Lee Corbin writes:

But it is *precisely* that I cannot imagine how this stack of
Life gels could possibly be thinking or be conscious that forces
me to admit that something like time must play a role.

Here is why: let's suppose that your stack of Life boards does
represent each generation of Conway's Life as it emulates a
person. (That Conway's Life can compute anything was discovered
more than 25 years ago; one may think of it as just a computer
program, but with an especially appealing visual format in which
each state is perfectly apparent.)

If a stack of gels like this amounts to the conscious experience
of an entity, then it certainly wouldn't hurt to move them farther
apart. So, whereas you may be visualizing them less than an inch
apart, we may move them without affecting anything to lightyears

Next, we alter the orientations of the gels randomly. Finally, we
see that no particular gel needs to be physically continuous with
itself---cutting them in half and dispersing them among the galaxies
changes nothing. In fact, just what kind of changes could the stack
suffer and *not* be conscious?

(If one buys into Wei Dai's or other descriptions of how Universal
Dovetailers or other devices (timeless or not) implement actual
universes, then it can be argued that separating the gels like
this cuts down on the measure of the OMs they're emulating. It's
very much as though the effort required to located the scattered
gels (or scattered atoms making up the gels) contributes to them
being less "manifest" in some way. But I didn't think that you
were going there.)

So, for me, since it is absurd to think that either vibrating
bits of matter (an example Hal Finney quotes) or random patches
of dust (Greg Egan's theory of Dust) can actually give runtime
to entities, then I have to draw the line somewhere. Where I
have always chosen is this: if states, no matter now represented,
are not causally connected with each other, consciousness does
not obtain.

If you remember Egan's "dust" theory in Permutation City, you probably also remember that he did the same manipulations of a computation running in time as you suggest doing with the Life board stacks in space. Do you not think a computation would work if chopped up in this way?

The idea that any computation can be implemented by any random process, given an appropriate programming language (which might be a giant lookup table, mapping [anything] -> [line of code]) is generally taken as being self-evidently absurd. The argument goes that that the information content of the "programming language" must contain all the information the random system is supposed to be producing, so this system is actually superfluous. This means we have won no computational benefit by setting up this odd machine. However, the programming language is only there so that the machine can interact with the environment. If there is no programming language and no I/O, the machine can be a complete solipsist. This might occur also if some future archaeologist finds an ancient computer running an AI, but there is no manual, no terminal, no keyboard, and nobody knows how it is programmed any more. If the archaeologist could figure out how to power up this computer, wouldn't the AI be implemented as per usual?

You might say that in the last example the states were "causally connected", while in the first they were not. But why should that make any difference, especially to a solipsist?

--Stathis Papaioannou

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