I note that the recent posts by Peter Jones - aka the mysterious 1Z,
and the originator of the curiously useful 'real in the sense I am
real' or RITSIAR - occurred shortly after my taking his name in vain.
Hmm.......

Anyway, this signalled the resumption of a long-running debate about
the validity of causal accounts of the first person based on a
functional or computational rationale.  I'm going to make an attempt
to annihilate this intuition in this thread, and hope to encourage
feedback specifically on this issue.  You will recall that this is at
the heart of Bruno's requirement to base COMP - i.e. the explicitly
computational account of mind - on the the number realm, with physics
derived as an emergent from this.  Step 8 of the UDA addresses these
issues in a very particular way.

However, I've always felt that there's a more intuitively obvious and
just as devastating blow that can be dealt to functional or
computational notions based on physical entities and relations
conceived as ontologically foundational and singular (i.e. no dualism
please).  So as not to be misunderstood (too quickly!) let me make it
clear at the outset that I'm addressing this to first person conscious
experience, not to third person descriptions of 'mentality' - so
eliminativists can stop reading at this point as there is nothing
further that requires explanation in their view (as odd as I trust
this sounds to you non-eliminativists out there).

The argument runs as follows.  To take what physics describes with
maximal seriousness - as standing for ontological reality - is just to
take its entities and causal relationships seriously to the same
extent.  God knows, physicists have gone to enough trouble to define
these entities and relationships with the most precisely articulated
set of nomological-causal principles we possess.  Consequently, taking
these with maximal seriousness entails abjuring other causal
principles as independently efficacious: i.e. showing how - or at
least being committed to the belief that - all higher order causal
principles somehow supervene on these fundamentals.  Any other
position would be either obscurantist or incoherent for a physical
realist.

Now I should say at this point that I'm not criticising this position,
I'm merely articulating it.  It follows from the foregoing that
although we may speak in chemical, biological, physiological or
historical narratives, we believe that in principle at least these are
reducible to their physical bases.  We also know that although we may
speak of cabbages and kings, weather, oceans, processes, computations
and untold myriads of equally 'emergent' phenomena, we still must
retain our commitment to their reducibility to their physical bases.
So of course, we can - and do - legitimately speak, in this way, of
physical computers as 'performing computations', but following the
foregoing principle we can see that actually this is just a convenient
shorthand for what is occurring in the physical substrates upon which
the notion of computation must - and of course does - rely for its
realisation in the world.

To be more explicit: The notion of a 'program' or 'computation' - when
we place it under analysis -  is a convenient shorthand for an ordered
set of first person concepts which finds its way into the physical
account in the form of various matter-energy dispositions.  The
macroscopic media for these are variously paper and ink, actions of
computer keyboards, patterns of voltages in computer circuitry,
illumination of pixels on screens, etc.  All of these, of course, can
- and must - reduce to fundamental relations amongst physical
'ultimates'.  At some point after entering the physical causal nexus,
this chain of dispositions may re-enter the first person account
(don't ask me how - it's inessential to the argument) at which point
they may again be construed *by someone* in computational terms in a
first person context.  But at no point is the 'computation' - qua
concept - in any way material (pun intended) to the physical account;
a fortiori, in no way can it - or need it - be ascribed causal
significance in terms of the physical account.  After all, what could
this possibly mean?  Are these spooky 'computational' relationships
'reaching across' the energy-transfers of the computer circuitry and
changing their outcomes? Of course not.  How could they?  And why
would they need to?  Everything's going along just fine by itself by
purely physical means.

I hope the foregoing makes it clear that computer programs and their
computations - at the point of physical instantiation - literally
don't exist in the world.  They're semantic formulations - ways of
speaking - that have applicability only in the first-person context,
and we can see that this is true any time we like by performing the
kind of 'eliminativist' demonstration performed above: i.e. we can
eliminate the concept without affecting the action on the ground one
whit.  Of course, this is the insight that makes the strictly physical
account of mind - as presently understood - problematic if one wishes
to take the first person seriously, because it shows the notion of
'emergence' to be redundant at the level of causation. It's just
another way of speaking, however much insight it carries - for us.
However, it isn't my wish to make that point again here.  Rather my
intention has been to show that whatever options are left in strict
physicalism to address the first person issues seriously - without
eliminating them - emergence is emphatically not one of them.

I hope this makes the argument clear, and also illustrates the point
of Bruno's reversal of numbers and physics to save the computational
account of mind (and body, as it happens).  To be absolutely explicit:
if functional-computational relations are to be taken to be
fundamentally causally efficacious, they must be held to be real and
foundational in exactly the sense (RITSIAR) ascribed to those in the
physical account.  But for that to be the case, all other causal
relations must supervene on them - again just as in the physical
account.  But now, of course, this must include physics itself.

Now, you don't of course have to accept COMP.  But if you want to be a
physical realist, it means you can only hang on to the computational
explanation of mind by eliminating the mind itself from reality.
Personally, not being committed to such an explanation, this doesn't
in itself constitute my problem with current physical accounts.  The
alternative is rather that physics as an account of mind must be
incomplete, or else it is wrong.   But that's another story.

David

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