• khaled
    1k
    I don't understand why. But the vast majority of people I talk to take it as a given that:

    A) humans are conscious (not just me)
    B) animals are conscious
    C) machines are not conscious (no matter how complex)
    D) inanimate objects are not conscious

    And I'm baffled because I see no explanation for any of these. In fact, I think if you accept A, then B,C and D shouldn't even make sense. What makes THIS assortment of molecules (humans) conscious where THAT one isn't (machines, inanimate objects). If you exclude supernatural explanations (souls and the like) then you see that humans are nothing more than date processing, self duplicating biological machines. To assume that these biological machines are conscious whereas mechanical ones are not seems downright unreasonable to me. Do people that think this believe that consciousness is inherent in carbon atoms but not silicon? If so are hunks of coal conscious? Can anyone please explain logically why B, C and D are true or not?
  • Possibility
    661
    If you exclude supernatural explanations (souls and the like) then you see that humans are nothing more than date processing, self duplicating biological machines.khaled

    You seem to base your reasoning on this observation, but how are you so sure the statement is true? Can you be certain that what you see is all there is?

    Surely to assume that humans are ‘nothing more’ than what they see is equally unreasonable.
  • Shamshir
    856
    It's not that the latter are not conscious, but that they are conscious in a different way.

    In the physical sense of things:
    Humans and animals are similar.
    Humans and machines less so.
    Humans and inanimate objects even less so.
  • sime
    413
    Compare the following statements

    A: "Such and such is consciousness"
    B: "I can relate to such and such".

    Notice that nobody disagrees with you whenever you use B in a situation, because they tend to view B as an assertion you are making about yourself, rather than an assertion you are making about 'such and such' in itself.

    On the other hand, whenever you say A in a situation, people normally interpret it to be an objective assertion you are making about 'such and such' in itself, regardless of whatever personal feelings and intuitions you harbor towards such and such.

    In my opinion, this common realist belief that A and B refer to different things, which is itself a consequence of assuming an ontological distinction between subject and object, is the root cause of philosophical skepticism about the existence of other minds.
  • Relativist
    862
    The key question is: what is consciousness?.

    Philosophy of mind discusses a variety of aspects of consciousness, such as the holding of beliefs, intentionality, qualia,... and there's no evidence of such things being present in objects other than organisms with brains. However, if you believe in some form of dualism, I see no reason to rule out minds being attached to anything.
  • bert1
    312
    Do people that think this believe that consciousness is inherent in carbon atoms but not silicon? If so are hunks of coal conscious? Can anyone please explain logically why B, C and D are true or not?khaled

    I think that typically, the line is drawn somewhere between B and C (or perhaps C and D for some) not because of what the systems are made of but because of what they can do. Functionalists typically say that thinking, knowing, feeling, perceiving, are things that brains can do but other kinds of systems cannot. Their evidence for this seems to be that when we knock out certain functions in the brain then corresponding subjective capabilities disappear, for example, we lose consciousness altogether when whacked in the head. The IIT theory of consciousness draws the line in a different place. It says a system is conscious and is only conscious if it integrates information. Brains integrate lots of information, and so are the most conscious systems. Simple atoms and molecules integrate minimal information, and so are minimally conscious. If there were a system that integrated no information, it would not be conscious.

    However,

    To assume that these biological machines are conscious whereas mechanical ones are not seems downright unreasonable to me.khaled

    ...I agree with you. I think attempts to draw lines (either sharp or fuzzy) in nature separating the conscious from the non-conscious involve conceptual errors.
  • Wayfarer
    8.7k
    THIS assortment of moleculeskhaled

    Not an assortment, an arrangement. And what arranges them? It is customary to believe nowadays that this arrangement is something that just falls out of the rules that govern molecules - but is it? That account was arrived at by dividing the whole being into two halves - mind and body - and then declaring that the former is dependent on the latter, and that molecules themselves are the ground of agency. That is philosophical materialism - one of the reigning myths of modernity.

