[ExI] Substrate Dependance

Stuart LaForge avant at sollegro.com
Wed Apr 26 04:01:57 UTC 2023

Quoting Giovanni Santostasi <gsantostasi at gmail.com>:

> Hi Stuart,
> I would be interested in knowing your substrate-dependency arguments
> because I'm sure they are more sophisticated and interesting than the ones
> Brent has presented. It seems at least you say that we need also a complex
> system and interactions to take advantage of the substratum to actually
> achieve consciousness.

Indeed. I have been studying synergy and emergent properties for over  
a decade and complexity is trait that all systems that exhibit  
emergence posses. If I were to claim a substrate-dependance for life  
and consciousness, then I would say it was water.  According to  
Leonardo da Vinci “Water is the driving force of all nature.”


> I may agree that this is how our brain works because
> it had to find through the process of evolution biological viable materials
> to achieve certain goals. This is also an interesting question for
> astrobiology for example. There are reasons why carbon is the base of life.

Yes, carbon has an atomic valence of 4 which allows it to make 4  
versatile covalent bonds. It is like the utility atom that allows for  
the existence of so much structure in the form of biopolymers. But the  
hydrocarbon components of life are only half of the story, well 25% of  
the story actually. The other 75% of life is water. And water is, by  
itself, one of the most complex substances on earth. It quite possibly  
the strangest liquid known to man as evidenced by the following  
special issue of Chemical Reviews with the title Water the Most  
Anomalous Liquid.


Much of the anomaly of water is that it is as much a network of  
molecules as it is a liquid. Each water molecule forms polar hydrogen  
bonds with up to 4 other molecules of water or even hydrocarbon making  
it what gives shape to every biomolecule like DNA, RNA, proteins,  
lipid bilayers, etc. Because, in biochemistry, structure equates to  
function, then by giving structure to biopolymers, water contributes  
to their function.

Dissolved molecules or ions distort the geometry of water for quite a  
distance around themselves. Even on their own, water molecules can  
form bizarre structures like rings, chains, and cages and that is in  
its liquid form. There are 14 different phases of ice as a solid. Its  
thermodynamics are wacky and its information content is massive as  
attested to by the uniqueness of snowflakes.

How much of free will and consciousness is bound up in the Brownian  
motion of lipid vesicles in the synaptic cleft? How much phenomenal  
experience is tied to jiggling of the gelatin?

> My problem with any substrate-dependent argument used to claim a particular
> substratum is necessary (even if not sufficient) for consciousness is
> that the particular chosen substratum by nature serves some function. If
> fatty tissues were used to insulate a nerve then it was an ingenious
> solution by natural selection but there is nothing so unique about fatty
> tissues that cannot be reproduced by an equivalent substance like plastic
> for example.

The problem with water is that it serves too many functions. It is the  
medium of life and might be part of the message, as well.

> I can build better insulation of a wire without using fat. This reasoning
> can be applied to absolutely any component of biology I can think of. I
> don't see why a biological substratum would be better than a non-biological
> one with an equivalent function. The question is how equivalent but it
> cannot be to the point it is 1 to 1. For sure there are things that are not
> necessary for the biological substratum or even nonoptimal.

I am not sure how you would build an analogue of water. Like the  
scientific journal I posted above says, it is a unique substance.

> About abstract neural nets, one could argue that they cannot give rise to
> consciousness because they miss the actuation part. It is not just the
> information processing that matters but how this information processing
> expresses itself, let's say for example in creating certain chemical
> activity in the brain that can sustain certain patterns of activity that
> the brain then self-recognizes as awareness.

I have no doubt that artificial neural networks are intelligent. The  
question is, if they are conscious for all definitions of  
consciousness. I don't believe that water is necessary for  
consciousness, but as a hypothesis, I have yet to find a way to rule  
it out.

> But we know how to simulate complex chemical reactions and again in the end
> if these happen and are essential to consciousness is because they do
> something, they have some kind of function and desired effect, and their
> equivalent can be found and simulated in how the neural network works.
> Maybe this would make us change the architecture of the network but not
> make us abandon the idea that function is all that matters.
> But please tell me where I'm wrong.

The problem is that if water is a truly necessary part of the  
functional substrate of life and consciousness, then we are still  
quite a ways from being able to compute consciousness. For example,  
the Summit supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tennessee  
can, with the help of AI, simultaneously simulate about as many water  
molecules as there are in a single neuron, i.e. about 25 billion.


That being said, if classical computers and Turing machines cannot be  
made conscious, then quantum computers probably could. So it is still  
likely just a matter of time.

Stuart LaForge

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