• bert1
    1.8k
    As a panpsychist I have been asked a few times for evidence of consciousness in rocks and other such objects. I (somewhat anti-socially) did not answer these requests in much detail because it is a complex issue and needed its own thread.

    We're familiar with TV crime dramas. We have a suspect we think may have done a murder. Why do we think that? We have some evidence. And we are seeking more evidence in order to obtain more certainty on the matter. So what might we look for? In the case of this crime, we might look for:

    - a dead body
    - proximity of people to that body in time and space
    - a report on the cause of death
    - fingerprints on the crime scene
    - alibis
    - motive
    - opportunity
    - DNA

    ...etc. All the usual stuff.

    Now apply this to consciousness. I have accused two things of being conscious. A rock and a human being. What are we going to look for as evidence of consciousness in (a) a rock, and (b) a human?

    (I will have a go at answering this myself, I just didn't want to queer the pitch for everyone by pre-empting any particular approach - I'm interested in any way of tackling this.)
  • Patterner
    386
    As I said elsewhere, I'm not aware of any macro-characteristics that cannot be reduced to micro properties. We aren't dumbfounded by the existence of liquidity, solidity, flight, pressure, etc., etc. When we break things down, big structures to smaller structures, eventually to particles - or processes to sub-processes, eventually to the particles involved in the smallest processes - we understand how the properties of the particles are the foundation of the specific macro we're looking at.

    I don't have reason to think the macro-processes of consciousness is not reducible in the same way. But we can't figure out what the responsible micro-property is. I don't see how any combination of physical processes become aware of anything, much less their own awareness, or have subjective experience, due to the various properties of particles and fundamental forces. The existence and function of the physical processes can be explained, but how it is that they are something other than physical processes can't. Feedback loops are physical processes, and we can explain any of them with physics. We have created countless feedback loops in our inventions. There's no reason to think adding more of them to any system would make the system other than a physical system simply because it now has more physical feedback loops.

    We cannot detect consciousness with our senses, or the devices we've built to enhance our senses. We can detect parts of the brain that correspond to various aspects of consciousness and various types of thinking. But we don't look at those brain scans and see consciousness. No physicist would look at them and say, "What the heck is this??? Above and beyond the physics taking place, something else is going on!"

    Yet the consciousness is there. It is not detectable or explainable by the particles and forces we can perceive with our senses or devices. So it's possible there are things our senses and devices can't perceive that are the foundation of this imperceptible macro-characteristic. It makes sense that we can't perceive the micro-properties.
  • Watchmaker
    68
    I know that it's almost impossible to pin down a definition, but my current one I think is quite simple: The most fundamental unit of consciousness is a reflection of the outside from on the inside, and vice versa. There is an " in here" and an "out there".

    I do not have any idea of where evidence could be found though.
  • Tom Storm
    8.1k
    We're familiar with TV crime dramas. We have a suspect we think may have done a murder. Why do we think that? We have some evidence. And we are seeking more evidence in order to obtain more certainty on the matter. So what might we look for? In the case of this crime, we might look for:

    - a dead body
    - proximity of people to that body in time and space
    - a report on the cause of death
    - fingerprints on the crime scene
    - alibis
    - motive
    - opportunity
    - DNA

    ...etc. All the usual stuff.
    bert1

    Hmm. Is a TV crime drama a useful analogy? These are often written and directed to highlight certain things about the suspects and manipulate an audience - false leads, clues and behaviours specifically filmed and constructed to deceive and take you in a direction. This is not like ordinary evidence, it is contrived to elicit a response. Maybe true crime would be a better analogy? Or maybe crime is not useful at all. Perhaps what you are saying can be made more simple - what are the key indicators of consciousness? How do we determine if something has consciousness?
  • bert1
    1.8k
    So it's possible there are things our senses and devices can't perceive that are the foundation of this imperceptible macro-characteristic. It makes sense that we can't perceive the micro-properties.Patterner

    Righto, OK, thanks. That sounds like you are open to the possibility of panpsychism. Is that right? It also sounds like you might be a mysterian like McGinn, perhaps: the idea that we can never know exactly how physical processes cause or constitute consciousness, while nevertheless accepting that they do.
  • bert1
    1.8k
    Hmm. Is a TV crime drama a useful analogy? These are written and directed to highlight certain things about the suspects and manipulate an audience - false leads, clues and behaviours specifically filmed and constructed to take you in a direction. This is not like ordinary evidence, in is contrived to elicit a response. Maybe true crime would be a better analogy? Or maybe crime is not useful at all. Perhaps what you are saying can be made more simple - what are the key indicators of consciousness? How do we determine if something has consciousness?Tom Storm

    Well yes, I did wonder if my framing was not helpful. I gave it because I was specifically asked for "evidence". So I drew the first analogy that came to mind. Evidence appears in other contexts, but crime is the most obvious one. I shouldn't have framed it in terms of fiction, I should have stuck to real life to avoid your criticism about contrivance. True crime would be better, and that's really what I meant.

