[ExI] Digital Consciousness

Stathis Papaioannou stathisp at gmail.com
Mon May 6 04:09:30 UTC 2013

On Mon, May 6, 2013 at 12:27 PM, Gordon <gts_2000 at yahoo.com> wrote:
> Stathis Papaioannou <stathisp at gmail.com> wrote:
>>> I believe that if we replaced all the neurons in the NCC with digital
>>> implants, the victim of our evil experiment would become comatose. I
>>> think
>>> something is happening in those parts of the brain that correlate to
>>> consciousness that is not equivalent to digital processing. It's a
>>> biological process, perhaps electro-chemical in nature, and although we
>>> might be able to describe it digitally, and build digital implants using
>>> that description as a blueprint, the implants themselves would fail as
>>> they
>>> are a different sort of thing than the biological processes they
>>> describe.
>> Could you clarify what exactly you think we can and can't do in
>> attempts at simulating neurons in the NCC? It seems you allow that we
>> could, in principle, make computerised neurons that are not involved
>> in consciousness directly, but may perform a relay role passing
>> information to the NCC. Is that right?
> Yes, that is right. I can cause you to experience qualia by opening your
> cranium and stimulating the surface of your cortex with electricity. I
> consider digital implants similar in principle to whatever tool I would use
> in such a procedure. The tool itself is certainly not conscious.
>> If not, you are claiming that to calculate the timing of the action
>> potentials output by the NCC neuron involves a non-computable
>> function.
> As I wrote to Ben, I believe the brain is computable. There is some level of
> description under which we could write a program that simulated the
> operations of the brain. But I don't believe the resulting digital
> computation would have consciousness. It is merely a computer program -- an
> algorithm designed to mimic the observable operations of a brain  -- not an
> actual brain.
> I am myself a programmer, by the way (C++). I can make computers do
> interesting things that appear conscious, but I don't suppose I could ever
> write a program that would make a computer actually conscious. That would
> require magic, like the magic that made Pinocchio come alive. What would the
> code look like? How do I write a "become conscious" function?
> It really comes down to the question of substrate dependency. I believe
> things are happening in the NCC that might be synthesized in the laboratory,
> but there is a difference between synthesis and digital simulation.
> [I was about to write a criticism of functionalism and multiple
> realizability here, but I'll have to do it later, perhaps later tonight. No
> time.]
>> would you accept that the NCC would work properly provided only that
>> the appropriate calculations could be done by some means?
> It would be by means of biology/chemistry/physics, transplanted or
> synthesized, but I'm reluctant to call those processes "calculations". That
> idea is only something we want to assign to the physics of the brain. I
> think the brain itself is not intrinsically a calculator, and that a
> calculator is not intrinsically a brain. It does not follow that because I
> can do simple math in my head that my head is actually a digital calculator.

If an artificial NCC can replicate the I/O behaviour of the biological
NCC then the person must behave normally, since all the impulses to
the muscles will occur normally. Do you see how this must be so? Do
you see any problem with the idea that a person behaves normally while
a part of his conscious mind (namely, that part due to the NCC
replaced with artificial components) is missing?

Stathis Papaioannou

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