[ExI] Do digital computers feel?

Brent Allsop brent.allsop at gmail.com
Fri Dec 30 18:10:13 UTC 2016

I'm saying that when you experience a redness qualia, there must be
something in the brain that has, or is the neural correlate of that redness
experience.  And also when you experience a greenness qualia, there is
something detectably different that has this different qualia.  And both of
these things can interact with a binding system that enables us to be aware
of both of these qualities at the same time.  Our ability to be aware of
the redness and greenness quality at the same time, enables us to do
various computational tasks, like exclusive or, consciously.
Introspectively, we all know what is going on and  how it does an exclusive
or operation, how and why our conscious awareness is qualitatively
involved, and what it is like.

You are talking about the only computational unit in the brain being
neurons firing, in one way, due to sufficient ion channels in synapses
opening.  But there is a the possibility that it is more than just this.
Also, I refer to the binding system as a single neuron, only because this
simplifies the argument I'm trying to make about what happens when this is
replaced during the substitution process.  The same qualitative argument
will similarly apply to whatever binding system is used, no matter how
complex, and no matter how many neurons are involved.  It seems kind of
doubtful to me that if you could replace glutamate with carbon nanotubes,
and that if this could result in identical neural behavior - that it would
be glutamate that has a redness quale - we just don't know.  Also, there is
the possibility that both glutamate and carbon nanotubes can both have the
"redness quality" just as it is possible for many physically diverse
surfaces to reflect "red" light.  So, either case, there must be something
that has the redness quale, and there must be some binding mechanism.  I
don't see how this could be possible from just a simple neuron firing in a
single way.  So, my prediction is that if what you say is possible, it is
likely something else that is the neural corelate of redness, and there is
some other way for these all to be bound, consciously together.  And
whatever mechanism you provide, which will enable something to be a redness
quale, and something different to be a different quale, and also some
mechanism to bind all these together, I will then be able to describe to
you how the neural behavior will change, unless whatever it is that has the
redness quality is physically the same (in such a way that it will be
impossible to simulate it with something that does not have the physical
redness quality).

So, it seems to me that you and James' argi,emt is relying on the
assumption that it is simple neurons firing in a single way that is the
only thing producing conscious awareness and qualia.

On 12/28/2016 10:49 PM, Stathis Papaioannou wrote:

Stathis: <<I'm having difficulty following what you're saying. I'm simply
proposing replacing any component of a neurone, or any collection of
neurones, with a machine that does the same job. There is a type of
glutamate receptor that changes its shape when glutamate molecules bind,
creating a channel for sodium and potassium ions to pass through the
membrane, and triggering an action potential. We could imagine nanomachines
in the place of these receptors that monitor glutamate and open and close
ion channels in the same way as the natural receptors, but are made from
different materials; perhaps from carbon nanotubules rather than proteins.
The engineering problem would be to ensure that these nanomachines perform
their task of detecting glutamate and opening ion channels just like the
naturally occurring receptors. Do you think it is in theory possible to do
this? Do you see that if it is possible, then neurons modified with these
receptors *must* behave just like the original neurones?>>

Brent: <Good example – that helps me to understand more clearly.  Yes, I
see that if neuron’s are modified [using carbon nanotubes to open and close
ion channels in the same way that glutamate does] they *must* behave just
like the original neurons.  I really appreciate you and James sticking with
me and pointing out all my admittedly sloppy mistakes.  I've spent much
time rewriting this response, after thinking about all this for many years,
and I hope I've improved and am not making as many sloppy mistakes with
this reply.

I still see and theoretically predict that there must be some level, for
which it can be said that something “has” the redness quality we can
experience in a bound together way with other diverse qualities.  Of note
is that something having a redness quality is different than some mechanism
that can detect this redness quality by being aware of it together with
other qualities.  And that is the purpose of the binding neuron in my
example that you are replacing.  It does not have the quality, but only
detects, by being aware of the glutamate quality vs other physical
qualities.  So, the binding neuron, itself, does not have the glutamate
quality, but only allows such qualities to be bound together into unified
awareness of all diverse qualities.  As for the behavior of a regular not
exclusive or gate, how the not exclusive or functionality is implemented is
irrelevant and hardware independent – as long as the output is the same.
But for this binding neuron, the diverse qualities it can be aware of at
the same time is critically important to its conscious intelligence.  And
when you replace this functionality with an abstracted not exclusive or
gate, you are obviously doing this same function without being aware of nor
comparing any real physical glutamate qualities.>

I'm still confused as to your position. You agree that replacing a
component of a neurone with a different, but functionally equivalent,
component will not change that neurone's behaviour. But you are also saying
(if I understand correctly) that the experience, such as a redness quality,
does not come from the functional relationships between brain components.
So swapping some components in the brain with functional equivalents might
change the redness experience, but not change the behaviour of the neurones
or the behaviour of the person, which is determined by the neorones. Is
this what you believe would happen?

Stathis Papaioannou
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