    Broadly I guess it's a reframing of the problem of other minds, and possibly the problem of one's own mind as well.

    I was going to write a different OP titled something like "Is there any theory-neutral evidence for consciousness?" but I thought that would narrow the discussion too much. But perhaps it would have been better. With murder, we have a fairly clear concept of what a murder is. That concept then determines what we admit as evidence. So, a bloody dagger found in a bush near a dead body may very well be the kind of thing that would be evidence of a murder. But an observation of a wobble of a star wouldn't be evidence of murder at all. However the observation of the wobble of a star might well be evidence of a planetary orbit, and the dagger is totally irrelevant. So what we admit as evidence is determined by a whole load of definition and theory. In the case of murder, a statutory definition (or common law depending on jurisdiction). For the wobbly star, there's a whole load of background theory that makes the wobble relevant. For example, we need a concept of gravity, and circular orbits, and mass, and the sky as having depth and not like a 2D firmament, etc etc.

    But with consciousness, what do we use to determine what to admit as evidence? Do we look in dictionaries for definitions? Well, I think we should. That will help. But people typically don't do that, and that's really weird. They think definitions are up for grabs. They're not really, not unless we want to invent a technical term. And some definitions, like the Glasgow Coma Scale (thanks to @Banno) make the job really easy. It tells us exactly what to look for. But of course that doesn't capture the sense of 'consciousness' implicated in debates about subjective phenomenal experience. There are dictionary definitions of phenomenal consciousness, e.g.:

    "the fact of awareness by the mind of itself and the world"

    ...there's lots of variations on the theme. And they tend to heavily employ synonyms, which is interestingly uninformative. Such definitions don't really help much when trying to decide what to admit as evidence. So with phenomenal consciousness, do we need to move beyond definition to theory to know what to admit as evidence? I rather think we do. Taking panpsychism for example, my view is that matter does what it does because of how it feels. Regardless of the truth of that, it does provide a criterion for determining what to admit as evidence. Is that stone conscious? Well, is it doing something? Yes, it's energy-matter behaving in a rockish-way. That action is evidence of its consciousness, but only if we assume panpsychism first! But that's no good is it? When @apokrisis and @180 Proof ask me for evidence, what they want is evidence that doesn't pre-suppose panpsychism! They want a reason to believe it that doesn't pre-suppose it. Similarly, if we look for the presence of brains as evidence of consciousness, that assumes a theory, namely that consciousness has something critical to do with brains. So that led me to try to think of evidence that doesn't pre-suppose any theory at all. And the only single piece of evidence that did not imply a whole load of argument and theory, was the fact that I am conscious. I know I am, regardless of any theoretical commitments (and I know some will question even that).

    So, with regard to a rock and another human being, is there any theory neutral evidence to be had?

    @fdrake
    @Michael
  • bert1
    1.8k
    I know that it's almost impossible to pin down a definition, but my current one I think is quite simple: The most fundamental unit of consciousness is a reflection of the outside from on the inside, and vice versa. There is an " in here" and an "out there".Watchmaker

    I quite like that. Is it a definition or a theory? if you were a lexicographer, would you consider writing that in your dictionary you are authoring?
  • T Clark
    13k
    As a panpsychist I have been asked a few times for evidence of consciousness in rocks and other such objects.bert1

    Not being a panpsychist, looking for consciousness in inanimate objects is not something I would normally do, but since you brought it up... It seems clear to me the idea of consciousness originated to refer to a human mental process. There have been lots of attempts to observe similar mental processes in other animals, with some success. What success there has been has come from comparing animals behavior with human behavior and inferring similar mental processes. How would that work with non-living entities? I don't know. It seems to me your job would be to show how what we recognize as consciousness in humans is also observable in rocks.

