X-Message-Number: 8240
From:  (Thomas Donaldson)
Subject: Re: CryoNet #8237 - #8239
Date: Sat, 24 May 1997 18:09:19 -0700 (PDT)

To Mr. Metzgar:

Perhaps I should give your comments the brief attention you seem to have 
given mine. If you have been following this issue on Cryonet, you will know 
that I personally have not stated that we cannot build intelligent, conscious
devices, but that the architecture of most current computers would make that
extremely difficult if not impossible.

FURTHERMORE, if you insist that a study of consciousness must necessarily 
include all possible forms of consciousness, by animals, by machines, by some
creatures inhabiting the moons of a planet of Vega, YOU are guilty of religious
thinking. If we want to understand something, one good way to do so is to try
first to understand it in one special case. Since so far no one has actually
produced a conscious computer, and we have no access to the inhabitants of 
the moons of Vega, we are left with one kind of animal to start our study with:
humans and primates generally. To do this is not to claim that other kinds of
creature or machine cannot be conscious. It is a means to start our empirical

Did I ever "define consciousness"? Not in the global sense you seem to want,
and which I think would be foolish without much more information. And with 
this notion, I suggested an experiment: that awareness requires activation
of a particular brain area. This experiment would actually be expensive to do,
but remains doable in theory.

So if you remain interested in the consciousness of computers, here is a little
program for you. First we work out the details of how OUR HUMAN brains work
in terms of awareness-consciousness. If we understood these details, it should
be easy to make a device --- whether we want to call it a computer or not 
is not clear --- also capable of the same awareness-consciousness as our own.
Not only that, but it will give us strong hints as to where to look for 
this trait in other animals: do they retain this brain structure, and when
they show all the signs of responding to the world around them, is it 
activated? We would even be able to work out just what this structure does:
as I have suggested before, it probably is not a "seat" of consciousness 
but instead a circuit element through which a lot of processing must pass
if the animal/man is conscious.

As for Searle, I do not want my arguments to stand or fall on the basis of
what Searle said, or Turing said, or Descartes said, or whatever. I want my
arguments to depend on what *** I *** said. The Turing Test has what I
consider a major flaw. This does not mean that I think computer awareness is
impossible, it means that the Turing Test has a major flaw. No more and no
less. Depending on just what Searle thought would qualify as a computer --
as opposed to qualifying as a human being --- his claim may or may not have
made sense. But that is a side issue. Not only that, but as I said clearly
in the previous paragraph, once we understand "consciousness" in primates
(including humans) we will also know how to make devices which are 
conscious. It is my knowledge of neuroscience, such as it is, that makes me
doubt that these devices would qualify as "computers", but that statement
should be evaluated on its own merits without regard to what some other
guy has said or not said.

As for the creatures living on the moons of planets of Vegas, I will give
here a speculation about how consciousness MAY work which MAY apply even
to them. (If you don't like speculation I wonder why you're here). If
their multiple or single brains are so wired and work that they have one
single sequential process among many parallel processes, and that sequential
process acts to choose between different goals and desires on the basis of
results from all the other parallel processes, then I would say that they
are conscious. This requires that they have not just knowledge but desires,
and thus have some circuits by which their sequential process can become
informed of these desires. I make no commitment about how fast or slow 
they may be, nor about just what these desires may be. An intelligent 
plant will no doubt seek sunlight and a place containing its requirements
of minerals, etc. So long as this seeking requires a choice, and the
plant is set up able to make such a choice, then it has awareness. So far
as I know, no earthly plant does this. It might be hard to see, though,
because it would happen much more slowly than our own brains work.

Speculations cannot be disproven as such. No matter how many plants you
show me that lack the required circuits, I'm saying that some MIGHT
have this feature. But it is a feature, and by understanding just how
the plant works we might find out how to test for it. Without that
understanding, it remains only a speculation. By the way, is speculation
religious or scientific in your scheme of things?

Finally I will point out that various people have come up with many other
ideas about consciousness. IF my idea proves to be correct, we may see
the existence of this special sequential subsystem, and the presence of
desires, as providing a DEFINITION of consciousness. If not, not. Without
allowing any proposed theory of consciousness to exist without first 
giving a definition, you make the problem quite unsolvable even on your
own terms. It's simply not the best way to proceed: though to some it
may sound paradoxical, I cannot get any good understanding of consciousness
(or in physics, of mass) until I have at least an approximate theory of
how consciousness works (or mass works). The two go together and cannot
be separated. 

To Olaf Henny:           
Here is the essential point I am making. We are now at time 24 May 1997. I
am sure that if someone worked fast enough they could produce a complete
list of all known diseases and medical problems. And sure, everyone one
of these will eventually (don't know when, and without understanding of the
problem I cannot predict when) become trivially curable. 

Yet that very much does NOT imply that we will then be free of all diseases
and medical problems. This is very easy to see if we simply consider past
history. What has happened, along with advances in our medicine, has been 
a BIG INCREASE in the number of diseases and medical problems we can 
distinguish from one another. Furthermore, many of these problems simply
did not exist until most people lived long enough to develop them. Sure,
few people in developed countries now die of typhus, but abolition of 
typhus has not made us free from problems. 

This history should be thought of as a counterexample. And because it is
history, it's a strong one. No matter what science and technology we
develop, nano- or other, things will still go wrong. Most likely, they will
be things going wrong with the very technologies themselves. In going wrong,
they will produce medical problems that could not possibly have been on any 
list put together on 24 May 1997. (I say this because I do think a day will
come when "natural" threats, such as smallpox or Ebola, will be easily
fixable --- but we will still live in a world in which things sometimes go
always be a bug there somewhere. And as we become more skilled, the bugs
become fewer (and harder to find or deal with) but they never go away.

That is why I think that some form of cryonics will persist for a very
long time --- so long that we may as well accept it as indefinite. To claim
otherwise is basically to say that someday we will design our machines and
our society to be perfect. That is out of the question.

			Long long life,

				Thomas Donaldson

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