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Subject: Geek of the Week #91 - Nick Bentley (milomilo122) rss

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My choice as Geek of the Week to succeed me is a relatively infrequent poster, yet one whose work I admire. The first thread I remember seeing of his was called "Contest: solve this game, win a copy of DVONN, or other game".

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/1430248#1430248

That thread struck me as unusually cerebral for BGG so I subscribed to it and was impressed by the quality of responses. Shortly afterwards I posted something about Hex or some other connection game after reading Cameron Browne's "Connection Games" book, and Nick chose to PM me and introduce himself and his game "Mind Ninja". I haven't played it yet as Scrabblette and I are still learning to see the beauty of Hex, and Mind Ninja sounds significantly more involved. However it sounds like a combination of a very deep analytical game and a cunning bluff / brinkmanship game.

Those who've read my GotW thread will know that I seek out games that involve hard thought, and Nick not only plays those sorts of games but invents them as well. What kind of person does that? John Nash did... does Nick have a beautiful mind? We can spend this week investigating.

Here's Nick's bio:
Quote:
I was conceived in Acapulco in November of 1976 and spit forth the following July. According to my parents, I emerged from the birth canal without tears or fuss, staring listlessly into the new world. The doctors thought I was blind, deaf, or brain-dead, but I was undoubtedly just thinking or being lazy, activities which subsequently became my two great compulsions. As early as preschool, a teacher told my mother: "He is very smart, but he will never amount to anything, because he is the laziest child I have ever known". Since then I have been trying to prove the first claim and disprove the second. I lived out my first 7 years in Suburbian Chicago, Illinois, USA, and the next 10 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I studied Biochemistry at the University of Chicago, then Neurobiology at Duke University in North Carolina, and now Computational Neuroscience at Wake Forest University, also in North Carolina, where I am nearing completion of a Ph.D. that will not change the world. I'm single, never married, but was engaged to a more-than-a-little-bewitching anesthesiologist for a time.

I have 3 great interests: The first and greatest is in the nature of consciousness. I want to know how the fat electric sponge in our skulls gives rise to it. None of our fundamental theories of the structure of the universe predict or account for its existence, from which I can only conclude that the fundamental theories are incomplete. Some claim that consciousness cannot be a subject of scientific inquiry, and therefore we shouldn't make such demands, but I think that's a cheap (not to mention boring and self-defeating) way out. Consciousness exists, in the sense that some things have awareness (brains) and other things do not (spatulas). Of course there are many differences between brains and spatulas, but among them there must be some essential difference that allows one to be aware and not the other. I want to know what it is. Since this is not Consciousness Geek, I'll say no more unless asked.

My second interest is improvisational comedy. In this form, the performers have no idea what they will do or say until they make it up onstage. The television show "Whose Line is it Anyway?" is the best-known example. It requires skills that, once acquired, make for a more life-like life. One learns to surrender oneself and embody a spirit of child-like play, to abandon fear. I didn't know that these were learnable skills before I started performing improv, and now I am a better, more generous human for having done so. Also, there is no more visceral a thrill than making a roomful of people explode in laughter. It's better than sex, but harder to do. I perform mostly at a club called "The Idiot Box" (American slang for a television set). There's a picture of me at the club's website, in the bios section: http://www.idiotboxers.com/

Finally, my third interest: table games. I didn't play much as a child, except for Scrabble, which I learned from my Mom and have played throughout life. My interest began to blossom in college, where I played a lot of fierce dormroom chess, and the game Set, which I played thousands of times. I played so much that, even when I wasn't playing, I was compelled to look for sets of things in my environment, conforming to whatever arcane subconscious rule I felt like applying on a given day. I felt like John Nash, deciphering encrypted messages for the CIA. Oh look! That lady, that bench, and that copy of the Marx-Engels Reader go together! What does it mean?

