Consciousness and Artificial Intelligence Part III

by: jmb275

September 7, 2011

In the last couple of posts (here, and here) I defined some terms relating to consciousness and artificial intelligence. Then in part II, I took a look at those topics from the point of view of philosophy and psychology. As I have examined the topics of philosophy of mind, and artificial intelligence I have learned there are a great many opinions, classifications, and strong arguments to be made for virtually every opinion. It will be interesting to see where the future takes us as we advance our computational abilities and which views fall by the wayside. It’s an exciting time in the fields of systems, artificial intelligence, and computation. We are progressing rapidly as systems become more and more complex, exhibiting behavior previously unpredicted by the designers.

Fortunately, there are a lot of issues like this one that have strong, and reasonably good arguments for radically different views on the issue. In the past, my approach has been to examine such topics, present synopses, and draw conclusions. This has left me in a position to defend my conclusions. I don’t generally like the way such discussions end up as they are rife with mischaracterizations (usually as a result of labels). If I claim to be a dualist, it carries certain connotations that arise in the mind of readers, even if I didn’t accept all possible aspects that fall under that rubric. If they disagree with those notions, I am caught trying to defend something I may not have actually believed. I have since discovered what I think is a better way of discussing the real issues I see without the need to defend a particular conclusion.

I have some hope that this will meld into other posts as I write as well. For this particular post, I’d like to conclude the series on consciousness and artificial intelligence by listing, what I think, are the most difficult questions on that topic. So, without further ado, I give you my list of unanswered questions on the topic of philosophy of mind, consciousness, artificial intelligence, and life after death (which I think all come together at some point).

  • Everyone has a different view of what happens after death (though they almost never define what death even means).
  • NDEs are, IMHO, primarily western phenomena and, at least to me, are primarily framed in terms of one’s life and beliefs. Further they can be chemically induced and demonstrated in a laboratory.
  • What is consciousness and how did evolution give rise to it?
  • Suppose you replaced your arm with a mechanical one. Now suppose you replace your leg, then your other leg, etc. etc. At what point do you cease to be human? At what point do you cease to be conscious, or does consciousness remain?
  • What makes me…me? How do my coworkers know that the jmb275 who came to work today is the same one who came yesterday? Or am I the same from one day to the next?
  • Do electrical pulses spanning a gap across synapses give rise to consciousness? If so, how?
  • Can enough computing, and sensing power give rise to consciousness? If so, how?
  • Immaterial “things” can clearly affect material things. So why is it so far fetched to think there is something “immaterial” within us that causes us to be conscious?
  • If animals are conscious (at least some of them if the mirror test is any indication) do they also survive their death, or have a soul, or spirit?
  • What is death, and what would it mean to survive one’s death in order for there to be a life after death?

Do you have similar questions? Have you been able to answer any of these questions to your satisfaction? And if so, how? Are there other questions equally important that I have overlooked?

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10 Responses to Consciousness and Artificial Intelligence Part III

  1. Heber13 on September 7, 2011 at 3:44 PM

    Religion answers these questions, because in my mind, you can’t prove the answers are false. You can believe them or not. But they do give a good story that seems to make sense. So I go with it.

    My question: Not just consciousness, but emotion and feelings I have seem to not come from my mind, but from inside me. I don’t know how any machine could replicate that. Is being conscious of an emotion the genesis of emotion?

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  2. FireTag on September 7, 2011 at 4:00 PM

    Well, here we are back to the dualist question already. We don’t experience thought apart from brains in a body, and we don’t experience emotions apart from chemicals circulating in a body. But that doesn’t answer the deep question of consciousness — what does it mean to “experience”?

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  3. hawkgrrrl on September 7, 2011 at 5:54 PM

    Heber13 – “religion answers these questions.” As does Star Trek. I think you could base a whole religion on Star Trek, an exploration of these concepts.

    “NDEs are, IMHO, primarily western phenomena and, at least to me, are primarily framed in terms of one’s life and beliefs.” I do think the explanation for NDEs is typically Western. We went to see HP7 part 2 here in Singapore, and my husband overheard locals discussing the “King’s Cross” scene in the men’s room. They were very confused about it, seemingly for cultural reasons. They couldn’t decide if he was supposed to be dead or not or what it meant. I realized that the NDE as presented in the movie has a lot of cultural assumption behind it. It’s been used before in plenty of movies, also with those same underlying cultural assumptions. I asked some of my friends here about NDEs, and while there is some commonality, interpretation of NDEs is not necessarily the same.

    More thoughts later. Great post.

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  4. jmb275 on September 7, 2011 at 8:47 PM

    Re Heber 13:
    I’m glad religion answers those questions for you. For me, religion answers the questions, but not to my satisfaction (and that’s the point for me). There are answers to these questions to be sure (just like there are answers about the nature of God). But I don’t find any one answer particularly compelling. BTW, emotion is an easy one. Emotion could merely be a particular sensory reaction. FireTag asks the more relevant question of experience. That’s what makes emotion valuable, is the experience.

    Re FireTag
    I think you’ve nailed one of the biggest conundrums. That’s a huge unanswered question. I have no idea how to even begin answering it.

    Re Hawk-
    I read some about NDEs, and although I don’t think I have completely given them a fair shake, I’m fairly skeptical at the outset (perhaps to a fault). So far, my experience has been that if someone has a dream about being a flying super squirrel, no one takes that to have any special significance or an indication of some alternate reality. But if they have a dream about dying, going to an afterlife, somehow now it’s a precognition of things to comes and stands as evidence for some set of beliefs. I know NDEs are more complex than that (being near death physically and all) but I feel like they could be lumped into the dream category.