    I think that's what's required - start by defining consciousness in humans and then show how that criteria is applicable elsewhere. To make that work, seems to me you have to either 1) show that rocks have mental processes or 2) show that consciousness in humans is not a mental process at all. If you can't do that, you should just come up with a different name for the process you're describing.
  • bert1
    1.8k
    Not being a panpsychist, looking for consciousness in inanimate objects is not something I would normally do, but since you brought it up... It seems clear to me the idea of consciousness originated to refer to a human mental process.T Clark

    Maybe, but even that sentence is theory-laden. It's stipulating it's a process. And I'm doubtful that earliest thinkers about consciousness did necessarily restrict it to human beings. If we're going to start somewhere, I suspect it's not processes in human beings - that's a way down the road. The starting point is my awareness. If I wasn't aware I wouldn't even suspect other people of being guilty of it.
  • T Clark
    13k
    Maybe, but even that sentence is theory-laden. It's stipulating it's a process.bert1

    True.

    If we're going to start somewhere, I suspect it's not processes in human beings - that's a way down the road. The starting point is my awareness.bert1

    That makes sense. Now I guess you're going to show us how what we experience as awareness can be observed in rocks.
  • Tom Storm
    8.1k
    I should have stuck to real life to avoid your criticism about contrivance. True crime would be better, and that's really what I meant.bert1

    :up:

    Ture crime is fine, but as I said you are just asking what are the key indicators of consciousness. Not sure your enquiry requires much more elaboration than that.

    I was going to write a different OP titled something like "Is there any theory-neutral evidence for consciousness?"bert1

    Can you give me an example of theory neutral evidence?

    But with consciousness, what do we use to determine what to admit as evidence? Do we look in dictionaries for definitions? Well, I think we should. That will help. But people typically don't do that, and that's really weird.bert1

    I'm not sure what constitutes consciousness in human beings (except in a trivial sense) let alone inanimate objects.

    To make that work, seems to me you have to either 1) show that rocks have mental processes or 2) show that consciousness in humans is not a mental process at all. If you can't do that, you should just come up with a different name for the process you're describing.T Clark

    Yes, that's kind of where I was going to go. Possibly stuck between Rupert Sheldrake and Daniel Dennett. :wink:
  • bert1
    1.8k
    Now I guess you're going to show us how what we experience as awareness can be observed in rocks.T Clark

    Unfortunately not! If it were that easy the philosophy of mind would be over long ago. But we (perhaps) infer consciousness in other humans from their behaviour. But rocks also exhibit behaviour. It's not clear to me why the behaviour of rocks should not also evidence of consciousness.
  • creativesoul
    11.4k
    What are we going to look for as evidence of consciousness in (a) a rock, and (b) a human?bert1

    Well generally speaking...

    We could look for some common denominator or set thereof between humans and rocks, such that it is solely by virtue of having those commonalities(whatever they may be) that both rocks and humans can be rightly called "conscious entities".

    In short, we would need to arrive at a minimum criterion for what counts as consciousness, such that any and all candidates under consideration which meet that minimum criterion could be sensibly called "conscious"...
  • creativesoul
    11.4k
    ...with consciousness, what do we use to determine what to admit as evidence?bert1

    Well, we could always start by carefully analyzing known conscious creatures as a means for determining what it is about them, specifically, that causes them to have meaningful conscious experiences. Makes perfect sense to me for us to start by looking at ourselves...

    Then we could also look at examples of humans who are still alive, but not conscious in the sense we're discussing here, and take note of the differences.

    The evidence clearly shows that severe brain trauma affects/effects human consciousness. If it's severe enough, there's evidence(or lack thereof) that clearly leads us to conclude that the subject under consideration no longer has the same sort of meaningful conscious experiences that we typically generalize under "consciousness".

    The obvious take away is that - at the very least - there's certain biological machinery required.
  • creativesoul
    11.4k
    The biological machinery includes a complex central nervous system, replete with sensory organs and a brain. That much is clear because when those components are damaged enough, the result is a human that is alive, but no longer capable of having meaningful conscious experiences that they once did.

    The conclusion regarding consciousness in humans and rocks...

    Some humans no longer have what it takes, and rocks never did.
  • creativesoul
    11.4k
    To answer the question posed in the thread title directly...

    What constitutes evidence of consciousness?

    (Very roughly)The ability to draw meaningful correlations between different things.
  • fdrake
    5.8k
    I'd guess the following style of inference would work for it:

    "What behaviours must an entity exhibit that renders consciousness the most plausible explanation for them?"

    That's an ampliative inference - fallible, non-deductive. Sometimes called inference to the best explanation.

