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Tags A.I. , artificial intelligence , consciousness

View Poll Results: Is consciousness physical or metaphysical?
Consciousness is a kind of data processing and the brain is a machine that can be replicated in other substrates, such as general purpose computers. 81 86.17%
Consciousness requires a second substance outside the physical material world, currently undetectable by scientific instruments 3 3.19%
On Planet X, unconscious biological beings have perfected conscious machines 10 10.64%
Voters: 94. You may not vote on this poll

Closed Thread
Old 16th April 2012, 03:43 PM   #1
Mr. Scott
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On Consciousness

The thread in Religion and Philosophy, "Explain consciousness to the layman," has degraded into a bore, so I'm starting this thread, hopefully to launch effective dialogue on the nature and computability of consciousness. Please try and avoid derailing it!

From David Gamez's THE DEVELOPMENT AND ANALYSIS OF CONSCIOUS MACHINES:


Last edited by Mr. Scott; 16th April 2012 at 04:11 PM. Reason: I see how to improve it after I sense others are conscious of the posting
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Old 16th April 2012, 05:18 PM   #2
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I think there may be another option:

"Consciousness is a kind of data processing and the brain is a machine that can be in principle replicated in other substrates, but general purpose computers are just not made of the right stuff."

The idea that we could make a computer conscious may be as fanciful as thinking we can make trees conscious or that we can make lobsters achieve human-level consciousness.

I think that sometimes people elide the idea that there is nothing non-physical about consciousness with the idea that consciousness can be easily replicated out of any old junk. But that might not be true.
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Old 16th April 2012, 05:53 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by angrysoba View Post
I think there may be another option:

"Consciousness is a kind of data processing and the brain is a machine that can be in principle replicated in other substrates, but general purpose computers are just not made of the right stuff."
That's another option. I don't agree with it, though.

As someone with a four-decade interest in AI who continues to work on it from time to time, my position is as follows: Consciousness could be duplicated in a general purpose computer, maybe with some unusual and specialized hardware added, but nobody would ever actually do it.

See, my pretty well educated guess is that artificial intelligence is impossible, even perhaps theoretically so, without artificial stupidity. Except as a business decision (c.f. Microsoft), few people would want to make computers less reliable than they are. Consciousness, I guess, comes with a huge risk of getting stuff wrong that people would really rather not have happen.

I think that others have noticed this. The character of HAL 9000, for example, at least in part seems to be an exploration of the idea that with consciousness comes the possibility of psychosis. The Marathon series of video games has as a plot element AI's going "rampant." The idea of the nutso computer that goes haywire and kills everybody is a staple of media and has persisted even since people have more experience with computers. The fear of the conscious other in humans may be so strong that nobody will ever be able to force themselves to make it happen.
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Old 16th April 2012, 07:00 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by epepke View Post
That's another option. I don't agree with it, though.
I think the term for being able to generate consciousness in materials other than our own meat computers (brains) is "functionally isomorphic" (although this isn't restricted to AI).

I don't necessarily disagree with it myself but when I studied some AI for my philosophy degree I remember my tutor having to explain that I was mixing up a lot of different concepts. For one thing AI =/= Artificial consciousness which is something that, for some reason, I had simply assumed.

But I also think that it shouldn't be assumed that computers, being repositories of large amounts of knowledge (I think that the techical word for knowledge and intentional objects is content), implies that creating consciousness in them is merely an engineering problem. Human beings are probably repositories of large amounts of knowledge that we are not conscious of on a day to day basis.
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Old 16th April 2012, 08:29 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by angrysoba View Post
I think that sometimes people elide the idea that there is nothing non-physical about consciousness with the idea that consciousness can be easily replicated out of any old junk. But that might not be true.
I've never heard anyone suggest that c. could be replicated easily, or out of old junk.

But, why not a general purpose computer with some very sophisticated programming?
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Old 16th April 2012, 08:38 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by epepke View Post
The character of HAL 9000, for example, at least in part seems to be an exploration of the idea that with consciousness comes the possibility of psychosis.
Doesn't this come down to what emotions are programmed in?

I think our emotions are hard-wired. It looks like the emotional system of rats is inside us, with not much change, and drives our missions in life.

