[extropy-chat] Prime Directive

George Dvorsky george at betterhumans.com
Fri Oct 27 19:30:59 UTC 2006

On 10/27/06, Anders Sandberg <asa at nada.kth.se> wrote:
> I'll leave quantum theory out of this, since I think decoherence does the
> job better than observers.

This doesn't make sense to me and runs against my conception of
quantum mechanics, the role of the observer, and how decoherence
works. Please explain, as I don't think this should be hand-waved

> If observerdom means that there exists
> subsystems of the universe that mirrors parts of the whole in a nontrivial
> way then it is not obvious that they need to be conscious to do this. If
> one believes in philosophical zombies then they may be wonderfully
> self-reflexive without having the least consciousness. If one don't think
> they can exist (my own view), then consciousness might simply be the
> effect of being a self-reflexive system. But then self-relfection is the
> primary thing that might be important, not consciousness.

Sure, you can have a system that it self-reflexive in the sense that
it is programmed to monitor its status on an ongoing basis. This is
autonomous self-reflection without awareness of the "I" in
self-reflection. I think we're lacking a working definition of
consciousness here, and that's posing problems in this discussion.

According to John Searle,

"Consciousness, so defined, has three remarkable characteristics.
First, there is always a qualitative feel to our conscious
experiences. Think of the difference between listening to music and
tasting wine. Second, consciousness is always subjective in the sense
that it only exists as experienced by human or animal subjects. It has
a first-person mode of existence that requires some "I" that actually
experiences the conscious states. And third, pathologies apart, each
conscious state comes to us as part of a single, unified con-scious
field. So we don't just have the taste of the wine and the sound of
the music, but both of these are part of one large conscious

What Searle argues is that these three features are *not* independent,
"They are different aspects of the essential character of
consciousness that can be accurately called qualitative subjectivity."

If I'm reading you correctly, Anders, you're suggesting that these
aspects are independent and that you could have an agent living some
kind of a meaningful existence with only part of the whole of what
Searle would regard as consciousness.

> Well, I'm at a philosophy department. The absurd is my job :-)

I'm thinking it's the Oxford air ;-)

> Looking at love, I don't see anything that couldn't be achieved by the
> unconscious, non-self-referential non-subjective agent (except of cource
> experiencing it).

Well, if nobody is experiencing it, what's the point?

> But in that case non-conscious objects have no rights, or everything have
> rights if you are a panpsychist.

Bingo. Non-conscious objects have no rights. The only entites in the
universe that should be ascribed moral status are ones with
subjective, qualitative awareness. I'm not about to grant my pet rock
rights. And corporate personhood is an agreed upon fiction for
legalistic purposes.

As for panpsychism, that's not an entirely fair representation
(although some panpsychists do contend that all matter is somehow
'conscious'). Modern panpsychists like A. N. Whitehead and David
Chalmers argue that the interplay between reality and consciousness is
indelibly linked, and that stringed 'occassions' or moment slices as
observed by a conscious entity is very much what reality is made of.
Further, there's this idea in protopanpsychism that consciousness is a
fundamental of the Universe not unlike electromagnetism or gravity --
we still need to nail this one and figure out how the mechanisms in
the brain are oriented such that they take advantage of this aspect of


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