I did not read this email 10 days ago when you sent it out. It is
interesting that the thread I started 5 days later about time became
both a repetition of the intuitions you put forward here, and a
definite example of your complaint about essentialistic debates.

Much of academic philosophy is exactly what you were complaining
about... what does "truth" mean, what does "possible" mean, what does
"good" or "ethical" mean... I definitely see why you might complain:
the answer to all such questions is basically "whatever the person
using it intends it to mean". Yet, I am not sure it is an empty

I agree absolutely about approaching consciousness from the
perspective you lay out. Philosophical discussions about which lumps
of matter are conscious and which are not and why abound, but such
theories can be confirmed and falsified only by our intuitions... a
theory about which pieces of matter will *claim* to be conscious is
much more practical.

So, do you have one? :)


On Sun, Dec 14, 2008 at 1:35 AM, A. Wolf <> wrote:
> I apologize if I seemed rude or accusatory...I'm just expressing an idea.
> Words are very useful, but systematic measurements are better for certain
> things, because the Universe seems to allow us to repeat them.
> Issues involving the mind are intrinsically harder to tackle.  Human
> dialogue over the millenia suggests there's some subjective experience of
> personhood or "being" that we all share, and each of us presumably
> experiences something like that.  But we have no way to quantify or measure
> the conscious experience itself.  We're left feeling like there's something
> missing from what we can measure.
> If we're scientists, what we should really be asking is this: why do people
> say all the things they do about conscious experience?  It doesn't seem too
> strange to think that a computer program which has some meta-cognitive
> ability and self-awareness might, as part of the natural output of its
> program, spit out a bunch of symbols related to the "experience" of
> self-awareness itself.  Science doesn't suggest there must be anything more
> to what we are than this kind of output.
> We don't like the idea that our precious consciousness could be a mere
> illusion, because our sense of self is something we cling to with the fervor
> of evolutionary self-preservation.  If Everett's is true, you could even
> think about a person as only existing for the barest instant: one single,
> static state, frozen in time, in an infinite mathematical sea of other
> states (well, not really, but roughly).  All the experience of travelling
> forward through time could be just an illusion produced by our own memory
> and meta-cognitive ability.  In a sense, we'd cease to be every instant no
> less surely than if we'd just died.
> So I guess the underlying philosophical question is, what does it mean to be
> a conscious person?  Socially it's useful to think of a person as the
> history of that person's memories, but I don't know if there's a useful way
> to think about it scientifically.  Even as I type this, there's no way for
> me to demonstrate that I exist for more than an instant, and I doubt there
> ever will be.
> As you read this last sentence, please enjoy your first and last moment of
> existence.  ;)  Oh, and happy holidays.
> Anna
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Kim Jones" <>
> To: <>
> Sent: Sunday, December 14, 2008 1:04 AM
> Subject: Re: KIM 1 (was: Lost and not lost 1)
>> Blame me if you want...
>> I'm just trying to see whether the exposition can be made with a good
>> deal less number-spinning
>> Truth is, most people - given the choice - would probably prefer to
>> avoid language pretty much all together -
>> for the dangers you so aptly characterise
>> Language is a bag of utter corruption and manipulation, anyway. I
>> apologise for forcing the issue
>> Given that some of us do better at understanding words than numbers,
>> yes, we may be stuck with a few semantic issues.
>> Personally, I just want to understand. If I get a bit fractal, it's
>> because of those rotten semantics which need constant attention. I
>> agree that any kind of definition of what 'life' would only be a work
>> in progress
>> I find the concept of real truth a bit dodgy, actually
>> always only trying to 'see' what the other 'sees'
>> Hence the questions - not attacking questions; requests for more
>> information to fill out perception
>> The result is something that is less arcane and more day to day. Why
>> should all beautiful knowledge live in an ivory tower? I want to know
>> how this whole thing actually impacts on my life.
>> Actually, my preference would be to avoid words and numbers and do it
>> via music. But, I guess that's back to numbers.
>> cheers,
>> Kim
>> On 14/12/2008, at 1:30 PM, A. Wolf wrote:
>>> One of the reasons I rarely post to this list is that many people here
>>> seem trapped in an eternal series of meaningless essentialistic
>>> debates.  Nothing objective or conclusive ever comes from
>>> essentialistic arguments where people bicker over what some word or
>>> concept "really means".
>>> Science used to suffer from this.  About 120 years ago, biologists
>>> used to argue about the meaning of "life".  Were viruses alive?  Were
>>> sperm alive?  What they could or could not consider "alive" was really
>>> important to the old-school biologists, and there was endless debate
>>> between them.  (People on both sides of the abortion issue still make
>>> these kinds of empty arguments.)
>>> But today, biologists don't care what "life" means.  They accept an
>>> arbitrary definition for "life" because they're scientists, and as
>>> scientists they realize that the definitions we use do not define
>>> reality.  Definitions of words and concepts are merely tools for
>>> describing things to one another in a consistent manner.  Real truth
>>> stems from examining the relationships between observable phenomena,
>>> by using operational definitions rather than essentialistic ones.
>>> Anything less than this is semantics.
>>> Anna
>>> >
>> >
> >

Abram Demski
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