X-Message-Number: 11826
Date: Wed, 26 May 1999 17:59:46 EDT
Subject: Norton, Perry, Tape & Tome

Brook Norton wrote, in part:

>It seems that consciousness is a dynamic property, like oscillation for
>example.  It has meaning only in the context of passing time.  An
>oscillating rod "frozen in time" somehow would not oscillate because it
>would lack motion.  And a brain "frozen in time" would likewise not be
>conscious.  But an oscillating rod doesn't "bind time".  It just depends
>on the passage of time to take on meaning.  Thats the definition of a
>dynamic process.  So now I simply think of consciousness as an ordinary
>dynamic process.  

While I have made various suggestions or come to tentative conclusions, it 
seems very clear that we just do not know enough yet--and are not likely to 
know enough in the near future--to justify any firm opinions on anything 
involving the basic nature of time. Mr. Norton alluded to the idea that a 
brain "frozen in time" could not be conscious--and yet some ideas about 
quantum states suggest that life is just a sequence of brain states which are 
discontinuous. Further, there is still no reconciliation between quantum 
mechanics and general relativity--and even special relativity removes any 
clear-cut disjuncture between space and time, using instead 4-space or 
space-time (which also has its problems). Still further, there are 
speculations about the possibility (or reality) of additional dimensions of 
space and even time. And of course the "passage of time" remains almost a 
total mystery, despite the many claims to the contrary.

The main thrust of my discussions has been, not to establish any firm and 
novel truth, but to show good reasons (and sometimes previously unappreciated 
reasons) for skepticism about the claims on the table. 

Mike Perry wrote, in part, and in paraphrase for brevity (I hope I am doing 
him justice) somewhat as follows:

(MPP means Mike Perry in Paraphrase)

I had said that a Turing Tape (basically, an ordinary computer) could, in 
principle, if given enough information about the laws of nature and about a 
person including a large enough part of his environment, predict or describe 
the future behavior (including internal states) of that person (and his 
immediate environment). It could also write down that whole future history 
(within the limits of information and accuracy) in a big book, the Turing 
Tome. Therefore anything one can conclude about the Tape, based only on its 
predictive or descriptive abilities, would also be true of the Tome. If the 
Tape is conscious, so is the Tome--at least, unless you look at some relevant 
feature of the Tape not possessed by the Tome. But I see no such feature--see 

MPP: Power of description does not make the Tome conscious, but the Tape is 
active and what happens to it is isomorphic to what happens to the person 
described, so the simulated person "in" the Tape has more claim to 
consciousness than a static Tome.

Again, it seems to me Mike is picking and choosing his isomorphs more or less 
to suit his intuition or to patch up the theory--which is not necessarily 
wrong, but pretty shaky. A sequential computer, it seems to me, not only 
cannot change the person simulated in real time, but uses real time only as a 
peripheral mechanism to do its physical job--reading, writing, and moving the 
tape. The ESSENCE of the Tape is just the program and data store, providing 
successive states, and the Tome has the exact same successive states or 
pages. The system (person) simulated "knows" nothing of the computer's 
peripherals; it only knows its states. If consciousness can exist in 
successive discrete states, then it can exist in the Tome too. (If you want 
further confusion, recall that, in the 4-space view of the world, history 
just "lies there" with past, present and future co-existing, and the nature 
of the subjective "present" still a mystery.)

MPP: The person "in" the Tape could communicate with us; the Tome could not.

Remember, I was talking about the situation where either Tape or Tome was 
dealing with the person to be simulated AND a sufficiently large part of his 
environment. Therefore either Tape or Tome could predict or describe the 
whole scenario, to the required accuracy, with interaction between the 
simulated person and the environment, including ourselves.

MPP:  I think time has a special role in consciousness. 

I agree--in fact, I think time has a special role in just about everything of 
interest. But as I have already said, there is too much mystery about time to 
allow any firm conclusions. Speculations, especially those leading to 
meaningful investigations, are fine, but let's not stake anything of value on 
premature conclusions.

Robert Ettinger
Cryonics Institute
Immortalist Society

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