When we'd set up conscious computer systems to control, say, spacecraft like HAL 9000, we have to hard wire emotions that would care as much about the people as about the mission, and would feel guilty if it were to take over. HAL's programmers were stupid to have made the well being of the humans on board subordinate to the science mission.

Of course, there's an assumption here that needs to be examined. Are emotions a required element for consciousness?
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Old 16th April 2012, 08:56 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Mr. Scott View Post
I've never heard anyone suggest that c. could be replicated easily, or out of old junk.

But, why not a general purpose computer with some very sophisticated programming?
Well, I've answered that already, I think.

It is because it might not be possible to make a general purpose computer out of the right stuff.
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Old 16th April 2012, 10:10 PM   #8
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If consciousness is an emergent system, there is no reason to assume it couldn't be constructed from any materials, as long as they can sustain such a system in some way. It could be software in a conventional computer system. Or, it could be some new, exotic form of petroleum molecules connected or partly connected, in just the right way.

It might be possible that some casual or semi-casual separation takes place in certain substances, so that the illusion of a mind disconnected from a body can be maintained. But, there is no need to call upon mysterious substances unknown to science. Conventional substances might do the trick, as long as they are connected, or semi-connected, or intermittedly connected, or whatever, in just the right way.
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Old 16th April 2012, 10:23 PM   #9
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If it just requires the right programming to make HAL have goodwill towards other conscious beings then the whole history of mankind is rubbish.
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Old 16th April 2012, 10:30 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by !Kaggen View Post
If it just requires the right programming to make HAL have goodwill towards other conscious beings then the whole history of mankind is rubbish.
What do you mean? If you meant that literally: I think the history of mankind wouldn't change.

If you meant that as some sort of value statement, that the value of our species would somehow be diminished if we acheived strong AI capable of altrustic behavior: I think you're being very naive.
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Old 16th April 2012, 10:38 PM   #11
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I don't think consciousness has been adequately defined so I prefer to answer thus...

Humans, including brains, are purely physical processes. However, we may not be able to fully replicate them via intelligent design.
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Old 16th April 2012, 10:59 PM   #12
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I've got a degree in computer science, and I think we're just machines. Build the right computer and program it right, and it will be every bit as conscious as you and me.
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Old 16th April 2012, 11:03 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Wowbagger View Post
What do you mean? If you meant that literally: I think the history of mankind wouldn't change.

If you meant that as some sort of value statement, that the value of our species would somehow be diminished if we acheived strong AI capable of altrustic behavior: I think you're being very naive.
We have not achieved 100% altruistic behavior as a conscious species ourselves despite huge amounts of " programming" through research, education, communication and culture. What makes you think there is any possibility of programming 100% altruistic behavior into a conscious machine? Are you suggesting ethics is an objective science which can be mathematically proven? Because without 100% certainty of a conscious machine being altruistic, which conscious human wants to put there lives at risk to a conscious machine with superior brute force?
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Old 16th April 2012, 11:09 PM   #14
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Consciousness might be a background energy field that we tap into, like radio receivers. Perhaps it is carried by the Higgs Boson or the graviton.
Maybe it precedes matter altogether.

I suspect that we know almost nothing on the subject.
It wasn't all that long ago that various ruling classes considered darker skinned people to be lacking in consciousness and other traits of being a human being.

When i was circumcised, it was widely believed that babies didn't feel pain.
My college biology professor tried to convince me that frogs couldn't feel pain.

There still exists an amazing propensity for humans to assume that consciousness resides in their realm only. I doubt we'll ever see straight until we overcome our anthropomorphic chauvinism. Having the crown of creation title is heady stuff, and it pumps up some serious confirmation bias.

Fortunately, other animals have been getting smarter over the years. I've heard that even crows have been solving some problems. They didn't use to solve problems, back in the days when we were focused solely on how to kill them.

Imho, quarks are conscious. The whole shebang is. Philosophy, yes.

How would we go about proving that atoms are not conscious?
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Old 16th April 2012, 11:49 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by quarky View Post
Imho, quarks are conscious. The whole shebang is. Philosophy, yes.

How would we go about proving that atoms are not conscious?
By looking at how we currently recognise consciousness behaviour, and see if they act the same.
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Old 17th April 2012, 12:02 AM   #16
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The poll seems to ignore the theory propounded by Roger Penrose (a gifted mathematician and knowledgeable physicist, but not, I hasten to add, a neurobiologist) that consciousness depends on, erm, quantum.

