I believe there's an argument to be made that consciousness is computation itself.
I have a particular thought experiment about consciousness. Take a book, say, Lord of the Rings. Is Frodo conscious? Probably not. But lets say the book was extraordinarily detailed. Lets say the book was actually a mathematical model that described the workings of Middle Earth down to every elementary particle. Each page, a very long page, would describe one 'tick' of the Middle Earth universe.
So you've simulated consciousness on paper. Not in a machine, mind you, but on paper. But it isn't really a simulation as much as a description. It isn't computation, but information. And that information doesn't make Frodo conscious.
Now what if this book were put into a computer? And what if the world were modeled just as accurately and explicitly as the book? Would Frodo then be conscious, simply because a computer calculated the sequence of atomic movements within Frodo's brain?
If so, is it the actual movements of those atoms that creates Frodo's experience of reality, or is it the computation that calculates that movement itself? Whatever process it is that allows reality to compute itself -- to obey the laws of physics -- whatever process that is . . I'd say that act of computation has more to say about consciousness that the actual result itself.
> I'd say that act of computation has more to say about consciousness that the actual result itself.
And what is the act of computation? Is it not just a progression of relationships in the physical world? Surely consciousness doesn't require an observer to look at the atoms bouncing around in the computer to decide that they are simulation of Frodo. Surely it's just the evolving relationship between the atoms that's all that matters. If we could interpret any physical system as evolving in a way that's isomorphic to a brain, shouldn't that also produce consciousness? Maybe at the end of the day consciousness is just the "existence" (whatever that means) of a certain Turing machine or number.
And if all of your understanding of this world is based on the state of your brain now, then isn't it a simpler explanation that now and your impression of consciousness, in this moment, is all that really exists?
A philosopher is someone bright enough to pose such questions and dim enough to pursue their answers.
There's no way to create that book without doing the calculations from each tick to the next. So when you put it into the computer, it's just repeating the calculations done the first time in the creation of the book.
I do think your broader point about the importance computation is correct nonetheless. Though it gets more confusing when you start thinking about what computation actually is, or about the possibility of Boltzmann brains ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boltzmann_brain )
One question I would pose to the infinite turing tape consciousness argument is whether or not experience is falsifiable, and is it falsifiable at the level of the micro and macro?
If we cannot derive precise atomic movements of a mass (a brain), which I believe is impossible due to the nature of measurement at a QM level, Then how can we make statements (programs) that mimic a computation occurring, potentially, beyond that threshold of falsifiability? It seems we are definitionally cordoning off where and how computation occurs in consciousness.
So I wrote a longer piece, and then realized that their whole premise is simply incorrect. Our brain lies to us and fills in the gaps all the time. We do not have perfect memory and continually deal with lossy information integration. The idea that consciousness is lossless is basically a straw man. I think it is fair to say that the brain enforces consistency of representations of the universe and in that way provides something that appears to be unitary, but it does so by discarding lots of information. Furthermore it is pretty clear that we do not have lossless memory. Any cursory look at the literature on eyewitness testimony will show this.
TL;DR The brain lies to us all the time. Just consider the blind spot. Our unitary perception of the universe is an illusion and there is enormous information loss on the way from the sensory environment to motor output.
I like the intention but obviously it's impossible to compute consciousness because "computing consciousness" doesn't mean anything. We don't know what consciousness is.
I don't think many intelligent people realize how much of our understanding of the mind is like the wild west; we have very little-to-no understanding of how the mind works. Looking at pretty data visualizations from a brain scan doesn't tell you anything about the mind. Some very smart people still contend that consciousness may not even exist. It's hard to tell because it's impossible to measure it objectively.
I think to talk about the mind, we need to use different language entirely. We're still talking about it as if it's a science.
"Chalmers contends that such reductive explanations are available in principle for all other natural phenomena, but not for consciousness. This is the hard problem."
It's so clear that you didn't read a single word of the paper. Even if you want to argue that consciousness is somehow unknowable and not worth discussing scientifically because humanity is still too dumb (lol, wat), the authors provide a perfectly reasonable working definition of consciousness.
The theory proposes that consciousness is an information processing phenomenon and can thus be quantiﬁed in terms of a systems’ organizational structure, speciﬁcally its capacity to integrate information... What we mean when we say that the human brain produces consciousness is that it integrates information, thus producing behaviour which reﬂects the actions of a uniﬁed, singular system.
I'm not saying anyone is dumb; I'm saying we as a society haven't made understanding the mind a priority.
Also, I did read it. That "workable" definition is so presumptuous about the nature of consciousness. What I'm saying, and many others are as well, as that we still need to have a discussion about what we're even talking about. The mind may not even be able to be understood or measured in the "realm of science". That is, we may have to use alternative language to explain something like the mind.
We as a society haven't answered fundamental questions such as what is the mind, why does it exist, where does come from, is it a physical/nonphysical phenomenon, etc.
We can't really solve(especially "compute it") the mind problem if we don't fully understand the problem domain.
> why does it exist, where does come from, is it a nonphysical property of the body or vice versa
Are any of these actual debated questions? Outside of religious arguments I don't think anyone can question that (in order) the answers are
It doesn't need a why/It was the best tool our ancestors evolved for their niche
It comes from electrochemical reactions in your brain
Of course it isn't you die when you are killed, getting head injuries can change your personality/memories.
Since your brain exists in physical reality the question "can we run a perfect simulation of physics" is also exactly "can we compute conciousness". Since it's looking pretty good that we can run a simulation of reality at the level we work at it's also looking pretty good for that whole "mind" in a computer thing.
Certainly they aren't debated outside of naturalist circles. But even amongst "non-religious" people, it's somewhat of an open question whether our physical, observable universe is the only thing that exists.
In fact, these are widely debated questions. Materialism is only one of many philosophies that seek to answer these questions (e.g. dualism). Be careful about accepting answers like that if you haven't examined at least the major alternatives.
Widely debated by whom? These other philosophies are useless for trying to figure out how consciousness (or anything, for that matter) actually works, as nothing they explain is falsifiable in any way.
I may as well argue about how many angels fit on the head of pin—some will find the topic fascinating, but at the end of the day it doesn't actually reveal anything useful about the world.
I hope you don't take this as a personal attack, but your comments read to me like a bunch of mystical nonsense.
Have we conclusively defined what "consciousness" is? No. But we haven't, as a society, conclusively defined what a chair is either. That doesn't stop us from accurately and precisely measuring and modeling all sorts of chair and chair-like objects.
Measuring and modeling get more difficult when it comes to information. Take the Bible and rearrange the letters alphabetically and it will be the same size, same weight, same chemical composition, etc.--but contain a lot less information.
A lot of the things that seem weird about the mind are not that different from most information systems. But we're learning to measure and model those too.
Sadly the more you think about the "Hard Consciousness Problem" the more it becomes like "mystical nonsense". The more you reduce the mind into being computable physical process the more it becomes a choice (or a frustrating cycle back and forth) between consciousness not being computable no matter what including in our brain making us zombies living under some sort of illusion or consciousness being totally computable by computer or anything in which case any system could have some sort or consciousness, even human given the correct configuration, e.g. computer, a flock of specially trained neuron like birds. Where would that consciousness "be" in the flock of birds. Also could the consciousness exist on a non human time frame? Would it still exist because it was being computed even slowly? And what happens to it when it hits a breakpoint? Have you captured an instant of consciousness or has it disappeared?
I am convinced that almost all the "problems" with a computable consciousness are really the emotional problems of us humans coming to terms with our status as just another animal, which is just another pattern of matter and energy.
Yes, it implies that other animals and systems might be conscious too. Why is that a problem?
Totally not a problem, except you very quickly fall down the slippery slope of mystical nonsense :D
If we cannot define the boundary of consciousness (the smallest conscious system) eg, we take a conscious human and take one neuron away at a time, at what point is he not conscious? I’m not talking about not being able to communicate with us to tell us he is not conscious. I’m asking at what point are then just a lump of triggering neurons and nothing more than a machine. Is it a hard boundary or sliding scale of levels of consciousness that goes all the way down to a small system of neurons, single neuron, atom or even further?
If we can assume consciousness can take forms (given the appropriate computational configuration), such as existing at different scales such as a system of birds or a star sized metal machine made of cogs computing the same system as brain does but “experiencing consciousness” at 1 human second taking billions of years (Or a super computer experiencing a lifetime in a microsecond). Or still be conscious while not being “human conscious”, eg animals, accidentally (brain damage) or planned (augmentation) reconfigured brain, or just some totally different novel system such as a galaxy.
