I am currently reading David Deutsch’s Beginning of Infinity where he proposes a test for judging claims explaining nature of consciousness:

If you cannot program it, you haven’t understood it.

This is inspired by the Turing test, which is a test of a machine’s ability to exhibit behaviour that is indistinguishable from that of a human. Deutsch’s test is evaluating humans instead, a gentle poke at Daniel Dennett and other’s claims of having “solved” consciousness.

Paul Graham, in his latest essay, says:

Writing about something, even something you know well, usually shows you that you didn’t know it as well as you thought. Putting ideas into words is a severe test.

If writing down your ideas always makes them more precise and more complete, then no one who hasn’t written about a topic has fully formed ideas about it. And someone who never writes has no fully formed ideas about anything nontrivial.

Taking both Deutsch’s and Graham’s assertions seriously, one can understand consciousness only by first writing about it, and then programming it. Understanding consciousness then is a special case of the general rule that writing about anything enriches your understanding of it. In contrast, Eastern conceptions1 of the mind have it that you can understand it2, but you cannot explain it.

  1. Mind in eastern philosophy 

  2. See another physicist’s perspective:”The Direct Experience is the only way to bypass systems of thought, intellectual pre-conditioning and Aristotelian logic. But this Experience, by its very definition, is not communicable by standard procedures. This basic difficulty should be obvious. All standard forms of precise communication are isomorphic to verbalization based on some system of generalized grammar; so how does one convey that which is beyond the systems of thought?”