Now I know you're all groaning at the appearance of that word, but Penrose is not your normal woo. He actually knows what the word means. Probably better than most of us.

I don't personally subscribe to his theory of mind, but I can't dismiss it out of hand (since I'm neither a physicist nor a neurobiologist). His premise is that consciousness can't be mapped onto a Turing machine (general purpose computer, for those of you who aren't in my field) because of, um, well, quantum. I tried to see what he was getting at--I skimmed his best-selling book--but all I could see was an assumption made without any real underlying evidence. But I could have been missing something.

Anyway, my point, I guess, is that any followers of his theory don't really have an option to vote for here. He doesn't really require any new physics or anything (well, aside from the fact that he wants to bring quantum gravity into it for reasons I don't understand), so he doesn't fit into category two, but he definitely doesn't fit into categories one or three either.
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Old 17th April 2012, 12:32 AM   #17
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Also the poll assumes that all physical processes are computable.
The empirical evidence suggests otherwise.
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Old 17th April 2012, 01:09 AM   #18
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Originally Posted by angrysoba View Post
"Consciousness is a kind of data processing and the brain is a machine that can be in principle replicated in other substrates, but general purpose computers are just not made of the right stuff."

The idea that we could make a computer conscious may be as fanciful as thinking we can make trees conscious or that we can make lobsters achieve human-level consciousness.
That would require consciousness to be based on physical processes that cannot be simulated by a computer. But in theory, all physical processes can be simulated by a computer, even quantum processes.

(Except possibly true randomness, but that can be achieved by plugging a true-random number generator card into the machine.)

Hypothetically an ordinary desktop computer, if given enough external memory and the right software, could simulate a human brain right down to the quantum level. (If you don't mind decades or even centuries passing in the real world for every second that passes in the simulation.)

But consciousness isn't the same thing as intelligence. A mouse would probably be conscious, so there would be no need to simulate a human brain to achieve consciousness.

Putting aside grandiose ideas of simulating a physical brain down to the quantum level to one side for the moment, I suspect that it would be possible to create a conscious program small enough to be stored on a DVD and capable of running on an ordinary PC. Of course, it'd be difficult to tell if you'd actually succeeded in generating consciousness without incorporating sufficient AI into the program to communicate coherently with it, and that might not be possible with a program of that size.

My concept of consciousness is basically that of an awareness feedback loop. An aware system (ie, a system capable of observing and analyzing sensory input to develop an understanding of the nature of the source of the sensory input) that possesses an awareness of it's own awareness. (I'm not sure if this description is fully coherent. Let me know if it makes sense to you.)

Originally Posted by !Kaggen View Post
Also the poll assumes that all physical processes are computable.
The empirical evidence suggests otherwise.

Can you provide us with examples of non-computable physical processes?
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Old 17th April 2012, 02:16 AM   #19
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Originally Posted by Brian-M View Post
My concept of consciousness is basically that of an awareness feedback loop. An aware system (ie, a system capable of observing and analyzing sensory input to develop an understanding of the nature of the source of the sensory input) that possesses an awareness of it's own awareness. (I'm not sure if this description is fully coherent. Let me know if it makes sense to you.)
I think I know what you mean but I think the important bit of consciousness is awareness itself. I agree that there is another kind of consciousness where we are conscious of being conscious (or aware of being aware). This form may not apply to mice, cats, dogs and other Dumb Chums and may be a distinctly human (or at least an intelligent mammal/advanced extra-terrestrial thing).

I think Sartre (sorry, I don't like to cite him often but he did seem to give a useful illustration here) called the distinction reflective and irreflective (or maybe pre-reflective) consciousness in Transcendence of the Ego.


Having said that...
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Old 17th April 2012, 02:22 AM   #20
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Originally Posted by quarky View Post
Consciousness might be a background energy field that we tap into, like radio receivers. Perhaps it is carried by the Higgs Boson or the graviton.
Maybe it precedes matter altogether.

I suspect that we know almost nothing on the subject.
It wasn't all that long ago that various ruling classes considered darker skinned people to be lacking in consciousness and other traits of being a human being.