    If you exclude supernatural explanations....khaled

    I would suggest that we generally don’t understand what ‘supernatural’ refers to, other than in the sense determined by social custom and tradition. But that we longer have adequate metaphors for conceptualising such ideas, so the metaphor of ‘mechanism’ prevails. But it’s only a metaphor; beings are not literally devices or machines; you’re actually running up against the inherent limitations of that metaphor, i.e. you can sense that it’s inadequate, but you can’t see an alternative.

    That’s what I think you’re dealing with.
  • whollyrolling
    427


    Because the idea that consciousness is exclusive to humans gratifies yearning and fear, in relation to the unknown, creating an illusion of intrinsic meaning and leading even to an unwarranted feeling of euphoria. It gratifies our egoism and supports our ancient concept of creationism, of which even the most steadfast skeptic doesn't want to let go.

    I believe that if a machine is able to convince us that it's conscious, it's approximately the same as a human convincing us of their consciousness.

    It also seems that we are comprised of so much inanimate material, and so many microorganisms, that we should query more thoroughly into their involvement in our "consciousness", or at least into the supportive biological system(s) we claim consciousness inhabits.

    I was considering starting a new thread about free will and consciousness today, but not many respond to my threads, so here we are.

    I've been wondering how we determine which species have consciousness and which species don't and how we feel we've securely established such egoistic claims concerning our importance in the grand scheme of things. How does my dog not have free will, or fish, or bacteria? Why have we drawn a line in the sand between ourselves and literally everything else we can observe and said to ourselves "we're the only thing of any intrinsic consequence"? It's a bit stupid, to say the least.
  • SteveKlinko
    395
    We Humans say we have Consciousness, but we don't really know what Consciousness is. We won't be able to say too much about the Consciousness of B, C, and D until we understand what the Consciousness of A is. I like to emphasize Conscious Sensory experiences like the perception of Color and specifically the perception of the color Red. What is the Redness of Red as a Conscious Experience? Hint: It has nothing to do with 680nm Electromagnetic phenomena. Just ponder the Redness in and of itself apart from the Physical phenomenon. I think that, when we can understand just one tiny aspect of our Consciousness, then we will understand it all.
  • andrewk
    2.1k
    I have panpsychic leanings, so am inclined to agree with your conclusion that if all humans are conscious then everything is conscious.

    However there is no logical problem with believing, as Descartes did, that only humans are conscious. Descartes believed that a human was made of a body - atoms as you describe it - and a spirit, which we do not have the means to detect. It is the spirit that gives consciousness, and he believed the spirit was injected into the body by God.

    There are also non-theistic hypotheses about consciousness, such as Emergence - when atoms achieve a certain special arrangement, consciousness arises.

    Part of the problem in the OP comes from taking a reductive approach to life - saying that describing the atoms that make up a living organism is exhaustive.
  • khaled
    1k
    no to assume they ARE more than what you see and to assume everything else is not more than what it seems is hypocritical, egotistical and unreasonable. It's more reasonable to treat everything as a lump of particles with or without a soul. There is no reason to assume we're so special
  • khaled
    1k
    that's more what I'm thinking but most people would laugh at conscious rocks.
  • khaled
    1k
    I would suggest that we generally don’t understand what ‘supernatural’ refers to, other than in the sense determined by social custom and tradition. But that we longer have adequate metaphors for conceptualising such ideas, so the metaphor of ‘mechanism’ prevails. But it’s only a metaphor; beings are not literally devices or machines; you’re actually running up against the inherent limitations of that metaphor, i.e. you can sense that it’s inadequate, but you can’t see an alternative.Wayfarer

    Did you read Philosophy in the flesh? Because that sounds exactly like it. But still, you haven't offered an alternative metaphor and haven't answered my question
  • khaled
    1k
    Part of the problem in the OP comes from taking a reductive approach to life - saying that describing the atoms that make up a living organism is exhaustiveandrewk

    The reason I say that is just to be fair. We describe only the atoms that make up machines, animals and inanimate objects, detect no "spirit", then we use that to conclude that they have no consciousness. In the meantime we can't detect a spirit in ourselves and yet see no problem asserting that we're conscious. That's hypocritical and downright stupid to me
  • andrewk
    2.1k

    We directly detect our own consciousness. There is no supposition going on there.