Seven years ago, I played Acquire for the first time. It struck me as not only good, but somehow beautiful, in the way that a work of art is beautiful. It inspired in me the idea that a game is not a 'thing', but rather a prescription for formal, ritualized social interaction. I saw that a table game is the same kind of beast as a Japanese tea ceremony or a wedding, the true purpose of which is to inspire a certain state of being or emotional/spiritual disposition among the participants. This was a fascinating idea to me. The ritual aspect is most obvious when we play games competitively, at high levels. I was therefore drawn to the so-called 'lifestyle games', and began to study their cultures: Chess, for example. A modern chess championship is glorious to behold: brilliant multinationals in elegant suits grappling quietly with their own minds, in an atmosphere of collegial gravity. Watch the way a grandmaster moves his piece and taps his timer, with a swift economy that only someone who has performed that motion innumerable times could exhibit. I wish I could live my life with the same easy perfection.

Ok. But what is the ritual good for? Being a chess god is hard work. Why does anybody put himself through it? That was my real fascination.

I recently watched something called 'The Ultimate Fighting Championship', a new and brutal sport where two striated monsters fight in an octagonal ring, without protective equipment or restrictions on how they are to battle, until one is knocked unconscious. It makes boxing look quaint. It is horrifying and tragic and therefore utterly enthralling. It is also a vivid illustration of how strong the competitive instinct can be. The fighters know they risk mutilation and brain damage, but they fight anyway. Why? Because fighting exalts them. Anyone who has been in fist fight knows that the blows don't hurt. The adrenaline drains away pain, and one is left with only heightened senses, a sense of being terribly alive. Time disappears. The self disappears. The anger that started the fight can even be replaced by a kind of insane joy in making and receiving blows. That is why, I think, fist fights sometimes make friends of people who began by hating one another. Good fight! I'm happy now. Let's go buy each other drinks! A fight may be gruesome for onlookers, but it is also a sort of meditation. The problem is the aftermath: injuries and magnificent hangovers.

What does this have to do with table games? When we play a table game competitively in a high-stakes environment, the air humming with energy, we leverage the same fighting instincts to achieve a similar exalted state, but without the damage. Instead of coming though injured, punchdrunk, ugly, we come through sharper, having learned something. We turn a primitive instinct into a platform for learning, and voila! A better world!

So I was having these thoughts, my appreciation for games was growing, and from it all a colossal obsession erupted: designing games, in particular games that can and should be played competitively. I have a mathematician's sensibilities. I value simplicity and essence above all (Another thought I had while watching the Ultimate Fighting Championship: 'What an elegant ruleset!'). In keeping with that, nearly all my designs, more than 200 hundred, are abstract. And it's an obsession in the true sense: I can't stop. I liken my interests to women: my interest in consciousness is like a noble, long-suffering wife. I love her dearly, she represents all that is good and pure, she tolerates my foibles, my weaknesses, my transgressions, and I would go to the grave for her. My interest in game design, on the other hand, is a temperamental mistress. She's not good for much besides titillation, she disrupts my life over and over, she's selfish, she intrudes at the most inopportune moments, she makes my wife terribly jealous, but she's beautiful and I can't say no. I'm embarrassed to even hint at the amount of time I spend designing games.

I now care to shill for only one of my games, called Mind Ninja (www.mindninja.com). My dream is to see it played in face-to-face tournaments, culminating in a yearly championship. The next step is to make it playable in real time online (It can already be played via a turn-based method at Super Duper Games, reachable through the above link). I would be grateful to anybody who can recommend a good programmer/company for the task, or otherwise help prod my little fantasy along.

So that's me: GOTW #91. I am happy to have received this fine honor, and hope that I can use it as an excuse to discuss game design. To this end, I've put up a geek list of the design constraints that guide my efforts, here: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/21978

Now we come to the inspiring-quote section of my biography. Mine is courtesy Isaac Newton: 'I was like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself now and then, finding a smoother pebble or prettier shall than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.'


And here are his two truths and a lie:

Quote:
Two truths from the ocean, and a lie:

1. I once traveled from ship to shore by riding on the back of a whale.

2. When Bill Clinton was still President, I got to shake his hand, and I wasn't wearing any pants when I did.

3. Drug dealers bearing gold-plated guns, who believe that Space Aliens control the US government, burned down my house.


I'm guessing they're all lies and Nick has habits which result in hallucinations.