    The inference would need to be fallible because behaviour is only a proxy of internal constitution, even if behavioural observations were error free. The inference would need to be non-deductive as a set of necessary and sufficient conditions for a being to be conscious is not forthcoming; the concept is likely a cluster concept (also see here). Further, no behaviour strictly entails any internal state absent a background theory which fills in the gaps.

    If we'd need to infer something is conscious, I can thus think of no better criterion than its behaviour compelling us to treat it as if it were conscious over a suitably large subset of concepts in the consciousness cluster.

    1 ) Capability of exhibiting an "internal state", there needs to be some part of its material constitution that has representational capacity. A computer has transistors that store bits which symbolically relate to patterns, which form content of that state. Patterns of neuronal firing can take the same role.
    2 ) Capability of modifying the material bearers of its "internal state" in response to environmental changes. A computer would need a sensor of some kind inputting numbers. A cell would need a chemoreceptor. This means capability of recognising a difference, storing it, and responding to it (being the site of a difference that makes a difference).
    3 ) Individuation from an environment; the thing must work as a system unto itself without changing its essential constitution. EG, if you remove a water droplet from a cloud, it could be rain or steam - so this would fail. If you remove a chimp from a tree, it remains a chimp.
    4 ) Homeostasis. The system should regulate itself. Bonus points if the system regulates itself in a manner that the internal state informs.
    4 ) Habit of reporting its internal state. A computer read out, a human saying "I feel good today"
    6 ) Exploratory habits. A bee's foraging, a human's eye movements. The thing should be seeking out causal nexuses in its environment - flowers, movements.
    7 ) Expressions - predictable responses to stimuli that are identifiable with internal states ("owwie" for pain eg, an error message when you run syntactically incorrect code).
    8 ) A habit of the experimenters taking an intentional stance toward the thing's behaviour would help.

    Hopefully this is indicative of methodology and method. Just a hot take.
  • Tom Storm
    8.1k
    Sounds good.

    How do you think these 8 points sit with identifying panpsychism?
  • bert1
    1.8k
    How do you think these 8 points sit with identifying panpsychism?Tom Storm

    Oh it's a disaster for panpsychism!

    Great post from fdrake though, many thanks.
  • jgill
    3.5k
    Arguments about panpsychism can easily devolve into mere word play. If one introduces behavior as a kind of corollary of consciousness one must contend with the notion that things like glass possess behaviors when acted upon by various forces and environments: A behavior of glass is it melts at high temperatures. When I pick up a rock and drop it, it falls as behavior when subjected to gravity. If I heat the rock it may crack at a certain temperature - according to its patterns of behavior.
  • Patterner
    386
    So it's possible there are things our senses and devices can't perceive that are the foundation of this imperceptible macro-characteristic. It makes sense that we can't perceive the micro-properties.
    — Patterner

    Righto, OK, thanks. That sounds like you are open to the possibility of panpsychism. Is that right? It also sounds like you might be a mysterian like McGinn, perhaps: the idea that we can never know exactly how physical processes cause or constitute consciousness, while nevertheless accepting that they do.
    bert1

    I am definitely open to panpsychism. Although, if I understand the terms, I would say panprotopsychism. I don’t think every particle is conscious. But I think it’s possible that proto-consciousness is a property of every particle.

    I will have to Google mysterian and McGinn.
  • Philosophim
    2k
    I am currently addressing this here https://thephilosophyforum.com/discussion/14370/subjective-and-objective-consciousness if you want to join in. I don't want to spread the same topic to multiple threads out of respect to the forum.
  • RogueAI
    2.3k
    It's an insolvable problem. The only thing we can be sure of is our own consciousness. For the longest time, it was also a trivial problem, but now we have Ai's with human level abilities, and it's not so trivial anymore.
  • Patterner
    386

    I googled. No, I am not a mysterian. You never know.

    Wikipedia says Thomas Nagel is a mysterian, but says citation needed. I'd like to see that citation.
  • jgill
    3.5k
    I had a chat with Bing AI, asking if a rock has consciousness. It gave a well-reasoned reply, but ended by asking me if I believed a rock has consciousness. Wise ass robot.
  • bert1
    1.8k
    In short, we would need to arrive at a minimum criterion for what counts as consciousness, such that any and all candidates under consideration which meet that minimum criterion could be sensibly called "conscious"...creativesoul

    Right. That's pretty much the conclusion I came to, I think. So we need a definition, or theory, to guide what we are looking for. And then the stuff we find when looking constitutes evidence. Is that right?

    So to take your "The ability to draw meaningful correlations between different things," I think is your definition/concept/theory of consciousness. And then if something, say ChatGPT, appears to draw meaningful correlations between things, then that is evidence that it is conscious. Am I following you?

