Brent Meeker writes:

[Stathis Papaioannou]
> >>> No, it follows from the idea that anything can be a computation. I think 
> >>> this
> >>> is trivially obvious, like saying any string of apparently random 
> >>> characters
> >>> is a translation of any English sentence of similar or shorter length, 
> >>> and if
> >>> you have the correct dictionary, you can find out what that English 
> >>> sentence
> >>> is.

[Peter Jones]
> >> But that is actually quite a dubious idea. For one thing there is an 
> >> objective
> >> basis for claiming that one meaning is the "real" meaning, and that is the
> >> meaning intended by the writer.
 
[Stathis Papaioannou] 
> > There might have been a particular meaning intended by the writer, but 
> > remember
> > materialism: all you have really is ink on paper, and neither the ink nor 
> > the
> > paper knows anything about where it came from or what it means. Suppose a 
> > stream
> > of gibberish is created today by the proverbial monkeys typing away 
> > randomly, and
> > just by chance it turns out that this makes sense as a novel in a language 
> > that
> > will be used one thousand years from now. Is it correct to say that the 
> > monkeys' 
> > manuscript has a certain meaning today? Or is it meaningless today, but 
> > meaningful
> > in a thousand years? If the latter, does it suddenly become meaningful when 
> > the
> > new language is defined, or when someone who understands the new language 
> > actually
> > reads it? What if the manuscript never comes to light, or if it comes to 
> > light and
> > is read but after another thousand years every trace of the language has
> > disappeared?
>  >
> > I don't think it makes sense to say that the manuscript has intrinsic 
> > meaning;
> > rather, it has meaning in the mind of an observer. Similarly, with a 
> > computation
> > implemented on a computer, I don't think it makes sense to say that it has 
> > meaning
> > except in its interaction with the environment or in the mind of an 
> > observer. 
 
> But then, as you'v noted before, you can regard the environment+computer as a 
> bigger 
> computer with no external interaction.
> 
> You've used this argument as a reductio absurdum against the idea that a 
> manuscript 
> or any arbitrary object has a meaning.  Yet you seem to accept the similar 
> argument 
> that any object implements a computation - given the right 
> "dictionary/interpretation/manual".

Perhaps I have been inconsistent in my use of terms. What I meant is that any 
object implements 
a computation, but in a useless/trivial/meaningless way unless it interacts 
with an environment or is 
understood by a conscious observer. But now that I think about it, we can 
arbitrarily say that the 
left half of the object is the computer and the right half is the environment 
with which it interacts - 
which is again true in a useless/trivial/meaningless way. The answer would seem 
to be that "meaning" 
is not a concept that is basic to physics, but exists only in the mind of a 
conscious observer. That can 
be an external observer or, if the computer is self-aware, itself. The same 
could be said of the terms 
"trivial" and "elegant" applied to mathematical theorems: they are only 
meaningful to mathematicians, 
not basic to mathematics.

[Stathis Papaioannou]
> >Any
> > string of characters or any physical process can be seen as implementing a
> > language or a computation, if you have the right "dictionary". There is a 
> > very
> > interesting special case of this if we allow that some computations can be
> > self-aware, in the absence of any environmental interaction or external 
> > observer:
> > by definition, they are their own observer and thus they bootstrap 
> > themselves into
> >  consciousness.

> Suppose some computation, such as what's happening in your brain, implements 
> consciousness.  How much could it be changed and still be conscious?  Could 
> we slice 
> it up into segments and rearrange them?  How long a segment?  Is there 
> "something it 
> is like" to be conscious and insane?  I think if we can answer this and then 
> limit 
> our discussion to sane consciousness then some of these theoretical 
> possibilities go 
> away.

If every computation is implemented everywhere anyway, this is equivalent to 
the situation where every 
computation exists as a platonic object, or every computation exists 
implemented on some computer or 
brain in a material multiverse. This gives rise to the issues of quantum 
immortality and the white rabbit 
problem, as discussed at great length in the past on this list.

One way to discredit all this foolishness is to abandon computationalism...

[Stathis Papaioannou]
> >>> We might say in the above cases that the burden of the computation shifts 
> >>> from
> >>> the physical activity of the computer to the information in the manual. 
> >>> The
> >>> significance of this is that the manual is static, and need not even be
> >>> instantiated if we don't care about interacting with the computer: it is 
> >>> a 
> >>> mathematical object residing in Platonia.
> 
> But the manual - or a look-up table - is timeless, while computation is a 
> process. It 
> depends on being presented a sequence of inputs.  I see no reason give up 
> this 
> distinction between computation and mathematical object.  To equate them 
> seems to me 
> to beg the question of whether computation can be a mathematical object in 
> Platonia.

The dynamism part can be provided by a simple physical system such as the idle 
passage of time. 
If you allow for parallel processing you don't need much time either. This 
leads to a situation whereby 
every computation is implemented by universe with a single electron enduring 
for a nanosecond, for 
example. I can't quite see how to get rid of the electron, but Maudlin's and 
Bruno's conclusion from 
this seems to be that it is absurd and implies that the mental does not 
actually supervene on the physical.

Stathis Papaioannou
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