When i was circumcised, it was widely believed that babies didn't feel pain.
My college biology professor tried to convince me that frogs couldn't feel pain.

There still exists an amazing propensity for humans to assume that consciousness resides in their realm only. I doubt we'll ever see straight until we overcome our anthropomorphic chauvinism. Having the crown of creation title is heady stuff, and it pumps up some serious confirmation bias.

Fortunately, other animals have been getting smarter over the years. I've heard that even crows have been solving some problems. They didn't use to solve problems, back in the days when we were focused solely on how to kill them.

Imho, quarks are conscious. The whole shebang is. Philosophy, yes.

How would we go about proving that atoms are not conscious?
Isn't this just emptying out any useful meaning of consciousness?

If we start believing atoms and rocks are conscious isn't still worth asking whether this is the same thing that we humans mean when we usually talk about consciousness?

I think one of the important points about consciousness is that it usually presupposes consciousness of something, an intentional object or some knowledge. It seems to me that some people make the leap from content being necessary for consciousness to content being not far off consciousness. And I think that many people consider computers to be possible or likely candidates for consciousness because they are receptacles of knowledge and can be programmed to do things that seem somewhat human to us.

But I am not sure if that is sufficient.
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Old 17th April 2012, 02:34 AM   #21
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Originally Posted by Brian-M View Post
That would require consciousness to be based on physical processes that cannot be simulated by a computer. But in theory, all physical processes can be simulated by a computer, even quantum processes.
Not so. Quantum observations can be mirrored. This is not necessarily the same as quantum states. It depends what we are actually getting with quantum observations - i.e. is the observation the complete system? If they are the complete system, no problem. If they are not, that could well be a problem.

Compare it to the simple coin toss. We can predict coin toss with probability. However, we know that each individual coin toss is actually the result of a specific physical set of determining factors. Therefore, if you could replay the coin toss exactly, you would always get the same result.

With quantum observations, there is a dispute as to whether they are purely statistical, or whether the observations are the result of differences in (unobserved) physical variables. I'm inclined to go with the latter. Indeed, some clever chaps have convincingly argued that quantum states cannot be interpreted statistically. If they are correct, this could impact on the ability to completely recreate computations that rely on discrete quantum states. We may only be able to mirror the statistical results of the toss, but not the discrete systems behind them.

So, a lot of ifs and buts.

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Old 17th April 2012, 02:53 AM   #22
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Originally Posted by Brian-M View Post
Can you provide us with examples of non-computable physical processes?
The exact weather in London on January 21st 2013.
The exact movement of the NYSE from September 1st 2015 to November 2nd 2015.
The exact yield of wine grapes from the Loire wine region in France in 2012.

You know future physical events which are practically unpredictable.
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Old 17th April 2012, 04:01 AM   #23
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Originally Posted by quarky View Post
Consciousness might be a background energy field that we tap into, like radio receivers. Perhaps it is carried by the Higgs Boson or the graviton.
No.
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Old 17th April 2012, 04:06 AM   #24
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Originally Posted by keyfeatures View Post
I don't think consciousness has been adequately defined so I prefer to answer thus...

Humans, including brains, are purely physical processes. However, we may not be able to fully replicate them via intelligent design.
Huh?
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Old 17th April 2012, 04:24 AM   #25
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Originally Posted by PixyMisa View Post
Huh?

See my next post. In order to recreate physical processes you need to be able to recreate the system that gives rise to them. In the case of quantum events, if there are physical processes that we can only interpret statistically this will hinder being able to recreate the system.
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Old 17th April 2012, 04:30 AM   #26
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Originally Posted by xtifr View Post
The poll seems to ignore the theory propounded by Roger Penrose (a gifted mathematician and knowledgeable physicist, but not, I hasten to add, a neurobiologist) that consciousness depends on, erm, quantum
.... He doesn't really require any new physics or anything (well, aside from the fact that he wants to bring quantum gravity into it for reasons I don't understand), so he doesn't fit into category two, but he definitely doesn't fit into categories one or three either.
The Penrose-Hameroff Orch-OR (orchestrated objective reduction) consciousness theory has been widely criticised and generally found to be a chain of unsupported speculation (e.g. Gaps in Penrose's Toilings). Doesn't mean it can't be true, but there's no good reason to think it might be; it's an unnecessary and unnecessarily speculative hypothesis. There are also good QM reasons to doubt it, e.g. Max Tegmark calculated that quantum decoherence is many orders of magnitude too fast for QM to play a direct role.
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Old 17th April 2012, 04:37 AM   #27
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It seems to me that (with a suitably broad interpretation) both the first and the third option in the poll can be seen as valid from a physicalist viewpoint.

