X-Message-Number: 11882
Date: Thu, 3 Jun 1999 23:28:15 EDT
Subject: Quest  for the Holy Quale, Part II


This is just another brief effort to clarify my reasons for thinking that 
unconsciousness in a book of a certain type implies unconsciousness in a 
computer-or that consciousness in a computer implies consciousness in the 

First, a personal note to those who may think I am misapplying my time, that 
I should be spending all of it on practical work for CI and cryobiological 
research etc. Besides the reasons I have previously given for thinking the 
discussion may have relevance and practical utility, this is one of the ways 
I have fun (I also have fun in physical ways), and I don't apologize for 
that. I want to live in the present as well as in the future. 

All right, let me recapitulate the thought experiment. 

We are talking about an ordinary sequential computer. It could even be a very 
advanced one of the future, but instead we envision it, for psychological 
reasons, as the ur-computer, a Turing Tape. One has a tendency to accord 
respect to a big, mysterious box with complicated innards of invisibly tiny 
and lightning-fast workings--gee, that might really think. But if we envision 
just a simple tape, with pencil markings on it, clunking back and forth under 
the direction of some simple mechanism--then the absurdity of attributing 
consciousness to it is more apparent. (No, I don't claim the apparent 
absurdity is itself proof of unconsciousness--just that the absurdity, once 
proven, is more easily accepted in the Tape than in an electronic monster.)

The Tape is intended to emulate a living human brain. In the program and data 
store of the Tape we encode all that is necessary, and with sufficient 
accuracy, of the laws of nature and of the initial state of the subject 
brain, together with as much of the brain's environment as necessary to allow 
description or prediction of the future life of the brain for an agreed 

Now here again we have to be careful. Dr. Perry has mentioned the possibility 
of intervention by a programmer while the computer is running, and I have 
previously discussed some aspects of this. But this would lead us into a maze 
from which we might not emerge until the 22nd Century, because it could 
involve confusing  recursions, cascades of subsimulations and virtual 
computers, etc. But for the purposes of our thought experiment I think it is 
permissible and necessary to keep the postulates simple, and assume that the 
future history of the subject brain will not involve anything like that. 
Surely we could achieve that just by agreeing to keep the subjective duration 
of the experiment short, which will not affect the argument.

So we run the Tape, and it grinds out a prediction or description of (say) 
the next few seconds of the subject brain's life. In other words, the simple 
mechanism moves the tape back and forth, the head reads or writes, and the 
new marks (or successive internal states of the Tape) encode the changes in 
the subject brain, or its successive states. Now let's look at how the 
Uploaders claim consciousness in this succession of states of the Tape.

Basically, the claim is that all mental processes, including feeling and 
consciousness, are essentially just relationships between symbols. This claim 
is by no means as ridiculous as a layman might first judge, and there are 
weaknesses in the arguments advanced against it by Searle et al. 

Searle argued essentially that the computer only works with symbols and 
therefore its "thoughts" have no semantic content, no meaning. For example, 
the same computer program could be used to find a definite integral, the 
accumulated charge on a capacitor, the area under a curve, or many other 
things--nothing would be different except the labels attached to the outputs, 
or in other words the interpretation given by the human operator. This was a 
good argument, but not perfect.

After all, the internal workings of our own brains involve mainly signals 
which are just symbols, yet we successfully use these symbols to construct 
representations of the "real" world outside. An even stronger hint, in my 
opinion, is in the ingenious strategies that have been devised for 
communicating with aliens in a distant star system. I won't go into the 
fascinating details, but just sending a series of dots and dashes could allow 
one race to communicate with another without any Rosetta Stone-and this 
includes color 3-d video with stereophonic sound! And there are serious 
scientists who think EVERYTHING--including time and space--are just 
relationships, in a certain sense.  (See e.g. Lee Smolin, THE LIFE OF THE 
COSMOS, Oxford U. Press, 1997.)

In spite of all this, and in spite of our frequent success in thinking by 
analogy, the Turing Tape in my opinion cannot be conscious, if for no other 
reason because it does not act in time in any meaningful sense. *There is no 
time isomorphism whatsoever between the successive states of the subject 
brain and the successive internal states of the Tape.* 

The Tape is sequential, while some functions of the brain, including the 
qualia of the postulated Self Circuit, are parallel--physically parallel, not 
just computationally.
The best you could do would be to LABEL a certain set of numbers, 
corresponding to a state of the computer, as the next state of a part of the 
brain, or as coincident with the next state of another part of the brain. 
Please ponder that carefully. (And I won't even dwell on the fact that the 
labels THEMSELVES have to be interpreted by the outside observer!) 

But now we get to the Turing Tome, a book written by the computer, each page 
containing the set of numbers representing a state of the Tape and of the 
Brain. Just as you could label a state of the Tape, you could label a page of 
the book. To improve the illusion, you could even arrange a simple mechanism 
to turn the pages of the book at a steady rate. Then--as far as I can 
see--anyone who claims the Tape is conscious must also agree that the Tome is 
conscious. I have yet to meet the Uploader who says yes, the Tome is 

Well, I tried again.

Robert Ettinger
Cryonics Institute
Immortalist Society

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