RE: Sincere Questions on Identity

From: Emlyn O'regan (
Date: Wed Dec 12 2001 - 20:31:29 MST

This is where the words begin to fail me. I'll have a go at it, anyway.

Consciousness is. It's the only thing that I can experience directly;
everything else is indirect. Here I mean consciousness as distinct from
attention/cognition/etc. It's that bit of the me which seems both to have
absolutely no function (by definition, perhaps **), and yet paradoxically is
the most important part of all.

There may be some of you who don't know what I'm talking about. Sorry, but
you are a zombie. My condolences.

As to the rest of us...

Consciousness is often defined as this intangible thing, strapped onto
otherwise material beings for who knows what reason. It must be noted that
if it were truly intangible, I wouldn't be able to experience it or write
about it. It is affecting my actions in a tangible way. This seems to pull
it back into the world of stuff, a slippery slope. It's part of the material
universe, because it interacts with it in a measurable way.

Consciousness is. But computers only describe; simulations describe. Even
the calculations in the execution of an algorithm don't seem to escape from
the world of information into the world of "stuff", except in that electrons
really do run around circuits in interesting patterns which have some
isomorphism onto the algorithm.

Or try this... A computer can describe/simulate an atom (theoretically). It
can't, however, create it. The act of description/simulation does not create
those things described/simulated, but only a representation of them.

We may find that conscious beings can be adequately described & simulated in
a computer, that we can make a model that behaves exactly as a conscious
being would. This in no way creates the subjective experience of
consciousness anywhere.

However, this doesn't mean that a "machine" cannot be made which could in
fact include that subjective experience of consciousness. Consciousness is
tangible (to the self involved), thus it must be part of the physical
universe. That we can simulate an atom using information processing without
being able to directly manipulate one does not mean that we cannot directly
manipulate one at all - we can build I/O devices for the job. Similarly,
that we cannot construct consciousness purely by processing information,
does not imply that it cannot be done, just that we need something else than
a turing machine. Just as a Turing machine cannot make text appear on paper,
but a printer can.

So what I'm saying I guess is that the world of information processing (call
it I? Maybe I want N or some other such beast from computability), is either
distinct from or else a strict subset of the physical world (P?). There are
things that information processing cannot do, which the material world can
do, and that it the direct manipulation of the material world.



> -----Original Message----- > From: [] > Sent: Thursday, 13 December 2001 12:07 > To: > Subject: RE: Sincere Questions on Identity > > > Emlyn writes: > > I always find this metaphor unsatisfying. Particularly > because, even though > > I might believe that we could create conscious intelligence > from parts, > > those parts might not be in the form of a von-neumann > computer. It may be > > the case that there are some quite stringent restrictions > on the substrate > > for intelligence+consciousness, including > stopping/restarting, wholesale > > copying around in memory (or whatever persistence mechanism > was to be used), > > etc. There might be restrictions which entirely preclude running > > consciousness on a suped-up Pentium. > > It's a general principle of computer science that all computers are > equivalent in their expressive power. What one computer can > do, another > computer can simulate. > > If it turned out that certain kinds of computers couldn't run > conscious > programs but others could, that would invalidate this thesis. > It would > mean that there were physical systems which could not be simulated by > conventional computers, that there is fundamentally more to > the universe > than can be expressed by algorithmic modelling. > > It's always possible that this may turn out to be true, but > so far there > is no evidence of it. Even quantum systems can be simulated to any > desired degree of precision. And as far as we know the brain uses no > "magic physics," which this result would require. > > So if it does turn out that consciousness is non-physical or cannot be > simulated by a computer, that will be contrary to all of our > experience > and scientific understanding of the world. It will certainly be a > surprising result. > > Hal >

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