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  5. hawkgrrrl on September 8, 2011 at 12:30 AM

    I tend to think NDEs have a physical basis that we understand in terms of our own beliefs. I do believe NDEs occur universally, but that the interpretations of them are cultural. I tend to think of them as more of an interim pre-death state of terminating consciousness rather than a dream state. But as with dreams what seems to take a long time could really be very quick.

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  6. ~Becky~ on September 8, 2011 at 9:30 AM

    Faith Precedes the Miracle, OR might we also say …Believing comes before seeing? I think this concept is Psychologically, Philosophically, Physiologically, and Theologically sound. (also explains how NDE seems to be shaped by one’s belief and experience).

    Arguments arise because we ‘see’ things differently. One person may feel the spirit of God in a church meeting while another may not, why one person sees the forest through the trees and another won’t, one person is driven with ambition while another is without motivation. Undeniably our belief (and/or fears) shape what we ‘see’ and therefore how we experience Consciousness. It seems to be ‘universal’ in that we can communicate, understand and empathize with one another, and yet it is obvioulsy not ‘shared’.

    Synapses don’t always fire off like clockwork, (and yet they can be synthetically compensated). With or without that compensation our outlook and experience (and therefore BELIEF) is affected. That can be inconsequential or detrimental depending on the degree of neurons affected. That is where I start to wonder, what is ‘real’ because opportunity, privilege, exposure, trial, error, consequence physiology and the experiencing confusing or moving emotions… each play a role in the shaping of our belief or what we ‘see’.

    IF there are Eternal Laws of the Universe, if there are indisputable Truths it seems we are all supposed to find them in our diverse experience… our challenge is to ‘see’ them and understand them which, ends up being the real Miracle of Life right there.

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  7. jmb275 on September 8, 2011 at 2:48 PM

    Re Becky-
    Holy Crap! You wanna do a guest post? Seriously, great comment. There’s no way I could have summarized so much so beautifully. I couldn’t agree more.

    Re Hawk-
    Okay, I think I’m on board with you (not quite sure though). I definitely think NDEs have a physical basis and are shaped by our beliefs and culture. The fact that they seem to be Western phenomena might be nothing more than a function of reporting. I also don’t think they’re quite the same as a dream (despite my previous comment), but then again I don’t think visions are dreams either. They seem to be markedly different. But they have a lot in common with dreams as well. I suppose I put on my skeptical hat, however, when people start drawing real world conclusions from them. I should do more research on them to give them a fair shake.

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  8. Heber13 on September 9, 2011 at 2:57 PM

    HG: Star Trek and Jedi’s…both out of this world religions.

    jmb: “not to my satisfaction”. Ah, are we talking answers, or answers to our satisfaction based on experiences? (Back to Firetag’s question).

    I’m not sure there are any questions that answer our questions to satisfaction…because we’re constantly striving to learn more, even with the answers we have.

    There are some pretty bright people that faithfully believe in Mormonism, and it seems to work for them.

    Perhaps what I should say is, “Religion MAY answer these questions for some people.”

    I think one of the most interesting questions in your OP was:
    “What makes me…me? How do my coworkers know that the jmb275 who came to work today is the same one who came yesterday? Or am I the same from one day to the next?”
    …or my testimony is the same/different from yesterday??

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  9. Silhan on September 13, 2011 at 10:17 AM

    I just read all three posts in this series and would like to say thank you for sparking some new thoughts on these issues.

    I suppose I had always assumed that our spirits were synonymous with our consiousnesses, but lately a whole new set of possibilities have opened up for me.

    I recently watched the documentary “Transcendent Man” about Ray Kurzweil, where he and others talk about the possibility (and potential inevitability) of someday downloading our consciousnesses to other bodies. It occured to me that that process is essentially what happens at birth, and what will happen again at the resurrection. But it wasn’t until reading this series that I really started to consider consciousness as pure information (data and programming) independent of the medium in which it is stored.

    Kurzweil talks about downloading consciousness into machines that would be free from sickness and death. But what if we really are just incredibly complex, organic machines capable of housing consciousness? And what if a resurrected body is just a superior form of a machine?

    Being a physicist myself, I’m already comfortable with concepts such as nondeterminism and organic computing, so this idea of us (humanity) being essentially “sentient organic robots” created by a superior form of “sentient organic(?) robot” (God) is starting to make a lot of sense to me.

    Before all of this, I used to think that ideas like the Singularity and sentient robots were incompatible with the Gospel, but I’m starting to believe that the distance between science fiction and religion is not that great after all.

    (By the way, I also really liked FireTag’s concept of consciousness being housed in an infinite number of copies of the same individual in parallel universes. Neat stuff.)

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  10. Childe Jake on September 13, 2011 at 5:55 PM

    I haven’t answered most of these questions to my satisfaction, and I would be a bit suspicious of myself if I had ;-) I will say that your trio of posts has reminded me of how maddeningly difficult it is to reach consensus on a definition of anything–especially in haphazard American English.

    With regard to near-death experiences, I am tantalized by their similarity to what a human baby experiences at birth: travelling down a dark tunnel toward a light where someone waits with open arms. Is our last coherent thought merely the resurfacing of our earliest, long-lost memory?

    The question of identity–will the Jake who goes to work tomorrow be the Jake who left work this evening–opens freaky legal questions with regard to jailing anyone for any crime. All I can say with confidence is that the Jake who goes to work tomorrow will get a brief burst of pleasure realizing he’s halfway to Friday, just like every Jake of every Wednesday past.

    Lastly, a question I first heard stated by one of my college professors: why is there something instead of nothing? For some reason or other, I get all kinds of hope from that question.

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