Please make Nick feel welcome as we probe his consciousness, and indeed, determine whether such a thing really exists.
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Let's get the interrogation started. Firstly I'd like to ask about games. Nick, what are your thoughts on "depth" of games? Is Hex deeper than Go? What about Chess?

Do any themed games appeal to you? Hive? Hey! That's My Fish!? Which themed games most closely resemble the sorts of games you're interested in?

I am interested in consciousness. Daniel Dennett in "Consciousness Explained" claims that the inner-self, the homonculus which we think of as the seat of our consciousness, is an illusion; and that consciousness can be explained as a set of relatively sophisticated responses to stimuli. Your thoughts?

Finally (for the moment), do you have any idea what the minimum number of cards that are guaranteed to include a set is?
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While HE hasn't ever delved into the intricacies of Ploy!?! What's the matter, not enough "grey matter" to contemplate this with? Also note, there is 2-player, 4-player, and even 2 Teams of 2-players to contend for it all then! Perhaps he has considered it and wasn't UP to the "task"? Sure, you can take the "easy route" and AVOID this as the many others have and shall continue to, and who can blame these folks? I put it to YOU Nick, and the other so-called "abstracts" experts, either "give a shat" OR "get off the pot"!
surprise
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Friendless wrote:


Quote:
Two truths from the ocean, and a lie:

1. I once traveled from ship to shore by riding on the back of a whale.

2. When Bill Clinton was still President, I got to shake his hand, and I wasn't wearing any pants when I did.

3. Drug dealers bearing gold-plated guns, who believe that Space Aliens control the US government, burned down my house.


I'm guessing they're all lies and Nick has habits which result in hallucinations.


Oh my, they are hilarious! Wouldn't bet on any of them...
Allright, number two.

Congrats
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Quote:
Quote:
Two truths from the ocean, and a lie:

1. I once traveled from ship to shore by riding on the back of a whale.

2. When Bill Clinton was still President, I got to shake his hand, and I wasn't wearing any pants when I did.

3. Drug dealers bearing gold-plated guns, who believe that Space Aliens control the US government, burned down my house.



I'm guessing they're all lies and Nick has habits which result in hallucinations.


Actually, since two are "from the ocean," #1 and #2 could be true. Riding a whale isn't out of the question, and he could have met Clinton while wearing a swimsuit.

Then again, maybe I'm an eternal optimist.
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Possibly Nick classifies all cetaceans as whales and so riding a dolphin/porpoise is even more likely.
As for the pants-maybe a kilt instead??
Those crazy drug dealers- they do that every time. shake
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Congrats!

I notice that you only have Yinsh and Dvonn in your top 10. Is there a reason why other GIPF project games don't rate as high? Which of the project would you rank last? Do Sets 1, 2, and 3 make improve Gipf?
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Friendless wrote:
I am interested in consciousness. Daniel Dennett in "Consciousness Explained" claims that the inner-self, the homonculus which we think of as the seat of our consciousness, is an illusion; and that consciousness can be explained as a set of relatively sophisticated responses to stimuli. Your thoughts?


I can't understand how anyone can take Dennett seriously. Half the time he's asserting unproven propositions as completely self-evident. The other half of the time he refuses to address legitimate questions on the basis that they are meaningless. He's the Humpty Dumpty of consciousness---every word means whatever he wants it to mean (or is conveniently meaningless, if he wants it to be meaningless).
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Congrats. Nick had a cool "work for gg" Geeklist. Then he got extra money and made it into a contest to give away gg. Which I won...hehe.

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Quote:
Seven years ago, I played Acquire for the first time. It struck me as not only good, but somehow beautiful, in the way that a work of art is beautiful. It inspired in me the idea that a game is not a 'thing', but rather a prescription for formal, ritualized social interaction. I saw that a table game is the same kind of beast as a Japanese tea ceremony or a wedding, the true purpose of which is to inspire a certain state of being or emotional/spiritual disposition among the participants. This was a fascinating idea to me. The ritual aspect is most obvious when we play games competitively, at high levels. I was therefore drawn to the so-called 'lifestyle games', and began to study their cultures: Chess, for example. A modern chess championship is glorious to behold: brilliant multinationals in elegant suits grappling quietly with their own minds, in an atmosphere of collegial gravity. Watch the way a grandmaster moves his piece and taps his timer, with a swift economy that only someone who has performed that motion innumerable times could exhibit. I wish I could live my life with the same easy perfection.