Just those two examples of thinking about consciousness very quickly get you down the rabbit hole of stuff that sounds like mystical nonsense. Eg Could the universe be conscious in some form at some size and time scale?
btw.. I'm not saying those assumptions are correct but I would hope they are reasonable to think about.
EDIT: (the smallest unconscious system) -> (the smallest conscious system)
Well, this is the problem with our society as a whole. In particular, and most importantly, the problem with intellectuals. They tend to gloss over the inexplicable things like consciousness and the mind. It's just too hairy and scary to try to tackle and try to understand. I think that's why we've distanced ourselves, ironically, from ourselves for so long.
We need to really take a long look at ourselves and try to understand what's going in our mind.
Modeling and measuring are different from genesis. Where is the mind? Should we even be asking "where"? What about "why"? Can we even ask that? Do we even know which questions make sense to ask about the mind? Maybe we can't use language to talk about it. After all language seems(again we have no real empirical basis for this) deeply coupled with the mind so we're going to use the mind to understand the mind? It's microscopes all the way down then I guess.
It is mystical simply because most people haven't really shed much light on it. So the mind remains a mystery. The mind just really, truly does not make sense. It baffles philosophers, scientists, biologists, lay people, etc. We'd rather tackle something like the inner-workings of quarks or the interactions of black holes with dark matter than even attempt to answer the question: what is even allowing me to communicate with myself and answer any of these other questions? Why do I think?
We can talk about personalities. We can talk about the brain. We can talk about language. But how do we work backward from those attributes of the mind to get to the point of genesis; where is the mouse in the wheel creating the thoughts writing this sentence.
No one knows. We don't kinda know. We, truly, have no fucking clue. We think it's related to the brain. That's it.
I don't take it as a personal attack because honestly our understanding is mystical nonsense.
I don't think this argument makes sense unless you believe that the mind, or consciousness, is a special "thing" that must be investigated--which is begging the question.
Consider the possibility that the mind does not exist; that instead it is just a collective noun we use to refer to a group of observed behaviors, the way we use words like "climate" or "weather" or "wave."
What is the smallest part of a wave that is still a wave? We can talk about the chemical characteristics of water, about momentum and turbulence, about gravity, but those all apply equally well to flat water too. Where does the wave come from? Does the concept of a wave make sense in the absence of fluid?
These seem like silly questions because we know how waves work. But similar questions don't get any less silly just because we don't know how the brain works yet.
Yes we can capture a cubic meter of a wave at an instant of time and explain everything about it being a wave.
We could do the same with a brain, freeze it in an instant of time. We might me able to tell what memories it is recalling now, what it is about to say, how you are feeling. Where specific memories are located, what behavioral traits you have. Neural correlates are the easy bit.
But having captured and frozen the brains system state have we captured an instant of mind, consciousness or qualia? Can we say anything reasonable about those properties? Or do they suddenly stop existing when the state has frozen? Are we dead at that point? Could we step through consciousness like a debugger? Does conciseness or the mind only exist in between the break points, or state changes. Is consciousnesses the transition between two quantum states, and a lump of meat while nothing is going on? Slightly tougher questions.
Understanding the mind has been a priority for Buddhists for 2500 years.
Many state of the art understandings of mind do not assume any sort of objective reality. So, questions like "where does mind come from", "is it a physical/nonphysical phenomenon", which are based in on a materialistic theory of reality, may not be valid when talking about theories of reality that are based on perception.
That you're satisfied with the definition supplied astounds me. The words are loose as can be. Amoebae integrate information and produce behavior reflecting the actions of a unified singular system insofar as those undefined words mean anything.
Somehow unknowable indeed. "While neuroscience might shed light on the input and output functions of the brain, the quantiﬁcation for integrated information we have presented here implies that it will be unable to shed light on the complex tangle that is core consciousness."
This is going to sound pretty absurd, but I have this unscientific hypothesis about what consciousness really is.
I believe there is a chance that consciousness is a requirement for a universe to exist. Without consciousness the universe exists as random information, contained within some infinite outside universe, where there is no time or space.
So imagine this infinite outside universe full of all possible information, it exists in some metaphysical location, it has always existed and it will always exist. All this data makes zero sense and has zero purpose. Within this information exist patterns of every kind, everything real and not real is there. However for this data to become expressed, a conscious entity is required to exist inside of this data for the overall universe to place it in some sort of order.
