John K Clark (
Sat, 4 Jul 1998 22:33:00 -0700 (PDT)


Andrew On Fri, 3 Jul 1998 Wrote:


>>I predict we will never find a deeper reality.

>I predict we will. We've both made predictions now. So how does
>the idea that the best we can hope for is the making of predictions
>prevent us from discovering "deep reality"

I further predict that I'm correct so you'll never find a counterexample to prove me wrong, but I predict I can't prove I'm right either because a proof that I'm correct, that is, a way to demonstrate it in a finite number of steps, does not exist. Not that I can prove any of this of course.

>"deep reality" (and I'm really sure that I know what that means).

Great! Even though I'm the one who used the term so I'm sure it has profound significance, I really wish somebody would explain it to me because I haven't a clue.

>You're assuming mental content to be a function only of complexity.

Yes, if something is able to act in a complex way similar to the way I do then it's mental content must be similar to me.

>I think that there are a lot of reasons not to assume that.

If so then religious people are right, the soul exists. I think that is, to put it politely, unlikely.

>This is interesting. You don't think that you know that other human
>beings have mental content?

I think other people are conscious, at least part of the time, because they act that way, but not when they're in a deep sleep or a coma or dead. To put it another way, I assume something is conscious if it act intelligently. I admit that all this is just an assumption but we'll never get anything better.

>You don't know what they mean when they say "I am feeling pain" or

I think I know approximately what you mean but I'll never know for certain if I'm correct.


>And you are not sure if lightning is or is not conscious?

I assume that lightning and trees and rocks are not conscious because they don't act intelligently but I'll never know for certain if I'm correct. It's not a perfect rule of thumb but I couldn't live my life any other way and there is no hope of finding anything better.

>>If you and everyone and everything you know are nothing but
>>software programs then ...

>Then what?

Then you and everything you know are information.


>I really think that the brain in the vat assumes a lot less about
>consciousness than the software analogy, which doesn't I think work

Except for the complexity problem which will certainly be solved in time, what magical property does meat have that computers lack?

         >>But nothing can provide anything but information.  
         >What about food, or light, or oxygen?
         >>it's not unusual for programs to require certain specific bits of          
         >>information to keep from crashing.  
         >I have no idea what that reply means.          

Without food you die, without information a program crashes.

>Unless you're going to make every single cause and effect sequence
>an instance of language, which is strikingly absurd
Exactly, so why go on and on about lightning being a language?
>consciousness must be for there to be a language.

Let's see, I know other people are conscious because they use language and I can tell it's a language because the people are conscious. What's wrong with this picture?

         >>no two lightning bolts on planet earth have ever been identical,         
         >>and no two target trees for them to hit either. 

         >Assume that it does.  

Ok, I have no trouble imagining a hypothetical world where everything is different and where lightning is a language, we just don't happen to live in such a world.


>If your conception of language is correct, each and every one of
>those letters means precisely something

A letter mean nothing, it's only when they're combined into words do they become symbols related to something concrete. In the case of the genetic code 3 letters symbolize an amino acid, lightning has no words and so symbolizes nothing.


>If we can say that the "grammar" of a genetic code is the fact that
>it works in 3 chemical units,
There is no "if" about it, that's the way the genetic code works.
>then we can just as easily say that the "grammar" of lightning >is the angle of it

As I said, a language with an infinite number of letters is gibberish.

         >>in what way would the ribosome act differently if CAU did mean         
         >>something to it? 

         >It wouldn't, necessarily.

Apparently you don't realize it but by making this huge concession you've thrown in the towel. If meaning doesn't change anything, then there is no point in talking about it. If you're right then I'd have no way of showing that language exists, not ever. You expressed incredulity that someone could believe that another human being is not conscious but now you say that behavior is no guide to the mental state of anything. If as you say behavior is no indicator of sentience then I have absolutely no reason to think that words mean anything to you or that you're more conscious than the average rock.

One other thing, although our internal mental states and emotions may be priceless to us they are of interest to evolution only as they effect behavior, and if they don't then there is no way random mutation and natural selection could have produced it for us to enjoy. Yet we have it, or at least I do.

The logic is impeccable and the conclusion absurd, therefore the premise must be wrong, we CAN deduce meaning from behavior and it something starts to attach meaning to a great many things, much, much, more than the 64 simple triplets that ribosomes can handle, then we can begin to start calling something like that conscious.

                                              John K Clark

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