Just peeked in on the list, having come to its central position by my
own means, from the artificial intelligence position that simulated
minds can be conscious of their own existence.
Chapter 7 of my recent "Robot" <http://www.frc.ri.cmu.edu/~hpm/book97>
derives the idea that all universes are equally real from the position
that robots can be conscious. It notes that the totality of all
universes (like the library of all books) requires no information to
construct, that, although any of us (however we define ourselves)
exists in an infinity of bizarre universes, we're most likely to find
ourselves in ones that require the least amount of initial information
to explain us, and that we are stuck on a subjective path that needs
the least coincidences to keep our consciousness going (and that turns
out to be the boring physical universe that made us by Darwinian
selection, all working under a very simple TOE that resulted in the
visible universe as a side effect). It also notes that, no matter
what happens to us, among all universes there are some in which our
consciousness continues, and we will always find ourselves in those
(and never in ones where our consciousness does not continue!). For
some things that happen (like our brain rotting) the simplest
continuation of our consciousness may no longer involve the exact
continuation of the old physical laws.
Here's a compactified presentation of of the core train of thought:
Start with the premise (A) that properly designed minds implemented in
computers can have conscious experiences just like minds implemented
in flesh. Also assume (B) that experiences of rich virtual worlds can
be as vivid as experiences of the physical world. Immersive video
games make the second premise non-controversial. Materialistic
accounts of the evolution of life and intelligence, providing a rough
roadmap for the evolution of machine intelligence, make the first
premise compelling to AI guys like me. (Also, Occamesque, it demands
no mysterious special new ingredients to make consciousness.)
Let AI = Artificial Intelligence and VR = Virtual Reality.
Combine the two halves of both premises into four cases:
1) a flesh human in the physical world.
2) a conscious AI controlling a physical-world robot.
3) a human immersed in a VR, maybe by neural interface.
4) a conscious AI linked to a VR, all inside one computer.
Case 4 is a handle on the subjective/objective problem that was not
available to past philosophers. Unlike flesh, dreams, stories,
sensation-controlling demons or divine ideas, it is nearly free of
slippery unstated assumptions about human minds or physical
reality. On the outside, we have a simple objective device stepping
through states. Yet, on the inside, there is a subjective mind
experiencing its own existence.
What connects the internal experience to the external mechanism? As in
any simulation, it is an interpretation. Storage locations can be
viewed as representing bit patterns, numbers, text, pressures,
temperatures, sensations, moods, beliefs, feelings or more abstract
relationships. In general, different observers will have different
interpretations. Someone looking at the simulation trying to improve
memory management in the operating system will likely put a different
interpretation on the memory contents than someone wanting to view
life in the simulation, or to talk with its inhabitant.
But does the AI cease to exist if there is no one outside who happens
to have the correct interpretation to see it? Suppose an experimenter
sets up an AI/VR, and builds a translating box allowing him to plug in
and talk with the AI. But on the way home, the experimenter is killed
and the translating box destroyed. The computer continues to run, but
no one suspects it holds a living, feeling being. Does the AI cease to
be? Suppose one day enough of the experimenter's notes are found and a
new translating box is built and attached. The rediscovered AI then
tells a long story about its life in the interval when it was
My take on this is that there is an observer of the AI even when it
goes unobserved from the outside, namely the AI itself. By
interpreting some process inside the box as a conscious observer, we
grant that process the power of making observations about itself. That
self-interpretation exists in its own right whether or not someone
outside ever appreciates it. But once you allow externally
undiscovered interpretations of AIs that exist only in their own
eyes, you open the door to all possible interpretations which contain
self-aware observers. Which is fine by me. I think this universe is
just such a self-interpretation, one self-defining subjective thread
in an infinity or alternatives that are just as real to their