• simeonz
    44
    First a disclosure. I am not a professional philosopher, but a layperson looking for an answer. But that should not stop a more qualified respondent to take the discussion to an academic level. If they so chose, they had a reason.

    To my understanding, there are three major positions regarding the nature of the mind. The first is spiritualism, which asserts that the mental states cannot be completely explained physically. Another one is reductive materialism, which asserts that both the environmental and emotional sense experience can be explained by an entirely physical, logically consistent, maximally accurate predictive and regressive model. However it does allow that there might be qualities of being human that it does not encompass. What I would venture to call, existential incompleteness. Eliminative materialism does away with that last addendum.

    I assume however, that even eliminative materialism recognizes consciousness as a concept, referring to our awareness. So, my question is - to what does eliminative materialism ascribe awareness, in what amount, and what physical criteria are involved?

    For example, are inanimate objects aware more so then vacuum? Do larger structures, such as societies and solar systems, inherit some of the awareness properties of the individuals populating them? Does self awareness exists in the components of an aware life form? For example, neurons, the instant they resolve to a sense of self differentiation for a particular person? Will machines with human-level intelligence (designed with similar values) possess qualitatively indistinguishable existential experience? If a self aware life form is disassembled and reassembled, does it inherit all its existential properties, as if it were instantly transported to its reconstruction environment? If a life form is disassembled and reassembled in copies, do all copies inherit at the initial instant all the existential properties of the original? Is there a difference between being and not being for a subject, assuming the sense data is incorporated in its mental state (i.e. the brain, computer memory, etc) in the end?
  • NOS4A2
    244
    I assume however, that even eliminative materialism recognizes consciousness as a concept, referring to our awareness. So, my question is - to what does eliminative materialism ascribe awareness, in what amount, and what physical criteria are involved?

    I believe some eliminative materialists contend that “consciousness” doesn’t even exist, that it is folk psychology. To them, the concept should or will be eliminated in time and with new neuroscientists discoveries.

    But check out “embodied cognition”, which I believe is superseding the computational theory of mind.
  • simeonz
    44
    I believe some eliminative materialists contend that “consciousness” doesn’t even exist, that it is folk psychology. To them, the concept should or will be eliminated in time and with new neuroscientists discoveries.NOS4A2
    This is what I fail to fully understand. I mean, not just the argument, but the very statement. Is this similar to relationalistic pantheistic position?

    Let me elaborate where I see the parallels. According to relationalistic interpretations, such as those of Leibniz, time is an ordering. Concurring with some post-relativistic ideas, time is not a changing property, but is merely a human faculty through which the subject rationalizes its temporal beliefs. Thus the intentionality (if I use the term correctly) is not changing, but is associated with particular state of mind that the subject possesses in a temporal continuum of chronologically ordered versions of itself. Essentially, the assertion is that time separation is an illusion, consequence from our evolution and the natural law. However, if this is the case, it follows by analogy that space separation is an illusion as well. Meaning, that we are subject to spacial relations governed by natural law, which our mental faculties have evolved to appreciate. Assuming that time and space are an illusion indeed (although I am not necessarily making the claim), it follows that our self-concept has to be an illusion as well. It is merely a mental faculty that appreciates the natural law affecting our embodiment. But the embodiment is not particular to anything, except its self awareness.

    If this is what eliminative materialists mean, It would seem to resemble a sort of Spinozian pantheism or Leibnizian relationalism. Or do they mean that the self-concept as a mental faculty is unnecessary and must be eliminated?

    But check out “embodied cognition”, which I believe is superseding the computational theory of mind.NOS4A2
    I will, thanks. From a brief reading, I am not sure whether they are trying to localize the awareness to physical form or delocalize it, but it is related.
  • Wayfarer
    8k
    The first is spiritualism, which asserts that the mental states cannot be completely explained physically.simeonz

    'Spiritualism' is a strange choice of word in the context. It is usually used in reference to the Victorian interest in spirit-mediums, seances, and the scientific analysis of psychic phenomena.

