-logical ontological truth that they simply don't exhibit.


               -THEN WHAT DOES-