Re: Qualia and the Galactic Loony Bin

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Wed, 23 Jun 1999 17:12:48 -0500

John Clark wrote:
> Eliezer S. Yudkowsky <> On Wednesday, June 23, 1999 Wrote:
> >We're looking for the definition of consciousness and qualia that will let us
> >construct conscious, qualia-bearing minds. Do you really think this is insipid?
> Not if they worked but they don't, and even if they did there is no way to ever
> know they work. Content yourself with constructing an intelligent mind, you'll get qualia
> for free. Probably.

What do you mean, "probably"? I think you should strengthen your argument, here: "Content yourself with constructing an intelligent system, and when you're done you'll find that you'll have completely explained every real phenomenon that you could have been using the term 'qualia' to describe." After all, that's my position with respect to dissecting neurons.

> >Would you say that since this Universe (or Reality or whatever) has no
> >input-output characteristics, it doesn't exist?
> No. However it would most certainly be meaningless to ask if an event was simultaneous
> with an event external to the universe, particularly when no such external event can exist.

It's meaningless to ask if an event is simultaneous if it occurs three feet away.

> >If I toss you through an event horizon, do you stop being conscious as soon as
> >you're cut off from the external world?
> Probably not, but there is only one way to know for sure and unfortunately I would be unable
> to publish the results of my research.

Once again, I don't understand how global conditions can affect the local, instantaneous laws of... not even physics; according to you it's a logical or mathematical thing. If we toss an entity into a black hole, all the internal interactions remain the same. If it claimed to be conscious previously, it will claim to be conscious now. If it's correct about being conscious, if it talks about qualia and makes references to them, anything it says about qualia can be explained by reference to internal conditions, and anything that doesn't influence the entity obviously can't make it start talking about qualia. This holds true whether the entity is a John-K-Clarkish Turing machine or a Yudkowskian reality hacker.

> >I do not understand this emphasis on input-output characteristics as an
> >arbiter of consciousness.
> I never said it's an arbiter of consciousness, I said if you use an axiom it's an
> arbiter of our knowledge of consciousness other that our own.

I don't use that axiom. I'm not interested in our "knowledge" of other consciousnesses, just as I'm not in the least interested in our knowledge about the Universe. I'm interested in the actual Universe. I am neither a solipsist nor a cultural relativist.

> >Does that mean that you would exist even in the absence of a particular
> >demonstration? [...] Do you think that every possible version of yourself
> >already exists and is just as real as you are?
> As I said in my last post I'm an agnostic on that issue.

I'm not. If every possible version of myself exists, so that all sets of qualia are equally weighted, why is it that there's a connection between past and present? Why is it that my observed Universe seems to be composed of reducible components? Why is it that I can successfully predict that the Universe will follow lines of maximum physical probability, rather than generating random qualia?

Yes, I know, those sets of qualia would necessarily exist. But Yudkowsky's Modified Anthropic Occam's Razor says the reductionist version of the Universe is more probable, or at least more useful, than the Platonic existence of all possible qualia - if nothing else because it makes more successful predictions.

> > if I told you that the number of actual Universes in the
> >Reality is so large that it could only be expressed by Knuth notation,
> >that *anything* no matter how improbable has happened at least once due
> >to the sheer size of the Cosmic All... would that suddenly change the
> >basic laws that operate on my finite PowerPC?
> If that's true then Moravec is right and all possible minds exist, but I don't
> know that to be true.

No, it means that a very large set of possible minds exist, including almost any that are conceivable to us. Of course, our own actions can still affect the weighting. If we make our decisions for reasons that are isomorphic to many other decisions, then the decision - considered as an adjective - can affect the Cosmic-All weighting nontrivially. Moravec's philosophy doesn't even think you should bother with uploading.

> >I don't think you can make your philosophy dependent on the absolute
> >size of the Universe;
> I rather think you can. The large scale structure of the Universe can have local
> effects and between the two that's all your philosophy should be dependent on.

Consider the Universe as a gigantic Life board, starting out at T=0 with all cells randomized. At time 1e20, then the conscious entity that evolved on the board cannot be influenced by any events more than 1e20 cells away. In particular, whether the board itself is 1e40 or 1e60 cells wide makes absolutely no difference.

> >basic laws shouldn't be dependent on the existence, much less the
> >nonexistence, of items not in causal contact.
> My gut tells me that Moravec's ideas are just too bizarre to be true but at least
> they have a certain logical consistency, if pushed to the wall I'd rather embrace
> them than dive into the mumbo jumbo of the "causal contact" quagmire.

"Causal contact", unlike "A caused B", is clearly defined by both mathematical formalisms for Turing machines (if any possible value of a variable has any effect on the internal process, it's causally connected), and by physical law (if you can draw a line between two events that never locally goes faster than light, they're causally connected).

Given my previous statement that anything we can have a need to explain must be accounted for in some way by the *local* laws of physics - otherwise, what mystical force is causing you talk about them? - then I think I'm fully justified in demanding that the philosophy of consciousness not depend on the absolute size of the Universe.

Besides, are you really going to stake everything on your belief that the Universe is fundamentally limited? What a depressing philosophy.

           Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Running on BeOS           Typing in Dvorak          Programming with Patterns
Voting for Libertarians   Heading for Singularity   There Is A Better Way