Slandering Ants Anthropically

Another checkmark in front of the "antrhopic reasoning is whack":

arXiv:0802.4121

Title: Ants are not Conscious
Authors: Russell K. Standish

Anthropic reasoning is a form of statistical reasoning based upon finding oneself a member of a particular reference class of conscious beings. By considering empirical distribution functions defined over animal life on Earth, we can deduce that the vast bulk of animal life is unlikely to be conscious. As a side effect of these deliberations, I also show that naturally occurring fragmentation/coalescence processes give rise to a power law distribution of fragment sizes, a previously unknown mechanism for generating power laws.

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I don't see why the "reference class of anthropic reasoning must consist of conscious entities", as asserted in the paper. Couldn't a mainframe computer with expert-system AI but no subjective experience make an "anthropic" argument?

1. Computer is composed of silicon atoms.

2. Computer must exist in environment which allows silicon to occur.

3. Laws of nature must permit silicon atoms to form.

4. If laws of nature were different, computer could not exist.

"So, the universe was fine-tuned for you, computer?"

Error. Error. Insufficient data for meaningful response. WARNING: PLEASE EVACUATE COMPUTING CENTER. WARNING. . . .

Or, to quote Holldobler and Wilson (1990), "Ants do not play."

By Julie Stahlhut (not verified) on 01 Mar 2008 #permalink

I like the title of your blog! Indeed, one possible conclusion from my paper is that the AP is "whack", as you put it. But only if you believe ants are truly conscious. This is not so clear to me. I do not think that things (that we know of) without a brain have sufficient organisation to be conscious. Ipso facto, there is a dividing line between conscious things and non-conscious things.

Perhaps it is just a matter of having a brain, however some brains have only a few neurons, so it is also hard to believe that all brains are conscious. Then it becomes quite plausible that insect brains (which are several orders of magnitude less complex than our own) might not be conscious. If the AP is to be believed, then it is intriguing if it can narrow the range of where to put the divding line between the conscious and non-conscious.

I would, perhaps, be surprised if humans were the only conscious animal on Earth. Several other species (mammals for the most part, but some birds and perhaps a cephalopod or two) appear to have a rich internal model of the world indicative of consciousness. But alas, the anthropic argument presented in my paper appear to be powerless to talk about such species.

As for Blake Stacey's posting about a non-conscious computer. It is not reasoning compumorphically at all. It is merely "making marks upon the paper", which have no meaning whatsoever to it, since it is by definition unconsious. It is us humans who are interpreting the "marks" to be a compumorphic argument. And we can see it is not valid, as we can make computers out of whatever is handy really: metal or wooden cogs, beakers of water, or basically anything that can hold bits. Silicon of itself is not necessary, only a conveniently available material. And something to hold bits is necessary for us to experience consciousness anyway.