Planet X in the third option could be Earth, the unconscious biological beings could be our distant ancestors, and the conscious machines could be us...

Just a thought
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Old 17th April 2012, 04:53 AM   #28
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Originally Posted by keyfeatures View Post
See my next post. In order to recreate physical processes you need to be able to recreate the system that gives rise to them. In the case of quantum events, if there are physical processes that we can only interpret statistically this will hinder being able to recreate the system.
But it doesn't hinder being able to recreate the behaviour of the system. And consciousness is a behaviour.
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Old 17th April 2012, 05:43 AM   #29
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Originally Posted by angrysoba View Post
I think there may be another option:

"Consciousness is a kind of data processing and the brain is a machine that can be in principle replicated in other substrates, but general purpose computers are just not made of the right stuff."

The idea that we could make a computer conscious may be as fanciful as thinking we can make trees conscious or that we can make lobsters achieve human-level consciousness.

I think that sometimes people elide the idea that there is nothing non-physical about consciousness with the idea that consciousness can be easily replicated out of any old junk. But that might not be true.
That's basically Searle's position. Because of how the brain operates, it seems like consciousness must be a purely information-driven process. However, it is a real, physical phenomenon, and therefore cannot arise just by the pushing around of information.


Now having said that, you could, in principle, simulate the physical phenomena that give rise to consciousness, assuming we ever figure it out, and thus create an unconscious consciousness that otherwise functions perfectly fine.

I think that was actually the point with Lieutenant Ilia in the first Star Trek movie -- they mechanically simulated every single process inside her body, including whatever it was that gave rise to her consciousness, thus there was a (probably not actually conscious) pseudo-consciousness of her operating there in fits and starts that they then took advantage of.
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Old 17th April 2012, 05:57 AM   #30
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There's a thing about consciousness that people don't get. You aren't really conscious and in control. You only think you are. This Horizon episode is well worth watching. It says "only 10 hours left to view", and maybe in some parts of the world you can't view it, but if you can it's well worth it.
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Old 17th April 2012, 06:06 AM   #31
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Originally Posted by PixyMisa View Post
But it doesn't hinder being able to recreate the behaviour of the system. And consciousness is a behaviour.
It would hinder being able to recreate the behaviour of the system. It may or may not hinder being able to recreate the observable behaviour of the system. If you can only see the results of the coin toss and not the mechanism that gives the results, you might not be able to recreate a coin tossing system, only mirror the results.

If you want to define consciousness as a behaviour go ahead. It's currently a meaningless term as far as I can tell.
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Old 17th April 2012, 06:16 AM   #32
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Originally Posted by Beerina View Post
That's basically Searle's position. Because of how the brain operates, it seems like consciousness must be a purely information-driven process. However, it is a real, physical phenomenon, and therefore cannot arise just by the pushing around of information.


Now having said that, you could, in principle, simulate the physical phenomena that give rise to consciousness, assuming we ever figure it out, and thus create an unconscious consciousness that otherwise functions perfectly fine.

I think that was actually the point with Lieutenant Ilia in the first Star Trek movie -- they mechanically simulated every single process inside her body, including whatever it was that gave rise to her consciousness, thus there was a (probably not actually conscious) pseudo-consciousness of her operating there in fits and starts that they then took advantage of.
Yeah, I seem to remember reading John Searle's papers on the Chinese Room and, maybe, something else to do with China in a book edited by Boden. I remember them both being quite difficult but his point was that you can replicate systems in ways in which we simply wouldn't call these things conscious, yet those systems would indeed be doing work. In fact, you can create unconscious and unintelligent systems which are made up of conscious, intelligent components.

I think Searle is one of the big opponents of Dennett.

Penrose too, but for different reasons. I get the impression Penrose is often seen at the "wooish" end of the spectrum whereas Searle is more of a killjoy.
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Old 17th April 2012, 06:24 AM   #33
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Originally Posted by PixyMisa View Post
No.
Whatever?