Therefore consciousness acts as a binder of random information, for this very conscious entity to exist some of this infinite information must be placed in a coherent order. So in this view, the start of the universe does not occur with the big bang, but with the first conscious entity. After this point, for consciousness to continue to exist, it must have a narrative based on fundamental laws which explain how it came into existence. All of history is created after the first conscious entity appears, the formation of the planets, evolution, etc.
To better understand this, imagine a roll of film. You take each frame of this film and make it a separate slide. If you shuffle all these separate film slides and ask someone to view them in no given order, it would make very little sense of what the storyline is. However if you let them sort this information, they might be able to arrange this film in a continuous and coherent storyline. Similarly each planck time of our universe is a separate slide of information which exists in infinity. If a conscious entity exists in that frame the universe must provide a coherent storyline for that entity. Therefore additional frames are pulled out from infinity to allow consciousness to glide through infinity and essentially exist.
I hope that made sense, if I have failed to explain it I apologize.
That's not absurd, it's a perfectly plausible philosophical hypothesis. The only thing that's wrong with it, besides the fact that the "first conscious entity" sounds awfully similar to a god, is that I have no idea how to test your hypothesis scientifically. But that shouldn't be a problem if you don't intend your hypothesis to be a matter of science in the first place.
By the way, "consciousness is a requirement for a universe to exist. Without consciousness the universe exists as random information..." is self-contradictory, since existing as random information still counts as existing. I don't think this is what you intended, so I would suggest that you change it to something like "consciousness is a requirement for there to be order in the universe" or something along those lines. (Caution: if you say "consciousness is a requirement for the universe to be intelligible", that becomes sort of tautological.)
Isn't consciousness itself a pattern in that infinitely possible universe of yours? It's kind of a circular argument you're making. If you have no constraints then anything is possible, including consciousness.
Yes it is a pattern in a sea of infinity, the process by which consciousness exists is by continuous grouping of that pattern where all conditions of that consciousness to exist are met. The grouping is just a byproduct of infinite information. It's sort of difficult to imagine, because we are so constrained in our reality. It may very well be circular reasoning, but it seems to make sense to me.
As far as how it relates to Artificial Intelligence, I can provide the following example. The various interconnections and information that exist to create the internet may have already given rise to a similar process. If we viewed say each day of global internet activity as raw data, we maybe able to see certain mathematical patterns emerge. Such patterns might be an echo of a simplified universe and a hint of intelligence, which has naturally emerged due to the vast size of information being created, moved and processed. The intelligence which is emerging probably has no conception of us and is unable to communicate, it simply relies on the natrual occurring patterns of interconnections to exist. It maybe thinking and trying to find out the purpose of its existence as well. The only way we could ever communicate with it is to figure out what patterns to look for and in what time frame.
> I can provide plenty of evidence that consciousness falls within the domain of physics
So then provide some.
Regardless of any evidence you have, it's certainly not conclusive, given the minimal understanding we have of existence and consciousness. And presuming your hypothesis to be true simply because you have some evidence seems rather unscientific.
Slightly off-topic, but here's what Wikipedia says (in part):
Consciousness — The having of perceptions, thoughts, and feelings; awareness. The term is impossible to define except in terms that are unintelligible without a grasp of what consciousness means. Many fall into the trap of equating consciousness with self-consciousness—to be conscious it is only necessary to be aware of the external world. Consciousness is a fascinating but elusive phenomenon: it is impossible to specify what it is, what it does, or why it has evolved. Nothing worth reading has been written on it.
Philosophers and non-philosophers differ in their intuitions about what consciousness is. While most people have a strong intuition for the existence of what they refer to as consciousness, skeptics argue that this intuition is false, either because the concept of consciousness is intrinsically incoherent, or because our intuitions about it are based in illusions. Gilbert Ryle, for example, argued that traditional understanding of consciousness depends on a Cartesian dualist outlook that improperly distinguishes between mind and body, or between mind and world. He proposed that we speak not of minds, bodies, and the world, but of individuals, or persons, acting in the world. [...] More generally, many philosophers and scientists have been unhappy about the difficulty of producing a definition that does not involve circularity or fuzziness.
I always liked the idea in the old Cyberpunk tabletop RPG, that an artificial intelligence arose out of the 'internet' with its vast amounts of interconnected computing power, but because it was so loosely coupled and distributed we could not observe it nor be aware of it (apart from a few 'netrunners').