    I think a better route into the particular issue is via the terminology of the 'explanatory gap':

    In philosophy of mind and consciousness, the explanatory gap is the difficulty that physicalist theories have in explaining how physical properties give rise to the way things feel when they are experienced. It is a term introduced by philosopher Joseph Levine. In the 1983 paper in which he first used the term, he used as an example the sentence, "Pain is the firing of C fibers", pointing out that while it might be valid in a physiological sense, it does not help us to understand how pain feels.

    another route is David Chalmer's original paper, Facing Up to the Hard Problem of Consciousness - in fact I think this is probably the first thing to read. As he puts it:

    t is undeniable that some organisms are subjects of experience. But the question of how it is that these systems are subjects of experience is perplexing. Why is it that when our cognitive systems engage in visual and auditory information-processing, we have visual or auditory experience: the quality of deep blue, the sensation of middle C? How can we explain why there is something it is like to entertain a mental image, or to experience an emotion? It is widely agreed that experience arises from a physical basis, but we have no good explanation of why and how it so arises. Why should physical processing give rise to a rich inner life at all? It seems objectively unreasonable that it should, and yet it does. — David Chalmers

    Daniel Dennett's entire career is dedicated to arguing that the hard problem doesn't really exist, and/or is not really a problem. He argues that the cumulative consequence of billions of cellular reactions is to give rise to the persuasive illusion of conscious experience. Now, of course, there is an immediate objection to this claim, which is that an illusion is something that can only be entertained by a subject. To me, this objection is total, fatal, and complete. But Dennett has ploughed on regardless, writing book after book about his proposal which according to critics is so preposterous as to verge on the deranged.

    Another tack on the whole problem is the modern iteration of panpsychism, That is nearest to your attempt in the last paragraph to ascribe'consciousness to primitive objects, even such as sub-atomic particles. That is the subject of well-known paper by Galen Strawson.

    And finally, mention has to be made of Thomas Nagel, whose well-known paper What is it Like to be a Bat? is amongst the most famous contemporary philosophy essays.
  • T Clark
    3.8k


    I hadn't heard the term "eliminative materialism" so I looked in Wikipedia:

    Eliminative materialism (also called eliminativism) is the claim that people's common-sense understanding of the mind (or folk psychology) is false and that certain classes of mental states that most people believe in do not exist.....Some supporters of eliminativism argue that no coherent neural basis will be found for many everyday psychological concepts such as belief or desire....Eliminativists argue that modern belief in the existence of mental phenomena is analogous to the ancient belief in obsolete theories such as the geocentric model of the universe.

    I don't believe in the mind, I experience it and observe its effects in the behavior of myself and other people. Eliminative materialism sounds like a regurgitation of behaviorism. It's like saying life doesn't exist, just chemistry and associated electrical activity. Come to think of it, some people believe that.

    I can study belief and desire and, based on the results of that study, predict human behavior. What else does it take to exist?
  • Wayfarer
    8k
    Eliminative materialism sounds like a regurgitation of behaviorismT Clark

    :up: That’s exactly what it is.
  • bongo fury
    77
    Eliminative materialism sounds like a regurgitation of behaviorism
    — T Clark

    :up: That’s exactly what it is.
    Wayfarer

    ... hold noses... access handkerchiefs, gas masks...
  • Coben
    484
    I believe some eliminative materialists contend that “consciousness” doesn’t even exist, that it is folk psychology.NOS4A2

    Which is such a bizzarre idea. All their conclusions are based on, well, experience. Or, they are based on direct intuition. Either way, since they would still have to experience the intuition and be aware of it, ALL their conclusions are fruit of a poison tree.
  • T Clark
    3.8k
    Which is such a bizzarre idea. All their conclusions are based on, well, experience. Or, they are based on direct intuition. Either way, since they would still have to experience the intuition and be aware of it, ALL their conclusions are fruit of a poison tree.Coben

    I think they mean something different when they say "exist" than I, and apparently you, do.
  • simeonz
    44

    Thanks. You have provided me with quite a few pointers. I first have to check them out before I can get back with a meaningful reply.

