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Why isn’t their a scientific explanation for consciousness yet? What is consciousness in physical not descriptive terms?
Posted: 02 November 2008 07:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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danlhinz - 02 November 2008 01:04 AM

We currently have electronic devices that seem to be able to do all the functions above. I’m sure their is a computer out their designed to learn and make decisions. We could probably connect that device to other machines to provide sensory information. The device still wouldn’t have a subjective conscious experience. I don’t think brain cells are special I’m sure their is some trick to consciousness and that a computer in the future could be conscious. The problem that I am seeing is what property am I missing that gives us consciousness? How can we tell something is conscious? Consciousness must be a result of the individual properties of our brain cells combining to create something more complex. Is it just that it would be hard to picture the ocean from looking at some water molecules or is it something else that makes it so hard to understand?

Why wouldn’t this machine be conscious? You can say that you can never be sure it is conscious because you can never get inside its head, but then you can say that about your neighbor as well. What makes you so sure your neighbor is conscious? Presumably by analogy with yourself, and you see his or her behavior and make an inference to the best explanation. But the same inference is available to you with Lieutenant Commander Data.

Consciousness is a byproduct of complex data processing and memory.

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Posted: 02 November 2008 01:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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Naturalism - Consciousness

Here is the essay I read maybe someone else could read it and give a critique.

Stephen,

I definitely think emergence is a load of hog wash basically amounting to 1+1=3. Emergence as a way of explaining complex systems without actually claiming “the whole is more than the sum of it’s parts” is a useful tool to explain complex things like biology or economics, psychology etc.

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Posted: 03 November 2008 05:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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dougsmith - 02 November 2008 07:42 AM

Why wouldn’t this machine be conscious? You can say that you can never be sure it is conscious because you can never get inside its head, but then you can say that about your neighbor as well. What makes you so sure your neighbor is conscious? Presumably by analogy with yourself, and you see his or her behavior and make an inference to the best explanation. But the same inference is available to you with Lieutenant Commander Data.

Consciousness is a byproduct of complex data processing and memory.

Would you suppose the internet is conscious? , how about a super computer ? I’m going to make an argument I find amusing that will point out what seems to be at least hard to imagine.

Lets imagine we had 100 billion people each connected via the internet to one another. It is the future so scientist understand brain function extremely well; they wrote instruction for how to act like different kinds of brain cells. Each person was given instructions on how to act just like a specific neuron in the brain. So now each person is acting like a brain cell and the internet is acting like synapses. Obviously we now have consciousness by the functionalist definition. The collective actions of those people is creating consciousness.

Even more amusing we could simply have every person stand shoulder to shoulder and pass information from one person to the next by simply talking to each other.

The economy seems to be processing large sums of information it has memory, receives inputs and gives outputs. The economy must then be conscious. Even more a musing Daniel Dennett says free will is a result of consciousness so we could get angry at the economy and morally judge it as being bad.

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Posted: 03 November 2008 06:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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All of which goes to suggest that we waste our time arguing about consciousness. It’s a useless concept, impossible to define and dependent upon the vagaries of different interpretations. Better to simply focus on what the brain does.

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Posted: 03 November 2008 06:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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Chris Crawford - 03 November 2008 06:03 PM

All of which goes to suggest that we waste our time arguing about consciousness. It’s a useless concept, impossible to define and dependent upon the vagaries of different interpretations. Better to simply focus on what the brain does.

I am optimistic an adequate natural description is possible, It is amusing to think that what I said is true. Whether or not consciousness is actually useful matters less than my own intellectual curiosity about it.

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Posted: 03 November 2008 07:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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danlhinz - 03 November 2008 05:54 PM

Would you suppose the internet is conscious? , how about a super computer ? I’m going to make an argument I find amusing that will point out what seems to be at least hard to imagine.

