2008/11/27 Brent Meeker <[EMAIL PROTECTED]>:

> Doesn't this antinomy arise because we equivocate on "running Firefox".  Do we
> mean a causal chain of events in the computer according to a certain program
> specification or do we mean the appearance on the screen of the same thing 
> that
> the causal chain would have produced?  We'd say "no" by the first meaning, but
> "yes" by the second.  Obviously, there the question is not black-and-white.  
> If
> the computer simply dropped a bit or two and miscolored a few pixels, no one
> would notice and no one would assert it wasn't running Firefox.  So really, 
> when
> we talk about "running Firefox" we are referring to a fuzzy, holistic process
> that admits of degrees.

A functionally equivalent copy of Firefox behaves in the same way as
the standard copy to which we are comparing it, giving the same output
for a given input. Differences which the program can't "know" about
are not important in this context, and the exact nature of the
hardware - whether solid state or valve, causal or random - is one
such difference. Of course, if the hardware is causal the program will
run much more reliably, but if the random hardware runs appropriately
through luck, I don't see how the program could know this.

> I'm developing a suspicion of arguments that say "suppose by accident...".  If
> we say that the (putative) possibility of something happening "by accident"
> destroys the relevance of it happening as part of a causal chain, we are, in a
> sense, rejecting the concept of causal chains and relations - and not just in
> consciousness, as your Firefox example illustrates.

I would say that the significance of the causal chain is in
reliability, not in the experience the computation has, such as it may

> I wrote "putative" above because this kind of thought experiment hypothesizes
> events whose probability is infinitesimal.  If you take a finitist view, there
> is a lower bound to non-zero probabilities.

Can't we stay finitist and say these improbable things are very likely
to happen given a very big universe, say 3^^^3 metres across in
Knuth's notation?

> It is still trivial in the sense that it could be said to instantiate all
> possible conscious worlds (at least up to some size limit).  Since we don't 
> know
> what is necessary to instantiate consciousness, this seems much more 
> speculative
> than saying the block of marble instantiates all computations - which we 
> already
> agree is true only in a trivial sense.

We do know what it takes to instantiate consciousness: chemical
reactions in the brain. If these chemical reactions are computable
then an appropriate computation should also instantiate consciousness.
If we consider only the case of inputless conscious beings, I still
don't see why they won't be instantiated in randomness.

>>as I see no reason why the
>> consciousness of these observers should be contingent on the
>> possibility of interaction with the environment containing the
>> substrate of their implementation. My conclusion from this is that
>> consciousness, in general, is not dependent on the orderly physical
>> activity which is essential for the computations that we observe.
> Yet this is directly contradicted by those specific instances in which
> consciousness is interrupted by disrupting the physical activity.

But if it's all a virtual reality, it isn't a concrete physical
disruption that affects consciousness. It's just that the program
takes a turn which manifests in the virtual world as brain and
consciousness disruption.

>> Rather, consciousness must be a property of the abstract computation
>> itself, which leads to the conclusion that the physical world is
>> probably a virtual reality generated by the big computer in Platonia,
> This seems to me to be jumping to a conclusion by examining only one side of 
> the
> argument and, finding it flawed, embracing the contrary.  Abstract 
> computations
> are atemporal and don't have to be generated.  So it amounts to saying that 
> the
> physical world just IS in virtue of there being some mapping between the world
> and some computation.

Yes. But I arrive at this conclusion because I can't think of a reason
to constrain computation so that it is only implemented by
conventional computers, and not by any and every random process.

>> The Fading Qualia argument proves functionalism, assuming that the
>> physical behaviour of the brain is computable (some people like Roger
>> Penrose dispute this). Functionalism then leads to the conclusion that
>> consciousness isn't dependent on physical activity, as discussed in
>> the recent threads. So, either functionalism is wrong, or
>> consciousness resides in the Platonic realm.
> Of there's something wrong with the argument that functionalism implies
> consciousness isn't dependent on physical activity.

Yes, but I find the argument convincing.

Stathis Papaioannou

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