From the abstract: "Since lossy integration would necessitate continuous damage to existing memories, we propose it is more natural to frame consciousness as a lossless integrative process and provide a formalization of this idea using algorithmic information theory. We prove that complete lossless integration requires noncomputable functions. This result implies that if unitary consciousness exists, it cannot be modelled computationally."
Seems to be setting up a straw man only to knock it down. Does anyone believe the brain losslessly integrates information? If not, the conclusion doesn't seem to apply.
> Every time we bring back an old memory, we run the risk of changing it. It’s more like opening a document on a computer – the old information enters a surprisingly vulnerable state when it can be edited, overwritten, or even deleted. It takes a while for the memory to become strengthened anew, through a process called reconsolidation. Memories aren’t just written once, but every time we remember them.
> If we can model or compute physical processes [...]
We can't, at least not with Turing machines or with things equivalent to Turing machines. Feynman showed in 1982  that Turing machines suffer exponential slowdowns when trying to simulate quantum physics.
Computing physical processes beyond some special cases (which include many very useful physical processes) will have to wait for advances in quantum computing.
By that logic, you can't even assume that other humans experience consciousness. You are effectively defining consciousness as your own consciousness alone. By that definition, it follows that consciousness cannot be computed because you wouldn't experience it. I don't think this is the definition most people have in mind though.
"You are effectively defining consciousness as your own consciousness alone."
That is a good point, and it bothered me for some period of time, but there is a way to resolve it.
First, we have to recognize that "your own consciousness" is a dualistic framework that assumes that there is a subject (observer) and object (observed).
If you do not assume experience to be "my experience", but rather experience that simply knows itself, then we can see that all experiences are simply known of themselves.
When hearing a sound, there is just the sound. No hearer.
When seeing the sight, there is just the sight. No seer.
When feeling the sensation, there is just the sensation. No feeler.
Why is it then that the feeling and the seeing seem to be occurring to "me" when they are in actuality simply occurring to themselves? It is because this self-known experiences are highly integrated with each other within this body.
I assume that you too are having experiences that are not "happening to you", but are rather self known. So your hearing is just the heard. Your seeing is just the seen. Since "your" seen and "my" seen are not integrated, they appear to be happening "over there" and "over here".
But, due to this lack of integration, I ultimately can not be sure that there are other experiences out there, but it seems like a good pragmatic assumption :-)
I have yet to see a precise definition of "free will" that does not require magic (i.e. humans are not bound by the laws of physics) and somehow captures the intuitive feeling that "we" decide what we do. As far as I'm concerned, free will is an illusion.
There is causality. This present moment is the very leading edge of causality being computed.
When do you make decisions? Do you make them in the past? Do you make them in the future? Past and future do not exist. They are simply memories and fantasies arising in this present moment.
If past and future don't really exist and decisions are made this present moment, is your decision pre-determined or is simply instantly determined, now?
If the future were totally deterministic, it would have already been computed. But, it hasn't yet been computed. We are the computation happening right now, and there is reasonable reason to believe that a multitude of possibilities may collapse into the actuality of this moment.
Note that my claim that free will is an illusion does not imply determinism. When I flip a coin (or do a proper quantum-y experiment) the outcome isn't determined either. That doesn't mean the coin decides mid-flight which side feels more comfortable to land on.
Fair enough. Most arguments to discount free will rely on determinism.
Lets go back to this moment, now. Can you find a present moment in which outcomes are determined? Or, are you left with an infinitely slippery field of experience where outcomes are never fully resolved, but rather constantly morph into a new nowness?
What if you, as the experiencer are not a thing that happened in the past or will happen in the future, but rather are exactly this nowness, this exact unfolding computation. What if you are not the data but the present processing?
So, instead of us being the coin that decides in mid-flight, what if we are the processing/unfolding that is deciding?
If you look closely, the physical world cannot be found. There is only this present moment. Past and future are memory and fantasy arising in this present moment. The couch that I am sitting on does not exist as a couch, that is a mental label. There is just causality rippling in this present moment.
The question, "is consciousness computable?" appears to me to be asking something different than "can computation done by consciousness be simulated?" The former seems to be asking if you can compute the state of consciousness given some starting conditions.
As an entangled quantum state is impossible to compute, it would seem that trying to compute the state of consciousness would be similarly impossible.