Consciousness and the Cartesian Theater

Brent Allsop (
Sun, 15 Jun 1997 22:50:04 -0600

John K Clark <> responded:

> I'm sure we will have lots and lots of them, but the trouble is
> unlike theories of intelligence, consciousness theories are very
> easy to dream up, far, far too easy. These theories have no
> objective facts they must explain so there is no limit to the number
> of them you can crank out. How could we ever know which theory is
> correct?

We'll we can't know that anyone really went to the moon
either. Maybe as soon as they left earth orbit they really
disappeared. Maybe just prerecorded information was being feed to
earth. Then a copy of them re-appeared upon return with complete
memories of the experience installed even though there is no real

But this is what matters. What matters is people can go to
the moon, do things like ger rocks and resources and everything else
as if it really existed. Of course, even though it isn't correct, we
must take the simplest theory.

> In any other area this would be sufficient proof that your theory
> was correct but in this one area, for reasons I don't understand,
> people demand a level of rigor not seen in any other human endeavor,
> not even pure mathematics.

Just as we don't kneed to know absolutely that there is a moon
out there, when we can do things like merge conscious spaces, eff
feelings, migrate between other upload hosts, and do all this fun
stuff, who cares if there is some more complex theory that explains
reality. I just want to know the simplest theory that explains
everything and allows me to do all this kind of immortal stuff. I
don't care if I really didn't go to the moon as long as I will never
be able to tell that I didn't.

> The differences could be crucial, you really felt sad but it's
> different with me,

While are understanding is so limited we should stick to
simple sensations like the taste of salt. I don't think I've ever had
precisely the same "sad" feeling. But eventually there must be an
entire set of physics developed to describe all our spiritual, or
phenomenal sensations down to the most precise possible experiential
detail. When put together in complex ways these laws will be able to
perfectly predict all our feelings just as simple physical laws
explain other complex physical processes.

> Actions are not a perfect instrument for studying consciousness but
> it will just have to do because we will never find anything better.

We will be able to do infinitely more than simple actions. As
I said before, we will be able to eff feelings, we will be able to
experience all the experiences of a sexual experience, not just half,
we will be able to merge minds into a unified spiritual space and so
on. Effing isn't merely "actions" though it may not be absolute

> I think the idea of intelligent zombies is crazy

No! We have zombies today. A color sensing computer can tell
us what color something is far better than we can! But their
representation of color is nothing like the experience of red or any
of the color sensations we use to represent color.

1) The Genetic Code,

Yes, Any type of physical diversity or distinguishability can
be used to represent abstract information. But this still does not
tell us precisely the nature of our conscious representations and what
they are fundamentally like.

2) Nobody has ever seen even a hint of fundamental new physics in the matter
of the brain,

That is simply because we filter all information through the
abstracting filter of our senses. We have never looked for or even
had the tools to look for actual phenomenal qualities. We know,
abstractly, how an atom interacts with other matter but we have no
idea what it is like to be that atom.

> and all that takes is information.

But information is nothing unless it is represented by
something physically real.

> 3) There is no scientific reason that information processing can't
> duplicate the behavior of an intelligent person,

Precisely! But just because abstract binary representations
can represent color as good as our sensations can doesn't mean they
are the same fundamental representations. They are not consciously
like each other though they can both simulate or represent each other
in an abstract way.

> 4) I don't see how the essence of a person, consciousness, could be
> an unobservable characteristic, because if it was we would never
> have evolved it,

A red sensation is not an unobservable characteristic. We
just don't yet have the tools to eff such feelings.

Brent Allsop