Monday, December 15, 2008

Zagnets and Communication

"I asked them if it mattered to them what kind of computer their software selves would run on. No, they replied, it doesn't matter. All computers are considered to be equivalent by virtue of the Church-Turing Hypothesis. If they and their classmates were implemented on a vacuum tube computer, or on a computer made of mechanically-linked Lego blocks, they would still feel the occasional rush of adrenaline as a desired mate strolled by, and the agony of a parental visit."

"If computers are to definitely exist we should know that we could someday build an instrument to find them. Scientific instruments can lack accuracy, but they must be able to distinguish between phenomena. If there was no conceivable device that could distinguish heat from other phenomena like gravity, for example, heat would not be a useful concept, and science would pursue a parameter that could be measured."

I re-read this, and I thought, "Oh, I get it now! This is much better than the way I said it."

And then I thought, "I had this discussion with Marcus! I'm going to go use this on him."

For some moments, I was content. Then I realized what I'd thought - I agreed, and I still didnt' get it, yet I was going to use it on people who strongly disagree! Then I started laughing helplessly. In fact, I just laughed again. Oh my, that's a fine joke!

Once you realize what language is, exactly - communication by a system of shared symbols - it shows up how difficult communication really is. Especially nowadays, which as Orwell predicted, uses language in interchangeable blocks of phrases instead of individual words. Communicating new ideas to someone who has only used these set phrases is basically impossible. (Another reason to declare 'public education' a literal atrocity, as it schools the opposite of good thinking; though you should always expect as much perversity from tax-funded institutions.)

So, when a Ph.D thinks my writing is rambling, (again)? They just don't get it. Most likely, they haven't overcome the liability that is a tax-funded Ph.D.


Information Integration Theory neatly answers many of the questions Lanier raises, aside from this one; "Hypothesizing an infinite cloud of slightly different consciousnesses floating around each person seems like an ultimately severe violation of Occam's razor."

There are an awful lot of arguments that parents are forgivable, that they 'did the best they could' etcetera, such as on Liberating Minds. All of this is belied in one phrase;
"the agony of a parental visit"
This is just accepted; yes, of course parental visits are agonizing. As in, it's common and understandable that your parents willingly, knowingly, and avoidably cause you agony for no purpose but their whim. Their 'best?' Misses the point. The point is that if your parents are causing you agony, make them stop, no matter what means you have to use. They're supposed to love you; they should support your goal of lessening your pain. Supposedly.

"Even if it interprets the meteor shower as having the functionality of a brain, that could only be true for a limited period of time. Certainly after a very short while Newton and Einstein would take over again and the brain would dissipate."
I am amused at how we speak as if Newton and Einstein ascended into godhood upon their deaths. (And then we wonder why Christians who read the Bible don't like science.) This image of Newton's spirit forcing particles to obey F=ma by sheer force of will just gets me. (And then people are baffled when I declare that everyone is dualist, even if they have concluded otherwise.)

"Zombies probably think that I am a mystical dualist of some stripe. I can accept that, but I don't act like a mystical dualist. I am enthused by progress in neuroscience. [...] In fact, I'm thrilled to think about brains. I must appear to be a monstrous anti-zombie to the zombies; someone who claims to have ineffable subjective experience and yet acts just like them."
This mildly edited quote describes me well, too.

"Let's imagine a society in the future in which neuroscience has gotten as good as, say, quantum electrodynamics is today, that is to say essentially complete within its framework. Would every educated person be a zombie? Would the consciousness debate still exist? Would it have any practical consequences?

This is an entertaining future to imagine. [... ] And of course that means that inside every zagnet's brain would be seen some little gizmo comprising the thoughts of self-experience."
Yes, I imagine so.

"So, if the consciousness problem has little consequence and will not yield to further physical study, why do zagnets like me care about it? I might ask the same question of some of the zombies."
And here we see the essence of the things I've edited out. Lanier is so very close to right, but not quite. His qualia dial section may be worth reading, but it makes the exact mistake he accuses others of making, and ends up being incoherent. The basic problem is the same as in any physical system; of the many possibilities, how does it decide on this one? Lanier's dial requires a second layer to do this; he is dualist, even if he thinks he isn't.

Dennet's Consciousness Explained simply misuses the word 'consciousness' to describe something that isn't the concept 'consciousness' and thus Dennet fools himself into thinking he's solved the problem. I think it's the Ph.D again.

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