August 4, 2017
“…Now, the next question. What is the mind? What is the human ability by which we ask the question “Am I living in a computer simulation?” What is it about a thought that distinguishes a thought from other things, like physical objects? Nineteenth-century German philosopher Franz Brentano gave an answer that seems decisive: Thoughts are always about something, whereas physical objects are never (intrinsically) about anything. He called this aboutness of thoughts “intentionality,” using a word derived from the scholastic philosophers’ theory of mind that dates back to Aristotle.Thoughts are intentional, in the sense that they always point to something — to a concept, to an object, to a person, etc. Our thoughts always have an object (conceptual or physical) to which they are intrinsically directed. Our thoughts always mean something.
So are we living in a computer simulation? As I noted above, meaning is precisely what computation lacks. The most fundamental human power — the power of thought to have meaning — is just what a computer simulation cannot do.
Computation is syntax, whereas thought is semantics. If we were living in a computer simulation, and our mind were computation, the one thing we couldn’t do is think…”