X-Message-Number: 21656
Date: Thu, 24 Apr 2003 00:25:01 -0700
From: Mike Perry <>
Subject: Isomorphisms and Unverifiability

Robert Ettinger, #21636, writes:

>The isomorphism question is whether a set of symbols can be "the same" as a
>physical system, or one physical system the "same" as another. Mike thinks
>yes, each in its own "frame of reference." The problem with Mike's view, it
>seems to me, is that it leaves no room for verification. It is just a
>postulate, or a definition, and basically useless.

There are two points I will make in reply. First, while two isomorphic 
systems could have different and incompatible frames of reference (a set of 
symbols versus a physical, time-evolving system, for instance) the frames 
of reference could also be compatible and essentially the same. If I can 
interact appropriately with a device or system, then its frame of 
reference, in effect, is the same as mine. So it would be conscious in my 
world, provided it can be considered isomorphic to another system that I 
would consider conscious. A working, artificial brain with artificial 
neurons might furnish an example.

The second point is that, true, there is no means of verification of such a 
claim as this, that a certain artificial construct becomes conscious just 
because it simulates another system that is conscious. But I think (in 
appropriate circumstances) there would be no means of refutation either. 
And there are important examples of unverifiable-but-unrefutable hypotheses 
that we make judgments one way or the other about today. One example is the 
hypothesis that loss of consciousness is fatal; the person who wakes up is 
not the same as the one who fell asleep, but is only similar. This is not 
something I take seriously or lose sleep over (!)--that is to say, I assume 
that I survive sleep and it seems to work out. So this is an unverifiable 
hypothesis that nevertheless can be counted useful.

In the future we could be confronted with more such examples,  with more 
controversy over which is the right choice. Suppose, for instance, that an 
artificial replacement of your gray matter would offer certain advantages 
such as greater durability and non-susceptibility to disease. Do you get 
the replacement or turn it down for fear it would no longer be you?

Mike Perry

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