Goplat wrote:I would have expected better from Randall.
I agree with your take on the philosophy, but not on the comic. It is a worthwhile comic.
To me, the comic is an illustration of why the computational theory of mind doesn't work. The mathematics involved in a simulation exists whether or not the simulation is actually being run. The placement of stones in the desert doesn't come into it at all--that is just Randall's attempt to escape the computational theory of mind and find some substance (the stones) that manifests human awareness apart from the pure mathematics of the simulation. Randall is aware of a particular state of the universe being the current state, and inserted the notion of the most recent row of stones that the creator constructed as corresponding to that current state.
But the operation of a computer program is just a sequence of states, that is a mapping from an index set into states. This mapping exists regardless of whether the computer program is actually being executed, and regardless of what the value of the index is, and thus the state of a computer program can never reveal whether that state is the current state. Thus there is nothing about the "current" row of rocks that reveals itself to be the current row. The creator knows he just created that row, but in a computational theory of mind there is nothing about that row that distinguishes it as being the current row, there is nothing within the mathematical model that distinguishes that row as being the current row.
That is, a computer program doesn't know what its current state is, it only knows the state as a function of some index, but it has no way of knowing what the value of the index actually is. The whole idea of a particular state being current is a function of human awareness--we distinguish a particular state of the universe as being "now" and whatever state the program is in during that overall state of the universe we think of as the current state. As humans, we think of a sequence in terms of things coming into our awareness in a particular order, but mathematically there is no subjective order in a sequence, there is just the eternal mapping from an index set.
Furthermore, the awareness of a particular time as being "now" (which corresponds to Randall's idea that this is the most recent row of rocks) cannot be an objective fact within the universe, because we learn from Special Relativity that the objective consequences of simultaneity cannot be well-defined (e.g. this is how the ladder paradox is resolved). Thus our subjective awareness of "now" cannot be an objective fact within the universe and cannot arise from a computational model involving objective properties of material objects within the universe.
On the other hand, if the computational theory of mind did work, then video game manufacturers wouldn't have to worry about finding people to play their games, the games could create the awarenesses of their players.
Do you ever wonder, while playing a video game, if your awareness might actually be just a part of the operation of the game itself? No. And the reason you do not is because even in virtual realities, the awareness always is the awareness of the real player, it is not created by the virtual reality.
But I really liked your saying that it was superstitious nonsense, because one of the implications of the computational theory of mind is that any mathematical system that is at least as complex as a human brain, and which can respond to its environment, may be considered as aware in the same sense that a human is aware. So the computational theory of mind resurrects ideas such as gods of place--e.g. IBM would not just be a corporation of aware individuals, but would have its own awareness and its corporate rights should be treated on a par with the rights of other aware beings. The computational theory of mind was created to find an objective basis for human awareness, and thus to free it from superstition, and yet ends up bringing back polytheism.