X-Message-Number: 21674
Date: Sat, 26 Apr 2003 14:04:30 EDT
Subject: Circling the square

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I know Mike Perry has more important things to consider, but I'll throw this 
in anyway.

Almost 50 years ago Grey Walter published a report of his mechanical 
"tortoises"--self-propelled battery-powered gadgets that rolled around the 
floor, more or less at random, but programmed to back away from an obstacle 
and try another route, and also to seek an electric outlet and plug itself in 
for a recharge when the batteries ran low. Someone with really, really well 
developed empathy might say it "hungered" for electricity and "sought" food.

Maybe in coming decades we will see the first good imitation of a human, Adam 
MacElectrosap. (MAChine, ELECTROnic, SAPient) The skeptics will say that Adam 
is a direct descendant of the tortoise, with no more feeling, just more 
complicated. The upmorphists will say we should give Adam the benefit of the 
doubt and treat him as a person. As a practical matter, that might be 
prudent, but to believe it implies that you think "emergence" is strictly 

But emergence is not always quantitative. If you keep cutting the corners off 
a square and then off the results, you arrive after a while at something 
close to a circle. Does this mean that a square is an imperfect circle? Try 
pulling a wagon with square wheels--it doesn't just roll less easily; it 
doesn't roll at all. The borderline may be indistinct sometimes, but 
nevertheless there are some clear-cut cases. 

After Adam maybe comes Eve MacElectrosap. If they can be given human mental 
attributes, why not equivalent physical attributes? Can Eve become pregnant? 
If so, can she ever be just a little bit pregnant, or is it a yes-or-no 
proposition? If it is yes-or-no, then emergence is down the drain. If only 
organic systems can become pregnant, why is it not possible that only organic 
systems can feel?

Other questions raise themselves. The upmorphist might say, in response to 
the paragraph above, that machines can think and feel more easily than they 
can reproduce, because thinking and feeling are just signal processing, for 
which they are ideally adapted. But we know that our own feeling depends, in 
part, on our meat--on our hormones and other secretions, on chemistry as well 
as electronics. Adam and Eve would have to mimic the chemistry 
electronically, and then we are back to a reliance on isomorphism or analogy, 
which is basically a kind of Platonism.

Robert Ettinger 


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