This alone was worth the price of admission.

Gg
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Congrats, Nick!
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I think I'm going to cut through these questions in big chunks, about once a day, probably at night. Here goes my first chunk. Wooooooohaaaaa!!!

Friendless wrote:
Nick, what are your thoughts on "depth" of games? Is Hex deeper than Go? What about Chess?


Of course it all depends on what one means by "deep". My favorite definition is operational. Let's say that one million people play some particular game. We divide them into skill-groups, such that a given group loses %X of its games to the group one skill level up, and wins %X to the group one skill level down. The number of groups = depth, and its related to how much players can learn about the game. By this measure, Go is very deep; it beats chess' pants way off. We can't use the measure to compare Go to Hex though, because there aren't enough Hex players and little Hex theory. If I had to guess, I think Go would win (assuming that each was played on the same size board). The board fills up more before a game of Go is over then it does for a game of Hex. More moves means more opportunity for a good player to differentiate himself from a bad player. Also, all the strategy/tactical implications originating in Go's capture mechanism add an extra layer of stuff to learn in Go that has no analogue in Hex. But really, who knows? I'm not really satisfied with that measure of depth anyway, for reasons with which I shant detain you.

Another thing to consider, the question actually has no answer, because you can make either game as deep or as shallow as you want by changing the size of the board. However, it is more convenient to play Hex on a giant board than Go, because you can print a Hex board composed of tons of tiny cells, and then play with two differently colored thin-tipped markers. If we compared the deepest version of each game that may be conveniently played, maybe Hex wins. But really, who knows?

Friendless wrote:

Do any themed games appeal to you? Hive? Hey! That's My Fish!? Which themed games most closely resemble the sorts of games you're interested in?


Though it's difficult to discern through the fog of my rantings over abstract games, I enjoy most games. For example, my friend and fellow BGGer ferrumetbombyx has patiently let me through the Amerintricacies of "Fury of Dracula", and now I proudly call myself a fan.

Hive? If that's a themed game then I'm Miles Davis. Fun game, but doesn't like, detonate my supernova or anything. Never played "that's my fish".

My favorite non-abstract genre as a whole is easily negotiation. Intrigue is heaven. Werewolf is heaven. I just got the new Lifeboats, and it's probably heaven. Negotiation games teach skills useful in day-to-day life. Like, after playing a lot of werewolf, I can tell better when people are lying to me, or when one of Oprah's drug-recovery program graduate guests on TV is lying, etc. It is unutterably thrilling to look right through to someone's soul, and see that it is laced with deceit.

Among the games that are held in high regard by the BGG community, I love Power Grid. There is something soothing about all that addition. It's like a back-rub for my frontal cortex.

Friendless wrote:

I am interested in consciousness. Daniel Dennett in "Consciousness Explained" claims that the inner-self, the homonculus which we think of as the seat of our consciousness, is an illusion; and that consciousness can be explained as a set of relatively sophisticated responses to stimuli. Your thoughts?


With respect to Daniel Dennett, I agree with David desJardins above. Dennett's either phenomonally confused or purposefully obfuscates in order to score points. In Consciousness Explained, his claim seems to be not only that the self doesn't exist, but that consciousness itself doesn't exist, or that in any case there's nothing to explain. That is, there is no difference between a brain and a spatula that isn't already covered by known natural law. But there is no natural law that I know of that predicts or accounts for the fact that some things are aware and others aren't, so it's hard to imagine in what sense he could be right.

But maybe I've misinterpreted his argments. There's a high risk of this, because he is phenomenally unclear, and his position seems to have changed since the publication of Consciousness Explained.

