Stathis Papaioannou wrote:
Brent Meeker writes:
> I make the claim that a rock can be conscious assuming that
computationalism > is true; it may not be true, in which case neither
a rock nor a computer may be > conscious. There is no natural syntax
or semantics for a computer telling us > what should count as a "1" or
a "0", what should count as a red perception, and > so on. These
things are determined by how the computer is designed to interact >
with its environment, whether that mean outputting the sum of two
numbers to > a screen or interacting with a human to convince him that
it is conscious. But what > if the environment is made part of the
computer? The constraint on meaning and > syntax would then go, and
the vibration of atoms in a rock could be implementing > any
computation, including any conscious computation, if such there are.
> > John Searle, among others, believes this is absurd, and that
therefore it disproves > computationalism. Another approach is that it
shows that it is absurd that consciousness > supervenes on physical
activity of any sort, but we can keep computationalism and > drop the
physical supervenience criterion, as Bruno has.
> > Stathis Papaioannou
I have a view that seems to me to be slightly different.
Consciousness requires interaction with an environment; consciousness
implicitly requires a distinction between "I" and "the world". So
when you attribute consciousness to a rock, incorporating "the world"
as part of the rock, while the remainder of the rock is "conscious"
that raises problems. We can say that this part of the rock is
conscious of that part; making some arbitrary division of the rock.
But then it's not conscious in/of our universe.
That's right: if it's conscious, then it's conscious in its own isolated
virtual universe. It's another means to a many worlds theory.
When you say there is no canonical syntax, which is what allows
anything to be a computation of anything else, I think that is
overstates the case. Suppose a particular pair of iron atoms in the
rock are magnetically aligned and the syntax counts that as "0" while
anti-aligned counts as "1". Then what computation is implemented by
"0000000..."? The arbitrariness of syntax supposedly allows this to
be translated into "27" or some other number. But then the
translation has to have all possible words in it and the relational
meanings of those words; including the words for all the numbers in
that world. This places a pretty strong restriction on the size of
the rock-world - there are only some 10^25 atoms to do all this
The rock can make numbers and universes as big as you want through the
method of parallel computing. Suppose the rock had only a few distinct
physical states. If we place no restriction on what these states can
represent, then they can represent multiple binary strings or finite
numbers or sentences or whatever - all in parallel. Any serial
computation can be made up of multiple parallel computations,
I find that doubtful - do you have a reference? Isn't it the definition of
"incompressible" computation that there is no way faster than executing each
step in sequence.
versa. You can't say, aha, we've used that string for "dog" so we can't
now use it for "cat", because who is going to patrol the universe to
enforce this rule? This is what you are left with if you eliminate the
constraint that the computation has to interact with an external observer.
I think my objection is different. You are assuming there is a "we" too whom these
strings represent something, but in the closed rock-world there is no "we". The
representation must be this conscious-part of the rock representing that other-part of the rock.
But how can one part represent the other - by having a dictionary that translates states of one
into the other. But how is the dictionary encoded? It seems there's an infinite regress.
How is this infinite regress avoided in our world? By consciousness not representing the
rest of the world. The world is what it is and representation is not essential. I
suppose this is somewhat like Peter's "primitive substance" whose only function
is to distinguish things that exist from their representation.
I am aware that this is a very strange idea, perhaps even an absurd
idea, but I don't see any way out of it without ruining
computationalism, as by saying that it's all bunk, or only computations
that can interact with the environment at the level of their
implementation can be conscious. Because if you insist on the latter, it
implies something like ESP: the computer will know the difference
between a false sensory stimulus and one emanating from the
environment... possible, but not very Turing-emulable.
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