If we a consider complex computer program (such as an operating system) running on an unknown architecture, then somebody observing the computer program at the logic gate level may be able to gain a full understanding of every possible state the system can have, as well as every possible state transition based on these logic gates and the way they are connected to each other. However, there's no reason why they would be able to deduce the true purpose of the system.

If the creator of the computer program and unknown architecture then came along and told them the purpose of the program (e.g. an operating system that allows a user to play chess or something), by showing them some high level code written using a machine-agnostic language like Python, then while the observer may have already had a full understanding of the system at the fundamental level, they would have gained new knowledge as they now know what it is the program is doing (in this example the observer will know they have been studying an operating system that allows somebody to play chess).

Can this be an appropriate model for mind-body dualism, whereby the logic gates and electrical signals represent the neurons and electrical activity in our brain, and the high level code- which lays out the actual purpose of the computer program- representing our subjective non-physical self that gives rise to the experience of qualia?

Like the Mary thought experiment, can we think of the idea of the observer now understanding the purpose of the program, similar to somebody being able to experience qualia for the first time even if they have a full physical understanding of its manifestation?

And if say there is a malfunction somewhere at the physical level such as a faulty logic gate, while this would have an impact on the high level code being fully expressed perfectly- perhaps there'll be some kind of glitch like no checkmate being recognised- there would have been no impact on the high level code itself. Can this be thought of as damage to the brain which may cause people to lose their ability to experience some qualia such as vision because they are blind? And let's say the machine is fully destroyed,the high level code would still exist independently, even if it cannot be expressed. This would be akin to brain death and the loss of conscious experience.

Can this analogy be thought of as a reasonable model for mind-body dualism (if we assume dualism is true)?

  • 2
    But your view is entirely physical. Where is dualism?
    – rus9384
    Commented Feb 4, 2019 at 22:18
  • 1
    @rus9384 The high level code which details the actual function of the computer program. The observer is obvlivious to this until they are told
    – 83457
    Commented Feb 4, 2019 at 22:20
  • 2
    But this is a non-dualistic view. It looks to explain mind as something physical but merely too complex to realize it easily.
    – rus9384
    Commented Feb 4, 2019 at 22:42
  • @rus9384 Hmm. It was my thinking that if you have a complex enough computer system, it would be impossible to figure out what it's doing at the logic gate level since the mapping from high level code to machine code doesn't necessarily have to be one to one.
    – 83457
    Commented Feb 4, 2019 at 22:45
  • If there is some text you are reading that may motivate why the question is interesting. It would also add more context. Welcome! Commented Feb 5, 2019 at 0:29

3 Answers 3


To make this a mind-body model, we need the representations for the mind and the body to be accessible to the observers. So we have to assume that the computers have both the logic gate descriptions, and the high level code accessible to them ("observable"). What they do not have, before the Creator comes along, is the ability to trace one to the other. The high level code is not analogous to qualia, it is still propositional and third-person expressible, the qualia are, in contrast, phenomenal and first-person.

What the high level code and the logic gate descriptions represent are two linguistic schemes for describing what the computers are doing. If they are unable to "see" how the high level actions emerge from the basic logic gate operations then what this is a model of is called non-reductive physicalism. All they can see is that the high level code supervenes on the logic gate operation, some change in the logic gate operation is always necessary to execute a different code. But which for which is concealed from them, perhaps in principle.

Here is Dupre's ironic description in Metaphysical Disorder and Scientific Disunity of the non-reductive physicalism of Davidson, the so-called anomalous monism, that clarifies the analogy:

"But I think it is clear that supervenience inherits the metaphysical spirit of reductionism. According to supervenience theses, the microscopic determines the macroscopic, at least in the sense of providing a sufficient condition for any macroscopic property. Thus if this dependency is not to be wholly mysterious, there is presumably some set of facts that could be known that would permit the inference of the macroscopic from a sufficient knowledge of the microscopic. Perhaps we could not, even in principle, know these facts. But God, I suppose, would need merely to exist in order to know them.

[...] Thus it is natural to take supervenience to involve at least God's-eye reductionism. Perhaps in an unfashionably positivistic vein, I am suspicious of the assertion of facts that God alone could know. Since I suspect that God lacks that notorious perfection, existence, the facts alleged by the supervenientist have the peculiar property of being, if, as is generally supposed, unknowable by us, unknowable."

Dupre's God is, obviously, the analog of your Creator, the kind of God that deists imagined in their clockwork universe. He designs the clock (physical laws), winds it up (Big Bang), and lets it go as it would, at least until the Revelation.

If you want a model of dualism what you need is either a separate substance (spirit), that hovers over the logic gates and makes them do things from time to time (substance dualism); or, at least, some extra properties they exhibit collectively, not reducible to their operation as logic gates, like exuding qualia (property dualism). You could achieve that by having your Creator meddle with the computers and make them experience things, but then he would need abilities beyond the intricate computer design. That would be similar to Leibniz's God, and his pre-established harmony of minds and bodies. Or, you can have him imbue the logic gate material with spiritual properties from the start, as in Searle's biological naturalism (of course, Searle ascribes the imbuing to nature, not God). When combined in complex enough configurations they will pop-up the qualia and consciousness.


RAM is part of the computer. The RAM stores the execution code and could be inspected and understood without the source code. Assuming that the program is a traditional procedural program.

A better analogy might be a perceptron network. The programmer spends a long time adjusting the weights and biases and then converts the network into simple matrix operations.

The subtlety of the training is essentially lost. The network performs the job it was trained to do, but in a completely opaque manner which is essentially impossible to reverse engineer.

It's still not duality though.. because the 'program' such as it is.. is encoded into RAM, just in a way that is impenetrable.

In conclusion.. if a computer can emulate the brain.. and produces consciousness.. we would know that duality is false. And early indications (see above about intelligence being encoded in matrix operations) seem to indicate that there are no fundamental obstacles to making a machine conscious. We just don't know how yet.


Your example does include mind-body dualism, but not perhaps in the way you anticipate. The mind, in this case, belongs to the human observer, the body is the computer. In your example, they aren't actually united, but they could easily be. Imagine that the computer was a video game machine. The character on the screen exemplifies mind-body duality. The consciousness (the human player) is separate from the "body," which is generated by the computer. But the consciousness controls the body.

Given a powerful enough mind, it's easy to generate mind-body dualism starting from ideal monism (everything fundamental is mental). The mind just needs to be powerful enough to simulate a computer mentally. Then the computer can simulate the body. The mind observes the body that it is itself simulating, and the result is mind-body duality.

The version you're proposing, where the physical itself generates the mental, is harder to puzzle through. It's an assumption of physical monism that the purely physical should be able to generate the mental, but no one has figured out a mechanism that demonstrably works.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .