X-Message-Number: 17969
Date: Sun, 18 Nov 2001 11:13:25 EST
Subject: clarifications

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David Shipman (#17964) writes in part:

> > Many people much smarter than I, and who have struggled with 
> >these problems for much longer, hold opposing views. [They believe that >
> consciousness could be incorporated into a computer program.]
> Almost all of the smartest people have been wrong most of the time--as 
> other equally smart people have pointed out from time to time. The 
> innovators are not necessarily the smartest or best informed. Anyway, in 
> this case--as usual--the smartest and best informed are divided. Indeed, in 
> the absence of division of opinion there isn't any issue.

> >Within this worldview the notion of consciousness is impossible to define 
> >or specify

Defining consciousness is easy, if you allow enough vagueness or generality, 
and if you don' t decide in advance to accept the information paradigm. 
Consciousness resides in subjective experience (qualia) in the context of 
cognition or goal-oriented information processing. You feel, and your 
feelings provide goals which modify your information processing programs, 
with feedback.

>If it could be specifically defined, then we'd just > write a computer 
> program for it and >we'd be done. 

No. Defining consciousness with reference to qualia does not necessarily 
result in the ability to write a program the implementation of which would 
constitute consciousness. A quale is a physical phenomenon in the brain, 
binding space and time--possibly some kind of modulated standing wave--while 
a program is just a sequence of symbols, and a working digital computer 
results in just a sequence of classical states corresponding to a sequence of 
sets of numbers.

>>  I am haunted by the fact that we are 
> >able to talk and write about our qualia, and how could we do that unless 
> >the qualia themselves were embedded in the neural substrate? 
This seems a bit confused. Certainly the qualia are physically in the brain, 
but the ability merely to TALK about qualia could in principle be 
incorporated into a program or a computer which itself doesn't have any 

Where many people get lost is in the regression fallacy, homunculi ad 
infinitum, the notion that selfhood requires a central observer, which needs 
another observer, etc. What must be clearly understood is that the standing 
wave (or whatever) is NOT just the description or outward manifestation of 
the feeling; it IS or CONSTITUTES the feeling. There does not exist something 
else or some "self" which feels--although there does of couse exist a context 
of memory and other features of the brain and organism contributing to the 

The bottom line concerns the questions of survival criteria and values. Much 
remains to be done, both in biology and philosophy, and anyone who thinks he 
already knows the answers is just kidding himself. 

Robert Ettinger
Cryonics Institute
Immortalist Society


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