Its a jive topic.


I simply must fight the inevitable 'humans only' crap regarding awareness and or consciousness. We wouldn't recognize a fully conscious planet if we were sitting on one.
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Old 17th April 2012, 06:41 AM   #34
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Originally Posted by quarky View Post
Whatever?

Its a jive topic.


I simply must fight the inevitable 'humans only' crap regarding awareness and or consciousness. We wouldn't recognize a fully conscious planet if we were sitting on one.

Speak for yourself dude! I, for one, am a fully endowed member of the PIG faith (Pixy Is God). Tell this guy what's what Pixy. Conscious planets! Twaddle.
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Old 17th April 2012, 06:41 AM   #35
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Originally Posted by dlorde View Post
The Penrose-Hameroff Orch-OR (orchestrated objective reduction) consciousness theory has been widely criticised and generally found to be a chain of unsupported speculation (e.g. Gaps in Penrose's Toilings). Doesn't mean it can't be true, but there's no good reason to think it might be; it's an unnecessary and unnecessarily speculative hypothesis. There are also good QM reasons to doubt it, e.g. Max Tegmark calculated that quantum decoherence is many orders of magnitude too fast for QM to play a direct role.
Perhaps somewhat amusingly, I was told:

Quote:
Oops! Internet Explorer could not find gaps in penrose's toilings
So there!

In fact, you put the title in the URL rather than the URL itself.

Here's the link!

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Old 17th April 2012, 06:43 AM   #36
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I was just listening to an interview with E. O. Wilson, who said, "consciousness is what brains do."
Referring, of course, to human brains....
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Old 17th April 2012, 06:46 AM   #37
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Originally Posted by !Kaggen View Post
The exact weather in London on January 21st 2013.
The exact movement of the NYSE from September 1st 2015 to November 2nd 2015.
The exact yield of wine grapes from the Loire wine region in France in 2012.

You know future physical events which are practically unpredictable.
Prediction is a different realm than computability because of chaos theory. A computer can simulate the weather, the stock exchange, and wine yields. That it can't predict the future EXACTLY is a red herring.
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Old 17th April 2012, 06:49 AM   #38
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Originally Posted by annnnoid View Post
Speak for yourself dude! I, for one, am a fully endowed member of the PIG faith (Pixy Is God). Tell this guy what's what Pixy. Conscious planets! Twaddle.
Oh Gaia!
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Old 17th April 2012, 07:13 AM   #39
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Originally Posted by xtifr View Post
The poll seems to ignore the theory propounded by Roger Penrose (a gifted mathematician and knowledgeable physicist, but not, I hasten to add, a neurobiologist) that consciousness depends on, erm, quantum.
I classify Penrose's hypothesis as quantum woo -- a special substance unjustifiably given scientific sheen by use of that Q word. In my analysis, arguments for quantum consciousness distill to arguments from ignorance. They basically say, "I don't know how neurons and synapses as simple switches can collectively produce consciousness, so each must be a quantum computer."

So far, I've seen no evidence that neurons are more than simple switches and need gazillions of internal quantum switches. A paramecium doesn't need a supercomputer to get around obstacles. I've written computer programs that let entities defeat obstacles in ways that really appear conscious, but in fact use simple algorithms.

From Quantum Consciousness:


Figure 3. Single cell paramecium can swim and avoid obstacles using its cytoskeleton.

PS: I love how they drew the paramecium to look like it has a face, frowning from its struggle against the obstacle. See how subtle appeals to emotion can be?

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Old 17th April 2012, 07:38 AM   #40
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Originally Posted by !Kaggen View Post
We have not achieved 100% altruistic behavior as a conscious species ourselves despite huge amounts of " programming" through research, education, communication and culture. What makes you think there is any possibility of programming 100% altruistic behavior into a conscious machine? Are you suggesting ethics is an objective science which can be mathematically proven? Because without 100% certainty of a conscious machine being altruistic, which conscious human wants to put there lives at risk to a conscious machine with superior brute force?
This programming for 100% altruistic behavior fails because it goes against our evolved nature, like our programming for healthy eating fails against our imperfectly evolved tastes.

We'd simply program HAL to be nice to people and follow Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics. It wouldn't be rocket science
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