    Thank you for trying to tackle the question directly.
  • Watchmaker
    68
    I quite like that. Is it a definition or a theory? if you were a lexicographer, would you consider writing that in your dictionary you are authoring?bert1

    Well, it's a definition I had yesterday. It may not be suitable for a dictionary, but perhaps add it to a daily definition of consciousness app for phones.
  • bert1
    1.8k
    I'd guess the following style of inference would work for it:

    "What behaviours must an entity exhibit that renders consciousness the most plausible explanation for them?"

    That's an ampliative inference - fallible, non-deductive. Sometimes called inference to the best explanation.
    fdrake

    Yes, I agree in general. However I wasn't asked for arguments, I was asked for evidence, and that's what I want this thread to be primarily about. And it may be a short thread as a result. Regarding the substantive issues about the nature of consciousness, arguments and analysis do a hell of a lot more useful work than evidence does.

    Anyway, from the responses I'm not sure there's much of an issue. It does seem like we need definitions and theories in order to determine what we admit as evidence.

    Can you give me an example of theory neutral evidence?Tom Storm

    I'm not sure I can. There may be no such thing, unless it is the world at large, which any true theory must be consistent with. Thoughts on this are very welcome. The one bit of theory neutral-evidence I can think of is exactly related to consciousness, and that is the insight that I am conscious. That thought has minimal content. The more complex the observation, or perception about the world, the more theory-laden it becomes, perhaps. For example, observing condensation on a window is theory-laden. Even observing water on the inside of a window is theory-laden - you're assuming it's water.

    So perhaps the punchline here is: we should allow theory-laden evidence. It's no problem. So if I say the evidence for panpsychism is anything at all happening, that's OK. I haven't done an illegal move. But that evidence is not at all persuasive, as it is prima-facie consistent with non-panpsychist views as well. What a panpsychist needs is not evidence of panpsychism, there's an overabundance of that, but a priori reasons for taking panpsychism seriously as a theoretical competitor with more popular theories that also purport to explain the same body of evidence. And arguments are indeed what panpsychists offer. When justifying their view panpsychists make arguments, they don't say "There is no matter that isn't doing something, therefore panpsychism." They make arguments such as the argument from the non-vagueness of consciousness, or the argument from parsimony, or the argument from idealism, or whatever.

    Further, no behaviour strictly entails any internal state absent a background theory which fills in the gaps.fdrake

    Yes, that seems right.

    the concept is likely a cluster concept (also see here).fdrake

    I strongly disagree with this! Or at least, if this is true, we as philosophers of consciousness are fucked. Cluster-fucked you might say. It seems clear to me that consciousness is not a single cluster concept, but one word with several distinct meanings. A topic in itself perhaps and well worth a thread if someone can be arsed.
  • fdrake
    5.8k
    I strongly disagree with this! Or at least, if this is true, we as philosophers of consciousness are fucked. Cluster-fucked you might say. It seems clear to me that consciousness is not a single cluster concept, but one word with several distinct meanings. A topic in itself perhaps and well worth a thread if someone can be arsed.bert1

    Interested in why you strongly disagree with consciousness being a cluster concept. There seem to be a lot of types of conscious states that have radically different qualities, but we'd call all of them conscious. That to me connotes approaching the idea as a fuzzy unity of overlapping things, which can be disambiguated as needed based on the context. In my mind that's a cluster concept.

    Have you checked out any of Thomas Metzinger's work on classifying awarenesses (also @Wayfarer , you'd probably get something out of his "neuro-Buddhism")
  • Tom Storm
    8.1k
    Thoughts on this are very welcome. The one bit of theory neutral-evidence I can think of is exactly related to consciousness, and that is the insight that I am conscious.bert1

    I generally suspect that all our ideas exist in a web of relationships alongside other ideas, so everything is what it is by virtue of its relation to everything else. You can't isolate anything in its 'purity' because it exists entirely in those relationships.

    I am not as confident as you in variations of 'I think therefore I am'. Do I know it is me doing the thinking? I've worked with many people who have schizophrenia, who experience thought insertion and voices. They are often not sure whose consciousness they are aware of. What are my thoughts? If pressed, the best I can say is there is thinking. I hope it's me. :wink: Common sense - which may be more useful than philosophy - tells me I am conscious. But so what?
bold
italic
underline
strike
code
quote
ulist
image
url
mention
reveal
youtube
tweet
Add a Comment