Every few months I come across a discussion where some upset member of LessWrong talks about Massimo Pigliucci’s outrageous claim that Eliezer Yudkowsky subscribes to dualism. I already wrote a longer post on a video discussion between those people here but thought a tl;dr version might be helpful.
- The whole problem is mainly based on a simple misunderstanding due to different definitions of certain concepts.
- Simulated water isn’t wet. You can’t extinguish a physical fire with computed water.
Substrate Neutrality: Representation vs. Reproduction
That we know every physical fact about gold doesn’t make us own any gold.
A representation of the chemical properties of gold on a computer cannot be traded on the gold market, established as a gold reserve or used to create jewellery.
It takes a particle accelerator or nuclear reactor to create gold. No Turing machine can do the job.
The nature of “fire” can not be captured by an equation.
The basic disagreement is that a representation is distinct from a reproduction, that there is a crucial distinction between software and hardware.
What computer scientists believe
The difference between a mechanical device, a physical object and software is that the latter is the symbolic (formal language) representation of the former. Software is just the static description of the dynamic state sequence exhibited by an object. One can then use that software (algorithm) and some sort of computational hardware and evoke the same dynamic state sequence so that the machine (computer) mimics the relevant characteristics of the original object.
What philosophers believe
Philosophers agree about the difference between a physical thing and its mathematical representation but they don’t agree that we can represent the most important characteristic as long as we do not reproduce the physical substrate.
This position is probably best represented by the painting ‘La trahison des images‘. It is a painting of a pipe. It represents a pipe but it is not a pipe, it is an image of a pipe.
To claim that the pipe and its image, its representation, are equal amounts to dualism. An image of a pipe, or even an emulation of it, is a mere representation but not a reproduction.
Ship of Theseus problem
The value of something can encompass more than its molecular setup. For example, there might be many sorts of sparkling wines that taste just like Champagne. But if you claim that simply because they taste like Champagne they are Champagne, then you are missing what it is that people actually value.
I value real Champagne because while drinking it I am aware of its space-time trajectory, the resources it took to create it, where it originally came from and how it got here.