Re: Qualia, Ancestral Extropians, and DisneyWorld

Darin Sunley (
Sat, 19 Jun 1999 11:10:28 -0500

Harvey Newstrom wrote:

> It is an elaborate
> puppet that is made to do what the very large committee of puppeteers
> scripts it to do. Nothing more, nothing less.

Actually, that's a pretty good description of the entire connectionist paradigm. :) And that's the problem.

Our basic (materialist) idea of the brain is a large system of interconnected neurons out of which all our behavior,, including consciousness, is an emergent phenomenon. In this example, the relationship of the neurons to each other has not changed.

Part and parcel of the idea of computability is the idea of "black box-ability". The idea that if part of the system is replaced by a "black box" that provides exactly equivalent processing (mappings of inputs to outputs) but with completely different internal states, the system will continue to perform in an indistinguishable manner to the original.

The biggest problem in this parable comes from the idea of scripting neuron firings. The vast majority of neurons are not connected directly to sense nerves and would not initially be involved in the project. Any given neuron's input pattern is determined, asynchronously, by the neurons around it. So we find that there is a very large difference between distributing a mind out to individual neurons scattered across a continent, and doing central "scripting" of which ones are going to be firing when.

Another difficulty is this idea that some neuron in the owner's head is firing the pattern this neuron must fire right now. In order for the simulation to continue to work, not only must that neuron be stimulated the exact same way the original neuron was. But that person must get a "reading" on the outputs of that neuron so as to communicate them on down the line. Even this objection ignores the fact that there are so many possible output patterns a neuron can be doing at any particular time, that the odds of any particular neuron in your head matching it precisely (precise mix of neurotransmitters, destinations, firing patterns/frequencies) are astronomical, even given the number of neurons in a human brain.

The most important difference seems to be that neurons are not just caused to fire by sense data, they are caused to fire by the combination of sense data and each other. This is the ingredient this thought experiment is missing, so I feel perfectly justified in saying that while consciousness may or may not be computable, this thought experiment doesn't prove anything either way.

Concerning Ancestral Extropians, I would have to list Robert Heinlein, Ayn Rand, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Richard Dawkins and the Horizons Pavilion at Walt Disney World. This was the extent of my exposure to the area prior to stumbling upon Eliezer Yudkowsky's "Staring into the Singularity" on Anders Sandberg's Transhumanism web page. So all of their "ancestral extropians" would be listed as my "second-order" ancestral extropians. It was through Eliezer's references that I discovered Great Mambo Chicken, Hofstadter, and Vinge.

For those who've never seen it, the Horizons Pavilion at Walt Disney world was the most extropian thing I'd ever seen popular culture produce up to that time. It' a ride past/through OmniMax screens depicting an optimistic, technologically advanced future. Amazingly well done. Additionally, at the 2/3 rd point of the ride, buttons light up in your car that allow you to choose from three sections for the rest of the ride. Self Determination, no? :) Amazingly well done, it opened THIS young boy's mind to the idea that a high tech future wasn't just something WAY in the future, but something, just around the corner, that we could help build today. Looking back, I think that ride was instrumental in my decision 8 years later to enter Computer Science, from which I just graduated this spring.

Unfortunately, Disney have decided, in their "infinite" "wisdom", to gut the building and replace it with a "Space Pavilion". While space travel is exciting and important, it pales (IMHO) to the importance of a generic "Future" pavilion.

While Disney's sensitivity to public opinion is not spectacular (to say the least) it may not be too late to do something. See for details.

Darin Sunley