[extropy-chat] Fragmentation of computations

Russell Wallace russell.wallace at gmail.com
Tue Mar 27 03:47:32 UTC 2007

On 3/27/07, Lee Corbin <lcorbin at rawbw.com> wrote:
> Well, you know better than that!  You should know that
> surely no one here is saying such a thing!

Indeed, that's why I hoped it would be acknowledged as a successful disproof
by reductio ad absurdum :)

I am merely asking whether some entity is having an
> experience; I start with the principle that for a man the
> answer is "Yes" and for rocks and space-dust the
> answer is "No".  We also, presumably, agree that
> playing back a movie provides none of the characters
> any conscious experience. Neither Rick nor Humphrey
> Bogart is either saddened or exhilerated at all when
> reruns of Casablanca are shown.

Yes, but be careful about letting your intuition jump to conclusions from
that - the recording of Casablanca doesn't contain the information about
internal brain states that would be required to produce conscious
experience, irrespective of how the playback was done.

So how can you be so *sure* that in the lookup vs.
> causal computation process, the lookup process is
> not akin to simply playing back a perfect 3D movie?
> You must entertain the possibility that this is so, and
> that if you are enjoying your life then you will equally
> enjoy repeat computations, but won't enjoy or
> experience at all any repeat movies of your life.

Be careful of the word "perfect"; I think your intuition is trying to bundle
an awfully big jump into it.

Also be careful of the word "sure" and the phrase "entertain the
possibility". There's a sense in which I can't be sure that solipsism isn't
correct, in that I can't disprove it. I still don't entertain the
possibility; I simply discard it as manifestly useless.

I am trying to solve a certain problem, so I'll put it
> to you, then. Suppose that there are infinitely many
> galaxies (so that numbers don't cramp my style here)
> and that there is an ordering G1, G2, G3, G4 ...
> such that between G1 and G2 lies a patch of dust
> spread out over many many lightyears that is
> manifestly Russell Wallace the way that he was
> on October 7, at 12:00:00.000000000 seconds.
> And that between G3 and G4 there is another
> unmistakable image of Russell, this time 1 billionth
> of a second past that same time.
> Suppose that this sequence G1, G2, G3, ... extends
> for the entire 5 minute interval of October 7 from
> 12:00:00.000000000   to  12:05:00.000000000.
> So the universe is exhibiting a succession of images
> of you over that five minute part of your life.  Is there
> or is there not any experience taking place out there
> in that sequence of patterns?

Okay. I'll add two more assumptions (both of which will be met somewhere -
indeed infinitely often - in an infinite universe), making them explicit to
make sure our intuitions aren't smuggling anything past customs without
declaring it:

- The "unmistakable images" aren't just superficial resemblance of external
shape, but contain complete models of internal brain state, in a form that
could be decoded without special knowledge.

- They're lined up in a nice neat row so that the information about me
doesn't have to be contained in the choice of coordinates of the dust

At this point, believe it or not, the word we have to start being careful of
is "is"! Normally it doesn't cause any problems because we have
approximately the same arrow of time (the big exception being if one
observer jumps into a black hole while another watches from a safe distance
- apparently their arrows of time are sufficiently different as to produce
disagreement about the result). In this case, though, the arrows of time are

Suppose the dust patches - or hard disks containing snapshots of an upload's
runtime, or glass blocks containing frames of Life Man's runtime or whatever
- are laid out along the X axis in your chosen coordinate system.

In this scenario, my time coordinate is at right angles to yours, your X is
my T. So in my time, I am indeed having an experience. In your time, only
you are having an experience, because I'm not living in your time.

Yes this is counterintuitive, but that's only to be expected when we
consider situations very different from those in which our intuition was
evolved and trained. I see two ways to understand this result - maybe there
are more, but the two I see are:

- The Platonist view in which the Tegmark multiverse is considered to exist.
Then there is (in a timeless/mathematical sense of the word "is") a region
of the multiverse in which I am having that particular five minutes of
experience, and this will always be true irrespective of whether you have in
front of you a representation of those five minutes.

- The Popperian view in which we are not interested in metaphysics, but
focus on theories that are falsifiable. The original question as posed is
not falsifiable, therefore not interesting. To make it so, we must find a
way to test it. The obvious way to test whether an entity is conscious is to
have a conversation with it. To do that, the arrows of time have to be
aligned - you can't have a conversation with someone who isn't living in the
same time dimension as you! In this thought experiment, to have a
conversation with me you would have to take one of the snapshots, copy it
into a computer and start running it - in your time axis. At that point you
could quickly satisfy yourself that I was conscious - as expected.

Does this help?
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