As far as I can tell, he is now a strong functionalist, which means that he believes something like: consciousness is an epiphenomenal byproduct of the execution of a particular function or algorithm, regardless of the medium in which the function is carried through. It could be a silicon chip, a brain, or a system of buckets. He doesn't claim to know exactly what this function is. I take issue with functionalism, but to give the subject the attention it deserves would take me longer than I have.

Friendless wrote:

Finally (for the moment), do you have any idea what the minimum number of cards that are guaranteed to include a set is?


Sadly, I don't! Maybe if I have time tomorrow I'll try to work it out.
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KSensei wrote:
Congrats!

I notice that you only have Yinsh and Dvonn in your top 10. Is there a reason why other GIPF project games don't rate as high? Which of the project would you rank last? Do Sets 1, 2, and 3 make improve Gipf?


Yinsh and Dvonn are the only GIPF games I've played! This, I know, is a sepaku-worthy (did I spell that right?) offense for an abstract lover like myself. But what can I say? I don't own them, and the few friends who want to play abstracts with me don't own them either. [places fresh innards on table]
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GROGnads wrote:
While HE hasn't ever delved into the intricacies of Ploy!?! What's the matter, not enough "grey matter" to contemplate this with? Also note, there is 2-player, 4-player, and even 2 Teams of 2-players to contend for it all then! Perhaps he has considered it and wasn't UP to the "task"? Sure, you can take the "easy route" and AVOID this as the many others have and shall continue to, and who can blame these folks? I put it to YOU Nick, and the other so-called "abstracts" experts, either "give a shat" OR "get off the pot"!
surprise


I haven't played Ploy, but brother, I want to.
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milomilo122 wrote:
With respect to Daniel Dennett, I agree with the poster below. He's either phenomonally confused or purposefully obfuscates in order to score points. In Consciousness Explained, his claim seems to be not only that the self doesn't exist, but that consciousness itself doesn't exist, or that in any case there's nothing to explain. That is, there is no difference between a brain and a spatula that isn't already covered by known natural law. But there is no natural law that I know of that predicts or accounts for the fact that some things are aware and others aren't, so it's hard to imagine in what sense he could be right.


Hmm... when I read his book (a long time ago now) he had me convinced. It's my impression that when we talk about humans as compared to animals, or even spatulas, that there's an awful lot of vanity that humans cling to. "We're different to animals because we use tools! Oh no, it's because we're self-aware! Oh no, it's because... oh it's because we just are!" Personally I have no issue with being not particularly different from a spatula (though a whole lot less use for cooking eggs).

Christianity starts with the premise that man was created in God's own image. How does that and other vanities of the species affect investigation into consciousness?

What are the best abstract games I haven't heard of?

Have you played Trans(America|Europa)?
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flowerkin wrote:

2 questions.
1). What do you plan on doing once you finish your Ph.D?
2) What are you doing your dissertation on, and how is it coming?


At one time I planned on going tenure track, to do basic neuroscience research in some Guilded institution. But now, I am very, very tired, and I am struggling to finish the little that I have left to do. I'm in future-career limbo, and I frankly can't imagine what I'll be doing even two years from now.

My dissertation is about decision making: What is a decision in neural terms? Most of the research is done, but the writing is mostly undone. If anybody has any advice out there regarding how to overcome graduate student fatigue, I'll give you my kidney.

flowerkin wrote:

Do you get your inspiration from the bits you use in your game, or do you design a game then find pieces to go with what you imagined?
I tend to come across something that inspires me and surround my thoughts based on the inspiration.
Did you ever think of designing a themed game that was not an abstract? Is this something that interests you?


I don't usually get my inspirations from material things. I often get them from after reading mathematics, computer science, or game theory texts. The game almost always exists before the pieces do.

Once in a while I think about designing an non-abstract. But then laziness kicks in. I've no idea how to design a non-abstract. I've thought about doing a game about the book Ender's Game, which seems like perfect material. It would be a two-phase game, with half taking place in the battle school, and other half encapsulating the series of battles that ended the book. Orson Scott Card lives 30 minutes from me, so maybe I could even get him to help!

