X-Message-Number: 8221
Subject: Re: Why ask for proof
Date: Mon, 19 May 1997 13:05:09 -0400
From: "Perry E. Metzger" <>

> From:  (Thomas Donaldson)
> Your line of argument seems odd to me. Yes, neither Ettinger nor I can PROVE
> that we are not simulations, or brains in vats, or even have consciousness...
> if by PROVE you mean prove in the mathematical sense. But then mathematics
> isn't the means by which we gain most of our information about the everyday
> world. You can no more prove the opposite: that you ARE in a simulation, or
> a brain in a vat. (And Mr. Clark cannot even prove ... in this sense of the 
> world "prove" ... that he is a brain in a skull).
> You have presented no more or less than a game with words. Yet this game 
> seems to mean something to you. So just what does it mean and why is it
> important to you?

It isn't a word game. Its the heart of science.

Some people here are claiming there is this special property called
"anima", oh, pardon, "consciousness", which is not smellable, tastable
or otherwise observable, and that this invisible fluid infests their
brains but not a computer that would be otherwise indistinguishable in
conversation over a teletype.

Well, there is a problem with this, you see. One of the smarter
philophers of science, Sir Karl Popper, long ago said (approximately)
"if you can't falsify a hyptothesis -- if there is no test you can
conduct to show that would disprove the hypothesis -- its useless."

Science depends on constructing TESTABLE hypotheses, you see. If you
can't test it, its religion, not science. I can hypothesize that there
is an invisible undetectable six foot tall bunny following Robert
Ettinger at all times, and no one could prove me wrong -- but since no
one can conduct a test of any sort to prove me wrong, we can ignore
the question as religious, not scientific.

You have presented us with the "consciousness hypothesis", which holds
that you are conscious, and that this is a special property that you
have and that a properly programmed computer can't have. Well, give me
a test with which I can try to falsify this hypothesis.

The Turing Test isn't a perfect test of "intelligence", but it at
least has the advantage of being a fixed procedure which yields the
answer "yes" or "no" at its end. Several people here claim that even
if a computer passes the Turing test, it isn't "conscious" but that
they are. Well, if thats the case, GIVE ME A TEST. Show me how to
falsify the "consciousness hypothesis" -- give me a standard by which
to judge if an entity is "conscious" or not.

Unfortunately, there isn't one. That means that ultimately, this is

Now you ask "why do I keep asking the 'prove you aren't a brain in a
vat' question?"

Well, Robert Ettinger claims the world can't be simulated well enough
by a computer to allow someone to live their life out inside the
simulation. He claims you can always "tell" you are in a
simulation. Fair enough. Given this, I asked him to present me with
some sort of scientific test -- that is, an experiment we could
conduct that would allow us to falsify the hypothesis that Robert
Ettinger is living in a simulation. I'm not asking for a mathematical
proof. A device Mr. Ettinger could construct that would output "Yes"
or "No" would be fine provided he could convince us that the device
would actually work.

If Mr. Ettinger cannot give us a test we can conduct -- if he is
merely saying "I don't believe this could be done" -- with the
emphasis on "believe" -- what we are seeing is RELIGION, not SCIENCE.
Science requires *falsifiablity* -- not "belief".


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