June 25, 2003
More JOHO consciousness talk

UPDATE of UPDATE: I finally took my head out of the bucket it has been resting in for the last 4-5 days and figured out why Weinbergers argument is completely false. Read the final word on the matter.

David Weinberger is posting heavily against strong AI. I completely disagree with every point he makes, but a discussion is not forthcoming. I tried posting a couple of comments, but I either failed to make my case or just didn't put my opinion in a suitably scholarly fashion to be taken seriously. My vanity prefers the latter interpretation.
Last disagreement is on Why matter matters. Weinberger is tapping into some of the classic thought examples of philosophy and this time he offers 'formal proof' that consciousness cannot be a matter merely of patterns. But his M&M's example is no formal proof, it is a party trick.
While he successfully makes the case that pure pattern does not matter - a pattern is meaningless if the pattern is not specified with an interpretation, he does not succeed in relating that necessity to any quality of the conscious other or non-conscious other.
Weinberger is left with some kind of essentialism. There is something (and we can't really say what) that makes a person a person. It is impossible to observe (in any meaningful sense of the word) another consciousness understanding anything. When I say 'any meaningful sense' I mean 'in any way that can be defined making reference only to direct physical observation' (to the extent that this is at all possible, cf. earlier remarks).
Well, no he isn't left with essentialism, see further notes on the issue. I maintain that the Searle argument eliminates our ability to reason about the consciousness of anything. Update of Update I: It doesn't even do that it is just false. the final word on the matter.

Weinberger counters that what he is doing is taking his own consciousness as indisputable - not that of anything externally observed - but that does not get us anywhere with the chinese room, since the inability to observe consciousness remains the essential thing. The really interesting thing to do once we have the perfect brain simulator running is to refit it to run as a brain imaging device instead, and have it, not simulate a brain but rather faithfully and dynamically display the exact neuronal state of a real brain. Since Weinberger is ready to grant us the possibility of construction, he will allow that the machine will have the same state whether or not we let its own internal algorithms guide its progress or we simply set each simulated neuron through high definition recording to the state of the neuron it is an image of.
What does the chinese room argument about the brain imager/simulator then say about the synchronized real brain?
Nothing at all. See further notes.

The whole thing is a throwback to one of the least readable passages from 'Small Pieces Loosely Joined'. Weinberger dismisses every counterargument to Searle's famous chinese room argument by (to my mind) blandly restating the argument. It does not improve with repetition.
Actually it does improve somewhat (but not enough) with repetition. See further notes.
UPDATE of UPDATE III. It only improves if you let yourself be confused by the way it is stated. Read the final word on the matter.

Weinbergers example would have been a lot more interesting, if he had suggested an example system that really resembles a conscious system in the way we are able to observe it. Lets suppose the patterns (emanating from a conscious phenomenon or a non conscious phenomenon) that we observe is actually a couple of well-edited highly updated weblogs. What Weinberger would say is that his argument merely says that we cannot seriously consider calling the weblogs themselves conscious. So far so good. By extension of the argument Weinberger would have to maintain that we are unable from observation of the weblogs to make any judgment about the consciousness of the writers behind them. We are merely assigning meaning to essentially arbitrary configurations of pixels. This presumably would also hold if we could watch live footage of the writers, while they write. We would still be watching a simulation of the writers, so the same interpretive act that goes into the M&M's example is still in place. By what magic does that distance disappear if we were in the room with both writers present, one a cyborg, terminator style machine with human flesh and one true flesh and blood?
If it helps, we can take the example even further by imagining the cyborg being based on 'grown silicon' and having learned what is uses as a writer in a regular school alongside real human beings. Let's take it even further by assuming that the machine is a hardware based simulation at the cellular level, each cell simulated by a nano-machine. In my opinion Weinberger would have to maintain that we are still just interpreting, I don't see the room in his argument for inserting a distinction between the pure software simulation and this almost 1-1 physical simulation.

I on the other hand maintain, that the question of whether or not we can in fact construct such a machine is the real question of interest. The pure question on the possibilty of the machine and the how of building it is gigantic. The question of what role such a machine would play in society is equally baffling.

I maintain the final point of this entry, even in light of further notes. But the further notes are an important caveat wrt the understanding of constructed consciousness.
UPDATE of UPDATE IV: No change to Weinbergers example could resuce the flawed logic. Read the final word on the matter.

'Pattern does not matter' means that if you do not bind the pattern to a particular interpretation you can prove that you cannot compute from the pattern one unique reasonable interpretation ina given world.
(For pattern substitute 'language' and for world substitute 'model' - The example and the observation about the possiblity of reinterpretation is by Hilary Putnam, from 'Reason, Truth, and History' )

Posted by Claus at June 25, 2003 12:00 AM
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