X-Message-Number: 11673
Date: Tue, 04 May 1999 01:50:25 -0700
From: Mike Perry <>
Subject: Computer Games, Dreams, Isomorphism

Thomas Donaldson, #11664, writes
>I also asked a question, seriously: if you believe that a character
>living entirely in a computer and receiving only input from the computer
>is aware, then do you also believe that characters in computer games are
>aware? If not why not; if you do, please explain. Just what is the 
>difference between such characters and any more elaborate program
>structure in a computer?
In my view, if the characters meet certain reasonable criteria (being able
to respond in some appropriate way to their environment, including input
from the outside) it woulid be reasonable to grant them a rudimentary
awareness. Of course, such characters probably are less complex than
insects, thus less aware than insects. I see no fundamental reason to deny
that they could have awareness, however.

>Some have also suggested that we might already be such an emulation. I
>find this possibility not so much wrong as meaningless: sure, so we are
>emulations. And just what does that really tell us? The idea has no
>experimental content at all, just like a belief in God. 
I would say it isn't a meaningless idea, because it raises the possibility
that, at some point, there could be intervention from the outside, from the
"Programmer," which might, for example tell us that up to then we have been
in an emulation. Otherwise, you are right, and with Ockham's razor we can
drop the hypothesis, as having no supporting evidence. However, it still is
useful for a philosophical point.

>Another participant points out that we can have dreams which feel like
>reality. Fine. Since we have those dreams with our own biological brains,
>and they feel like reality (but afterwards we see that they were not)
>this has no obvious relation to the possibility of emulating a person
>totally inside a computer.

It does have a bearing on the issue of whether it would be possible to be
conscious within some device, without any (obvious) connection to the
outside world.

Bob Ettinger, #11665, notes problems with the idea of assuming across the
board, that systems isomorphic to conscious systems are conscious
themselves. And I agree, that one can push the notion of isomorphism too
far. What is needed, then, is not just any isomorphism whatever, but the
right isomorphism. In particular, we are led to consider how time should be
modeled. To my thinking, consciousness, whatever it is, involves some sort
of ongoing process. It isn't present in a static artifact that undergoes no
significant change over time. This would rule out a book  being conscious,
even if it is the kind of book that can model the passage of time, for
example, by the changes described on successive pages (as in a history or a
biography). Such an artifact (or a character within it) could not, in
principle even, interact and respond to a person as we normally imagine
conscious beings would do. It would have no behavior, could not originate
actions, make choices, etc. Whereas the sort of entity that I have imagined
being emulated, if awkwardly, by a Turing machine would possess these
capabilities. (Maybe "emulation" is misleading to some here, because I do
imagine that there could be communication between the emulation and an
outside world.) So, if we grant that the Turing entity is an ongoing process
with a suitable correspondence to a being we accept as conscious, with
isomorphic, *active* processing going on, I would consider it conscious too.

Mike Perry

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