X-Message-Number: 5226
Date: Mon, 20 Nov 1995 22:34:37 -0500
Subject: qualia again

A private email took issue with some things I said in a recent posting,
regarding feeling, the self circuit, and uploading. My reply  became so long
that I am also posting it to Cryonet--even though we have been over and over
this stuff many times. A few newcomers may find it interesting. My allusions
to the post being answered should be reasonably clear.
Certainly not ALL uploaders are motivated by political correctness (anti-meat
chauvinism); I think I said "some"--and some have convinced me of their
motivation through long and repeated exchanges.

I have read some of Dennett, and was not impressed; of Smullyan's I have read
only technical mathematical stuff, nothing in this area. But I have read a
lot of many other people--enough, I feel confident, to understand the thrust
of the uploaders' arguments, which I believe are fallacious.

I do not claim uploading is impossible--just that its possibility (even in
principle) remans unproven. 

Their primary argument is based on isomorphism:  anything (they basically
claim) can be described or simulated, and since the only thing that counts is
information processing, any system that processes information the same way
you do IS you.

There are at least two fallacies here. The first is the ASSUMPTION that
nothing is essential except the program; they assume the very thing they are
trying to prove, and then they think they have proved it. It is by no means
self evident that only information processing is important.

Second, even if information processing were truly the all-in-all, it still
does not follow that any "hardware"  can run any "program" (unless you make
your definitions conveniently narrow).  The map is not the territory. For
example, you can in principle calculate the behavior of a drop of water, but
your calculations on paper, or your computer with printout, will not wet
anything, and cannot emulate the behavior of a drop of water in real time
under all conditions. Similar problems MIGHT arise with attempted uploading. 

You compared my "self circuit" or "subjective circuit" to the "vital force"
notion of earlier times. They are not truly comparable. Certainly "vital
force" ("vital quality" might have been a bit  better) is a pretty useless
term, except perhaps as a short-hand way of reminding ourselves that living
and inert matter have important differences. It is almost like the notorious
"explanation" that opium puts people to sleep because it "has dormitive
virtue" (because it puts people to sleep). "Self circuit" is not like that.

True enough, saying the self circuit is a part or aspect of the brain or its
functions is pretty vague and general, but is it useless? If it were, how
could it generate so much heated opposition? It causes discomfort (in some)
just because it reminds us (and that is its function) that (at least some)
living beings ARE different from robots, and the difference is in our
capacity to experience, to have subjective lives, to feel.

In relatively recent years, it was almost unheard of even to attempt
experimental or theoretical studies of consciousness. Now consciousness study
is a big field--but even within it, many practitioners recoil from the notion
that feeling involves something unique--and possibly unique to organic
matter. They even try to study consciousness without involving feeling!

I can't understand your comparing this to Descartes' "intuition" leading to
"dualism." Nor can I understand your saying it is "not indisputable" that we
have feeling or qualia, but that we may only "think" we do. As far as I can
tell, most scientists and philosophers, whatever their other disputes, agree
that the only things we know for sure are our own feelings (at a particular
moment). I haven't read all (or even much) of Quine, but if he or anyone
doubts that we feel, I'd like to subject such people to a few experiments.
They shouldn't mind: it might improve human knowledge, while not really
hurting them. They will only "think" they hurt.

On the experimental front, some progress is being made,  relating sensations
to types of activity in regions of the brain. This could be misleading in
many ways, but should eventually allow us to characterize subjective
experience and consciousness. Consciousness, I suggest, is the integration of
feeling and computing. That is, our data processing becomes consciousness
when it is accompanied by feelings, when it "means something" to us.

Only when we know the anatomical/physiological basis of feeling will we be in
a (better) position to decide whether uploading is possible, or whether
life-as-we-know-it can exist on other than an organic substrate. This
information may even help solve the "philosophical" problems of survival
criteria and of value criteria.

Robert Ettinger

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