031-Descartes the USB stick
Cogito ergo sum.- I think therefore I am.
But what is the I? Here is a picture of Descartes, but, just suppose we actually live in a computationally simulated world, and everything is stored on computational media?
Here is Descartes the USB stick.
We plug in Descartes and he starts cogitating, just like starting a program from a USB stick. And Descartes' self... where is that? Is it the USB stick? No, that is not what Descartes means by his self or his existence at all. If Descartes the USB stick is instantiating Descartes himself, he means he is that thing running in the simulation, like the program on the USB stick. But if we corrupted that USB stick, then the program on the stick will be corrupted. If the USB stick gets a little dirty, it's not going to properly transmit data between the stick's storage space and the program operating on the CPU. So Descartes the program is going to have some problems.
Is the program running on the CPU, really Descartes? No, obviously not. Nor is the data on the USB stick. How can a program be Descartes? And the data stored on the USB stick, that can't be Descartes either. Descartes is something that exists when the USB stick get's plugged in, when the computer itself is running, when the Descartes program is running, when the data is being input and output by the program to usable data formats properly to the USB stick, etc. Descartes, who think's he looks like this [descartes pic]: is really something even more ephemeral than this USB stick. [usb stick]
If I handed the usb stick to someone else and said "here is Descartes, go plug him in" I'm concealing all sorts of complexity and incoherence behind the moniker of "Descartes" on the USB stick. Of course, Descartes himself is concealing all kinds of complexity and incoherence behind "Cogito ergo sum". Why should we assume that there is an I at all, why should Descartes have assumed that?
Well, we make that assumption because it makes sense too. The self is a very accessible and immediate part of our experience. I have referred to the self and how the self works in terms of attention and representation in previous pages, but we haven't given a definition of what a self is, not a proper Descartes satisfying definition at any rate. If there is a self, how does a self come about? Is a self necessary for the generation of consciousness? Because it sure seems like the self is a pretty necessary thing to be conscious.
What is the thing doing the thinking? And what are the thoughts made of? Or more properly, how does the thinking, how does the awareness of the thoughts happen? Or, as we would ask now, how does representation making itself happen? Representation does happen; we are certain representation making is happening, whatever "we" are, USB sticks or human beings. We do have and generate representations. Even representations of ourselves and Descartes. How does representational generation happen?
Representation must be happening and since it is happening, it must be happening with non-represenational sub-strata. That is, representations must either be pre-existant and interacting in some sort of idealism weirdness, or representations must originate in some non-representational stuff. That non-representational stuff happens to work in some way to creates representations.
What is that stuff? What is that non-representational sub-strata?
And because it seems a bit absurd to think we or Descartes are USB sticks, let's just go along with the idea that we and Descartes are human beings. And what are human beings made from? Human beings are made of molecules. Perhaps molecules are the non-representational sub-strata that make up representations. All of our science does seem to come do to the fact that we, our bodies and our brains are made of molecules. And if computers can ever be conscious, they are going to be made of molecules too.
We can start with molecules and find it if there is way for representation making to originate with molecules. But maybe molecules are too simple, and going down to the molecule level adds a whole bunch of complexity. Maybe we should start with cells. Cells like neurons that make up the brain. Perhaps we can just look at cells and see if we can understand how cells in a brain might create representations and spare ourselves the complexity of looking at the molecules that make up cells. Hopefully, by looking at cells, we can understand how representations are made from those cells, particularly from neural cells.
But let's not fool ourselves. We are looking at biology not because we have demonstrated that Descartes on a USB stick is false, but because biology is what we have to go on. Biology seems like a reasonable place to start looking for information on how representation happens. And as we understand the biology we want to see how that understanding can be translated into a computational approach so that we can instantiate consciousness on a machine. Because that is point of this whole enterprise, a machine consciousness.
Later, we may be able to show that the USB stick idea is false or if the USB stick idea is true, it's because the USB stick is simulating biology. In which case, biology isn't really biology at all but is a kind of computation or something... um, let's not go there.