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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.

> Is Frodo conscious? Probably not.

How do you know?

> 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, this: http://xkcd.com/505/


You are approaching philosophical zombies!



So, John Searle's Chinese Room.



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