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Friendless wrote:


Hmm... when I read his book (a long time ago now) he had me convinced. It's my impression that when we talk about humans as compared to animals, or even spatulas, that there's an awful lot of vanity that humans cling to. "We're different to animals because we use tools! Oh no, it's because we're self-aware! Oh no, it's because... oh it's because we just are!" Personally I have no issue with being not particularly different from a spatula (though a whole lot less use for cooking eggs).

Christianity starts with the premise that man was created in God's own image. How does that and other vanities of the species affect investigation into consciousness?

What are the best abstract games I haven't heard of?

Have you played Trans(America|Europa)?


I'm sympathetic to the idea that the self doesn't exist, except as a state of consciousness, in the same way that the color red doesn't exist, except as a state of consciousness. The book "Being No One" by Metzinger makes a forceful argument for this idea. But that's different from claiming that consciousness itself doesn't exist. I believe that many animals are conscious, in the sense that it is probably "like something" to be certain animals, like dogs. A dog probably has experiences, even if its experience may not include an experience of self. But I doubt that it is "like something" to be a spatula. I don't care either whether I'm different from a spatula. But I AM different in certain ways that I can't yet explain to my satisfaction.

I have been knocked unconscious before, and all of a sudden it wasn't any longer 'like anything' to be me. I was suddenly just like a spatula. What was it that went away when I was knocked out? I don't claim that it's necessarily anything mystical or otherworldly, but just that there really is something to be explained, and we haven't come close to doing so.

I have to think more about the vanity question.

best abstracts you haven't heard of: do you know Gonnect? Akron? *Star? Three great ones off the top of my head.

Never played either Trans[] game. Why?
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milomilo122 wrote:
But that's different from claiming that consciousness itself doesn't exist. I believe that many animals are conscious, in the sense that it is probably "like something" to be certain animals, like dogs. A dog probably has experiences, even if its experience may not include an experience of self. But I doubt that it is "like something" to be a spatula. I don't care either whether I'm different from a spatula. But I AM different in certain ways that I can't yet explain to my satisfaction.


You're actually just like a spatula but with more processing power. I think consciousness is a spectrum from spatula to thermostat to bat to dog to human - spatulas are really really stupid and dogs are pretty smart. I'm always amazed at people who can deny that dogs have consciousness. Anyway, conscious beings are just like computers in that they have different memory and processing power and hence (I believe) different levels of consciousness. One day Deep Blue will wonder what it's like to be a mobile phone. I treat consciousness of dogs and computers the same way I treat consciousness of other people - it sure looks to me like they're conscious, so I'll just have to concede that they are.

milomilo122 wrote:
What was it that went away when I was knocked out?


Sensory inputs? Why can't that be all?

milomilo122 wrote:
best abstracts you haven't heard of: do you know Gonnect? Akron? *Star? Three great ones off the top of my head.


I think I read about *Star in Connection Games but I'll read up on all of them to be sure. Thank you.

milomilo122 wrote:
Never played either Trans[] game. Why?


This is what they're like... a game of Hex with obstacles (expensive points) where you're attempting to connect your sides first but you can share your opponents claimed points. (So you're both playing with the same colour.) You want to play so that your opponent has to play on more expensive points than you do and you can use his moves to connect your sides first. Did that make sense? They're not really about trains at all, they're about connection.
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If you really think, Friendless, that all you lose when unconscious are your sensory inputs, I volunteer to bash you extremely hard on the head so you can explore that theory during a relevant period. When you regain consciousness, a few weeks or months (it will depend upon my mood) later, you can relate your findings.
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Nick Bentley
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Friendless wrote:

I think consciousness is a spectrum...


I also sympathize with the idea that consciousness exists on a spectrum, or at least accept the idea as a hypothesis for which there is no less evidence than there is for the alternative.

Friendless wrote:

You're actually just like a spatula but with more processing power.