    The supposition first starts when we use the observation that other humans seem to be very similar organisms to ourselves, to assume that they also have consciousness. We take a further step to do that with various non-human animals, based on shared characteristics that are deemed to be relevant, such as a brain and nervous system. That sounds pretty reasonable to me, although it is well-understood that the presence of consciousness in others cannot be proven.

    So I don't think we do describe other humans and animals only in terms of their bodies. We also assume they have consciousness. I suspect we spend more time talking and thinking about the conscious feelings and beliefs of other humans and non-human animals than we do about the activities of their bodies.
  • Janus
    8.5k
    "Conscious" is an ambivalent term. On some definitions animals are of course conscious. Other definitions take consciousness to be synonymous with the kind of self-reflexive consciousness that humans apparently possess.

    The question would then be whether such a consciousness is possible only on account of being a suitably competent symbolic language user, and whether some other animals, presuming that they are not symbolic language competent, nonetheless may be self-reflectively aware.

    When it comes to machines, the question would be about affective response and its role in being able to intuit context; in other words as to whether it is possible to be consciousness in the self-reflective sense, or for that matter any other sense, if nothing matters to you.
  • Shamshir
    856

    If it's any consolation, they laughed at man flying. And now aeroplanes are quite mundane.

    A bit off-topic:
    People also laugh at the idea of flight in ancient times.
    Even though the Quimbaya Airplanes have been tested and the Nazca Lines seem to mimic 'modern' trails left in the sky.

    Just goes to show, humanity is one foot dragging the other.
  • Possibility
    661
    ↪Shamshir that's more what I'm thinking but most people would laugh at conscious rocks.khaled

    I don’t believe a rock is conscious, BUT I do think that there is some degree of consciousness at a molecular and/or perhaps even subatomic level. While a rock has no sense of being a rock, it consists of molecules that interact and exchange energy/information with their surroundings - they are individually ‘aware’ of something more than this, here and now, at least - even if only in each fleeting, indistinct moment.

    As for your description of humans as ‘data processing, self-replicating biological machines’, while I agree that we are nothing more than other animals except perhaps a more developed system, I would argue that the biological system itself is more elaborately interconnected, and therefore potentially aware of itself, than any one machine. A digital system, however, may be another story.

    I think the question of how chemistry interacts with information processing might be worth exploring here. Non-living molecules seem to process information uni-dimensionally (they simply internalise it), whereas living molecules process the same information bi-dimensionally - that is, they can relate information to other information, leading them to internalise it in a different way, and eventually to distinguish between instances of that, there and then, and build a ‘picture’ of their environment.

    I have nothing to back this up, mind you. Unfortunately I don’t know enough about chemistry, biology or information theory to either confirm or deny these wild speculations I have. If someone more knowledgeable could set me straight or point me towards studies in this area, I’d appreciate it...
  • Terrapin Station
    13.8k
    We know that we're (as individuals) conscious because of our first-person experience. We know from a lot of evidence that consciousness is a property of our brains. It's some combination of the exact materials, the structure they're in (the relations of the materials), and the way our brains function (processes of/in our brains, changing relations in other words).

    We infer, via induction, that things other than ourselves are probably conscious, relative to their material/functional and behavioral similarities to ourselves. So it's a pretty safe bet that other humans are conscious. Re other animals, the more different they are in terms of brains and behavior, the less comfortable we are assuming that they might have anything like our consciousness.

    With computers, robots, etc., we're able to program some at least superficially similar behavior, but materially, they're very different. So it's not going to be clear at what point, if any, it would make any sense to attribute consciousness to computers or robots.
  • bert1
    312
    We know from a lot of evidence that consciousness is a property of our brains.Terrapin Station

