X-Message-Number: 21605
Date: Wed, 16 Apr 2003 09:54:45 -0400
From: Thomas Donaldson <>
Subject: CryoNet #21468 - #21474

HI for Mike Perry:

Yes, I know this is a late reply. I got lots of Cryonets when I
was out of contact for a while and have been dipping into the 
older ones when I get the chance.

As for awareness in computers, the problem is that they remain
symbolic devices ie. devices which manipulate symbols. As human
beings we find it hard to imagine brains which do not use
symbols, but most animals provide examples. Their contact with
their world is much closer than that of any robot, even if it
has computer programs which take the data received, compute 
suitably on it, and then decree a response. The computer comes
on the scene not as necessary but as an ultimately useless 
step in processing the world. Such a machine could be built
with much more direct connections between its input and its
output, even with several stages between them.

It is the growing possibility that we'll actually become able,
quite soon, to identify how awareness works in our brains
using various tools which let us look into working brains
(like fMRI) that makes this issue a serious question. I doubt
that simple manipulation of symbols will be part of awareness
because strong arguments exist that many animals are aware,
too. Perhaps not as aware as we, but still aware. Our own
human ability to manipulate symbols fools us into believing
that is the only way brains can work: so insects act by
brains which manipulate symbols? And even insects have quite
complex reactions to external input.

And I would say that awareness requires a much closer tie with
the world than any symbolic tie could ever provide.

As for whether humans can be seen as behaving like computers,
that is a quite separate question. Perhaps if you only look
at external behavior (though it would take a VERY advanced
computer!) but when you can watch in detail how their brains
are actually working that becomes questionable. The fundamental
problem with any computer theory of how we work comes from
its circularity. We are learning right now how we actually
work, using tools such as fMRI and others. Previous ideas 
depended on the notion that we could never do this, but times

No, what I've said here will not settle the question in the
minds of many people. Besides, it's late here and I am going
to bed. I am happy to continue this discussion later.

            Best wishes and long long life for all,

                Thomas Donaldson

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