My thinking:
Whether this idea works as a hypothesis depends upon how we define "processing power". In my view, most functionalists, Dennett included, don't define the idea well enough for it to constitute a real hypothesis. I'll start by considering a straw-man definition, and then work my way up. A simple definition of "processing power" is "the rate at which a system can flip bits, or whatever unit of information one cares to consider" I think it's pretty easy to see that under this definition, processing power is unlikely to be the fundamental physical correlate of consciousness. Consider a rainstorm. Let a unit of information in a rainstorm be the position of a water molecule in three-dimensional space. Under that definition, a rainstorm processes a dizzying amount of information (maybe even more than a human brain!), but I suspect that a rainstorm isn't very conscious. Of course, here I am criticizing a strawman. I do so to introduce the following point:

"bits", or units of information, are not intrinsic to physical systems, at least in the way that we typically use the term- bits are really just conventions of description. We could have defined the unit of information in a rainstorm in any of an infinite number of ways (for example, the position of the center-of-mass of each raindrop.), and in each case, we get a different measure of a rainstorm's "processing power". Unless we are talking about some fundamental unit of information intrinsic to the laws of nature (like quantum vector collapses or something, presuming quantum mechanics is a description of nature's fundamentals), our units of information don't actually refer to anything real.

OK, now I dispense with the strawman. Rather than define "processing power" as the rate at which bits are flipped, we might define it as the degree to which a system can execute a particular algorithm. Presumably, one such algorithm would be whatever is needed in order to make a human body behave in a humanlike way. Here again, though, an "algorithm" doesn't really exist; it is a convention of description, again, unless we are talking about the underlying laws of nature herself.

To illustrate: the "algorithm" that the brain can be said to compute depends entirely upon the level at which we describe the brain's operation. We could theoretically describe a brain in terms of its quantum mechanical dynamics (or whatever nature's fundamental dynamics are), or we could describe a brain in terms of higher-level objects, like networks of neurons. Describing a brain in the latter way is really just a shorthand or approximate way of referring to the true underlying dynamics, whether we know them or not. The "algorithm" that the brain runs under each description is totally different. If this is hard to swallow, consider the following thought experiment:

Let's say that we design a traditional silicon-chip based computer that drives a robot to behave exactly like a human. If we describe the algorithm that the robot runs at a sufficiently high level, it will be identical to the algorithm that a human runs. But if we describe both the algorithm of the human and robot at the quantum mechanical level, then the two algorithms are completely different. So the "high level" and "low level" algorithms cannot be the same.

If this is so, then it's not at all clear that a perfectly human-like robot and a human are equally conscious. They could be running very different algorithms. So it doesn't seem correct to me to concede that anything that behaves just like a human is conscious just like a human.

This means that we must choose a level of description before proposing that some algorithm is the physical correlate of conscious. Otherwise, the proposal will be devoid of meaning. But what level of description is the "right" one? We need some principled way of deciding. The only principle that I can think of is: the best level of description is the one that describes Nature's true dynamics, because everything else is just shorthand.

In any case, I know that *I* won't be satisfied unless I can find at least a mapping between conscious states and physical states under our most fundamental descriptions of them.
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Heh, I suspect I just wrote myself out of an audience. If you guys would prefer that I not hold forth about consciousness at such length, holla at me.
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It's fascinating...don't stop.
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Which Icehouse games have you played? Do any of them stand out?
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dturnerfish wrote:
Which Icehouse games have you played? Do any of them stand out?


Only two: Zendo and Treehouse. Treehouse bores me to the point that I want to eat small children, but zendo is one of my favorite multiplayer games. I've written at length about it, in what I consider to be one of my two or three best contributions to BGG:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/1363713#1363713

The next ones I want to try are: Alien City, on the basis of its wild popularity over on super duper games (it's the highest-ranked game there), and volcano, the latter for reasons that I can't articulate. I don't know when it will happen, though. Whenever I pull out my icehouse pieces all I ever want to do is play Zendo. That's going to be an impediment for some time.

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Friendless wrote:
A modern chess championship is glorious to behold: brilliant multinationals in elegant suits grappling quietly with their own minds, in an atmosphere of collegial gravity. Watch the way a grandmaster moves his piece and taps his timer, with a swift economy that only someone who has performed that motion innumerable times could exhibit.


This pretty much sums up all that I dislike about tournament chess. Give me a game where you can play thousands of times and yet you don't feel like you're doing exactly the same thing over and over, just slightly better each time.
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