    Could you give an example of the evidence?
  • bert1
    312
    Thanks, that's interesting research. I'd be interested to know what the 42 different elements of human thought are. I'm not sure what general conclusions about consciousness we can draw from it though. Let's charitably assume that these brain events are both necessary and sufficient for the corresponding subjective thoughts to occur. That does not entail a more general conclusion, though. It doesn't follow that all subjective experiences are dependent on a functioning brain, for example. A rock's experiences are presumably similarly correlated with its own internal processes. We have not discovered what it is about brains that entails that only brains can have experiences, and nothing else can. We may (or may not) have discovered that a human brain can only have experiences if it is intact and functioning in the normal way, i.e. it is verily a brain, but likewise we can say a rock can only have experiences if it is, verily, a rock. How do we make this split? Can more examples help?
  • numberjohnny5
    179
    It doesn't follow that all subjective experiences are dependent on a functioning brain, for example. A rock's experiences are presumably similarly correlated with its own internal processes. We have not discovered what it is about brains that entails that only brains can have experiences, and nothing else can.bert1

    Brains are made of different materials than rocks, and that is one good reason why rocks don't "experience" consciousness relative to brains. Brains are composed of particular materials interacting in particular ways relative to other stuff in the universe. And we only discover consciousness at the locations where brains are present.
  • Wayfarer
    8.7k
    We know from a lot of evidence that consciousness is a property of our brains. It's some combination of the exact materials, the structure they're in (the relations of the materials), and the way our brains function (processes of/in our brains, changing relations in other words).Terrapin Station

    I'm very suspicious of those brain-scan studies. Sure, once you build up a big enough database then you can infer meaning from the data, but what is the nature of 'that which infers meaning'? Is that something you're ever going to find in the data, or do you already have to have it to infer anything? In which case, it's internal to thought.

    Have a look at Do you believe in God, or is that a software glitch?
  • Terrapin Station
    13.8k
    Sure, once you build up a big enough database then you can infer meaning from the data, but what is the nature of 'that which infers meaning'?Wayfarer

    I don't think I understand what you're asking there. If I read the question literally, you're asking "what is the nature of "individuals thinking about x in a semantic manner," but then I'm not sure why you'd be asking that.

    At any rate, the example I gave is just one example. Other sorts of examples include people ingesting substances that have effects on their consciousness or thinking, brain injuries having effects on the same, etc.
  • Terrapin Station
    13.8k

    I don't understand why they're calling it an "illusion" in that article.
  • julian kroin
    5
    Whatever self-consciousness is, could it turn out to be a failed survival experiment? Maybe. Maybe not. If a flock of birds, full of individuals becoming individuated, started flying off in every direction would this be a good thing? Would a 'flock' of humans have superior survival skills than our current iteration? Maybe. All things have survival skills. Does consciousness, self-awareness give us an edge? Maybe, but is it useful for much more? We have evolved this interesting tool, but are not necessarily equipped to handle it. Behold! The Man! Now what.. I can only add to the confusion..the-shining-snow.jpeg
  • bert1
    312
    Brains are made of different materials than rocks, and that is one good reason why rocks don't "experience" consciousness relative to brains. Brains are composed of particular materials interacting in particular ways relative to other stuff in the universe. And we only discover consciousness at the locations where brains are present.numberjohnny5

    The only place we discover consciousness is in ourselves. Or more strictly, the only consciousness I can discover is my own. The consciousness we 'discover' in others involves inferences from observed behaviour in others, the assumption that similar effects have similar causes, and the knowledge that our own behaviour is caused by our experience, and the conclusion that they must therefore have consciousness too. So if we are allowing these assumptions that opens a can of worms when it comes to deciding what behaviour is sufficiently similar to our own to validly infer consciousness. Sure, we are maximally similar to other human beings, but we are also similar to rocks in a whole load of ways. We still need a principle to tell us when we can make the inference and when we can't. Do you have a way to decide?
  • bert1
    312
    Other sorts of examples include people ingesting substances that have effects on their consciousness or thinking, brain injuries having effects on the same, etc.Terrapin Station

    Of course no one would deny these well established facts about the relationship between human brain function and human experience. What I'm struggling with is what you can conclude from these, other than such and such experience in humans is dependent on such and such brain function in humans. Can you spell out your conclusion with the reasoning?
  • Terrapin Station
    13.8k
    What I'm struggling with is what you can conclude from these, other than such and such experience in humans is dependent on such and such brain function in humans.bert1

    Why isn't that enough? What else are you looking for?
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