Despite previously making positive reference to Max Tegmark – holding a position seemingly close to mine – on consciousness – information and information patterns at root, I have been sceptical about his book “Life 3.0 – Being Human in the Age of AI“. Too hyped a topic and too breathless the reviews by association with Elon Musk.
But I watched this 15 minute 2014 TED talk …. and it’s very good. Very, very good.
It’s about information patterns – physical substrate-independent patterns – which have emergent properties above and beyond the physics of the fundamental articles. The whole story in a nutshell. He uses the expression “we call it” – when talking about different types of “stuff” – not so arrogant as to call these definitions. We call stuff Solid, Fluid Liquid, Gas, Plasma so why not also Memory, Computronium and Perceptronium – our abilities to remember, process and perceive. Oh, look, we already use the words. (Aha! and it’s IIT after Giulio Tononi – we’re already there.)
A man after my own – also reacts to the adjective “just” – as in we are “just” a bunch of quarks and photons. We are food rearranged. We are a bunch of physics with a particular history of dynamic patterns of information. Seems like the same old dualist question, but not a question what we need to “add” to physics – but what what are the physical properties of the patterns in the physics? It’s the (information) patterns that matter. “Matter” – think on.
So that’s Dan Dennett, Anil Seth and Max Tegmark talking sense. Will have to watch that again, and get Tegmark’s book after all. There really is no mystery of consciousness. Onward and upward.
[Post Note: Aug 2019 – How did I miss this: Tegmark mentions Tononi and Integrated Information Theory here – I already inserted the parenthetical afterthought above. Not-coincidentally I did in fact notice Tononi and IIT also in early November 2017, same time I noticed Tegmark on the physics of consciousness. But searching that fact, I notice now that I mentioned Tononi without registering why when I referred to Tucson 2014 in advance.]
[Post Note: My only disagreement here is use of the word mathematical. It is undoubtedly all about patterns of information – fundamentally independent of any substrate physical or otherwise. In fact even the physical is emergent from the patterns. The patterns are independent. Mathematics is a conceptual language we use to describe and represent the patterns in any medium of our choice. The patterns are the patterns. Their representation can be mathematical, or pictorial, or … they are in some sense topological – structures – in time and space, but now we’re back to what the existence of fundamental substrate-independent information patterns might look like. I take this to the limits of conceivability where even time, space, laws and causation are potentially emergent. IIT too, seems to take an entirely unconstrained position on on what an information-fundamental ontology might look like.]