Lets imagine we had 100 billion people each connected via the internet to one another. It is the future so scientist understand brain function extremely well; they wrote instruction for how to act like different kinds of brain cells. Each person was given instructions on how to act just like a specific neuron in the brain. So now each person is acting like a brain cell and the internet is acting like synapses. Obviously we now have consciousness by the functionalist definition. The collective actions of those people is creating consciousness.

Even more amusing we could simply have every person stand shoulder to shoulder and pass information from one person to the next by simply talking to each other.

The economy seems to be processing large sums of information it has memory, receives inputs and gives outputs. The economy must then be conscious.

Is it self-aware? Does it behave like a person, with beliefs and desires upon which it acts? Where is the behavior that confirms this? (The last is an epistemic point).

Why couldn’t a collection of conscious entities itself be conscious?

You have a number of complex cases here which are not fully described nor compelling. They sound intuitively like they are supposed to be in-between cases, which raises irrelevant issues of vagueness. What we need are clear cases, which is why I chose Lt. Commander Data—let us suppose it were possible to create such a computing device. I submit that it would clearly be conscious—as conscious as you or I. That is the only case I need to establish that a supercomputer can be conscious.

And after all, we ourselves are supercomputers. The brain is a complex neural network computer. It is a sort of machine. Ergo, machines can be conscious.

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Posted: 04 November 2008 01:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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I think consciousness in the sense of internal experience (the qualia of consciousness, if I’m not seriously misusing the term) is unlikley to ever be fully explicable in an objective way. We can’t really explain why color “feels” the way it does inside our heads. Still, that doesn’t mean we don’t have a hell of a lot of useful information about color vision. Likewise, we can understand and say lots of useful things about consciousness without necessarily satisfying everyone that we have nailed the nature of the subjective experience. We understand a lot about how the experience can be perturbed by brain lesions, medications, and so on.

I also think the criteria for diagnosing consciousness are fundamentally behavioral and subject to the same sort of uncertainty that keeps the ghost of solipsism floating impotently around. I can’t prove anything actually exists, but I’m not wasting my life acting as if nothing does. Similarly, I can’t prove something is or is not conscious, but if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, even if it’s brain is made of something other than duck cells why isn’t it a duck? If it passes the Turing test in a meaningful way, who cares what it’s brain is made of?

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Posted: 04 November 2008 01:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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Right, Brennen. I think we’re in substantial agreement here.

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Posted: 04 November 2008 02:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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danlhinz - 03 November 2008 06:18 PM

The problem that I am seeing is what property am I missing that gives us consciousness?

It’s God! Every idiot knows that!

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Posted: 05 November 2008 04:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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I’ve moved the following from the ‘time is real’ thread as this seems a more appropriate place to discuss it.

wesmjohnson - 15 October 2008 08:22 AM

 

Yes, it could not be more plain.  The color, as well as the entire image of the table, does cease to exist when he shuts his eyes .  The color and image HE sees.  (I suspect he may have an after image in his mind but that is a function of memory and optical apparatus.)  However, simply because the color and image cease to exist for HIM and HIM alone in this experiment, does not in any way imply it ceases to exist objectively.  In fact he could take a snapshot of the table with his eyes closed thereby capturing an image of the table, the color of which, ceased to exist for him.

Light at a certain wavelength may continue to exist. The colour we see definately does not! I’m pretty sure this isn’t semantics and that we actually disagree.

For the colour we see to continue to exist, light at a certain wavelength would have to objectively be a particular colour. By that I mean if someone saw a blue cup and had the same experience as I do when I see a yellow cup, one of us would have to be objectively correct, which I don’t believe is possible.

Stephen

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Posted: 05 November 2008 04:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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Another from the ‘time is real’ thread

dougsmith - 13 October 2008 07:28 AM

There is another issue you may be getting at, one which is at the root of empiricism. This is that our qualia are more epistemically immediate to us than the objects we experience. That is, though we can be wrong about the objects we see, we cannot be wrong about our qualia. This line of thought began at least with Descartes, who noted that although it appeared to him that he was in front of his fire at home, he could in fact be dreaming. If he were dreaming he could be in error about being in front of his fire, however he could not be in error that it seemed to him that he was in front of his fire. Hume and others interpreted this as saying that he could not be in error about his impressions, or what we might term ‘sense data’ or ‘qualia’..

A clever scientist could manipulate a man’s brain so that it appeared to him that he was in front of his fire. The experience the man had could be identical to the experience he would have if he was sitting in front of the fire.

If this is true then it would seem to follow that the reason the experience would be identical is because in both cases his experience is of the same thing, which is his brain function or the product of his brain function.

If this isn’t true, then what is it the man is experiencing, or put another way, conscious of, when his brain is being manipulated by the clever scientist?

Stephen

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Posted: 05 November 2008 05:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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StephenLawrence - 05 November 2008 04:51 AM

A clever scientist could manipulate a man’s brain so that it appeared to him that he was in front of his fire. The experience the man had could be identical to the experience he would have if he was sitting in front of the fire.

If this is true then it would seem to follow that the reason the experience would be identical is because in both cases his experience is of the same thing, which is his brain function or the product of his brain function.

If this isn’t true, then what is it the man is experiencing, or put another way, conscious of, when his brain is being manipulated by the clever scientist?

It’s not entirely clear what he would be experiencing in the latter case. The simple answer is “nothing”. That’s not quite right because he is experiencing a sort of fakery, rather like seeing an illusion of water in a desert.

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Posted: 05 November 2008 10:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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But isn’t it true that if his internal experience is identical whether a “real” reflection of objective reality or an illusion, that from the subjective, qualia perspective there is no meaningful difference? This would seem to be analagous to our argument that if the external manifestations of consciousness are identical, the substrate is irrelevant. In some sense, then, illusion and reality are not meaningful distinctions when we limit ourselves only to internal experience, though of course they are very meaningful when we are talking about how the real, external world is experienced.

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Posted: 05 November 2008 10:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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Well, in a sense yes, but we must keep metaphysics and epistemology separate. I would prefer to say that the two states (let’s say of Descartes being awake by the fire or Descartes asleep in his bed dreaming of a fire) are epistemically indistinguishable. We can be fooled. But they are metaphysically distinct possibilities. It is not correct to say that you see your visual qualia. What you see are external objects, but without epistemic certainty. Those objects are presented to you in a certain way, qualitatively. The qualia modify the experience of the external.

Let’s also recall that the standard visual qualia are colors. But there is more to vision than color. There is shape and shading, for example. Is there really a “quale” to a shape which is different from the shape itself? I don’t think so. Shapes are presented directly, as are phenomena like light intensity. The odd thing about color is that the visual spectrum with its three primary colors depends upon the number of cones we have in our eyes. There is no similar issue with shape or shading. Similar sorts of arguments could be made about the other senses, I think.

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Posted: 05 November 2008 11:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
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Hmmm. I still have a problem mixing up “meta” levels of looking at a problem and “epistemic” levels, I guess. I see what you mean by the difference, but I don’t always know when I’m blurring the line there.

On a technical basis, I’m not sure your point about shape vision holds. There is an awful lot of processing at multiple levels in the CNS which “constructs” the perception of shape. Sure, there is a “real” shape out there, and our perceptions bear a predictable, meaningful relationship to it, but things like edge-enhancement, preferential recognition of lines at certain orientations based on prior exposure, a preference for recognition of certain shapes over others, and so on make our internal representations less direct than I think most people realize. It is literally possible to not see something that one is predisposed to ignore for some reason, just as a frog doesn’t see an object not in motion. This doesn’t invalidate your general point, which I take to be that qualia are subjective representations but, as they are based on real phenomena, they are not arbitrary and they are limited by the properties of the phenomena they represent, but I think it is important to recognize that our perceptions, even of very simple things like shapes and colors, are a lot less reliable than we generally believe.

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