    To be honest though, I am still left puzzled what exactly eliminative materialists believe. I suspect that I wont find out without some thorough research. Initially, I thought that they are denying the self-concept, but now I start to think that they are avoiding questions of existence.
  • simeonz
    44
    I don't believe in the mind, I experience it and observe its effects in the behavior of myself and other people.T Clark
    You are saying that the mind is common sense, I suppose. This would be fine if the definition of the term "mind" was technical - as in a collection of empirical facts. But whose facts are those - are they the facts perceived by the very mind that they define?
  • T Clark
    3.8k
    You are saying that the mind is common sense, I suppose. This would be fine if the definition of the term "mind" was technical - as in a collection of empirical facts. But whose facts are those - are they the facts perceived by the very mind that they define?simeonz

    I think I probably wasn't clear. We know the mind - what it is and how it works - the same way we know other things, by observing the world, in this case, primarily the behavior of other people, including their words. We also know it from the inside, from our own personal experience. Then, those two get combined as we imaginatively come to understand that other people have internal experiences that are similar to ours.

    Is that common sense? I wouldn't have called it that but maybe you would.
  • simeonz
    44
    I think I probably wasn't clear. We know the mind - what it is and how it works - the same way we know other things, by observing the world, in this case, primarily the behavior of other people, including their words. We also know it from the inside, from our own personal experience. Then, those two get combined as we imaginatively come to understand that other people have internal experiences that are similar to ours.T Clark
    I think I probably understand your general sentiment, as a practical matter, but I am unclear about some of the details. Do you mean that the mind is co-extent with any collection of animated brain tissue? If the mind is always incidental with a brain, is it distinct from the brain? What about animal brain, or a brain with a handicap, or an electrical circuit?

    Edit: Of course, I understand that to some of those questions, "we don't know yet" is a perfectly valid response. But it just diminishes the analytic value of the statement somewhat.
  • T Clark
    3.8k
    I think I probably understand your general sentiment, as a practical matter, but I am unclear about some of the details. Do you mean that the mind is co-extent with any collection of animated brain tissue? If the mind is always incidental with a brain, is it distinct from the brain? What about animal brain, or a brain with a handicap, or an electrical circuit?simeonz

    It's clear to me that the mind is different from the brain. I guess I'd say "obvious," although I acknowledge that what's obvious to one person isn't to another. When I talk about the brain, I use words like "neuron," "cortex," and "cerebellum." When I talk about the mind, I use words like "understand," "love," and "perceive." The metaphor I often use is of a television. When I talk about the television device, I talk about LEDs, antennas, and speakers. When I talk about the program I'm watching on the TV, I talk about the sound quality, the colors, the images, and I guess even the basketball game I'm watching.

    Does that seem obvious to you?
  • TheHedoMinimalist
    166
    I think eliminative materialism might imply that consciousness will and can only form into systems which are capable of autonomous action. It may be argued that the only way that a collection of atoms can form a being or object that can move on its own is if it implanted with software. Just as I cannot get a robot to move on it’s own and make simple decisions without software, animals cannot be capable of autonomous action without biological software. We don’t deny that autonomous robots, which are definitely material entities, can have something as weird as software implanted into them. It’s possible that our current AI already have some mental activity(although probably not as much as we do.) But, I would say that consciousness might just be an advanced form of software and the presence of software implies the presence of mental activity.
  • simeonz
    44
    It's clear to me that the mind is different from the brain.T Clark
    To say that the mind is distinct from the brain, to me at least, infers that the brain can manifest without a mind, or that the mind can exist separate from its physical embodiment. Otherwise, I feel that they will be simply co-extent.
    I guess I'd say "obvious," although I acknowledge that what's obvious to one person isn't to another.T Clark
    That is why I used the term "common-sense" previously. I meant, that albeit privately experienced, the mind is a widely observed phenomenon. But I still struggle to find the scientific value of this statement.
    The metaphor I often use is of a television. When I talk about the television device, I talk about LEDs, antennas, and speakers. When I talk about the program I'm watching on the TV, I talk about the sound quality, the colors, the images, and I guess even the basketball game I'm watching.T Clark
    But since the facets are related, you might be talking about picture quality, but mean leaked capacitor. How do you differentiate? Unless you can switch the program broadcast or change the TV. But, for the analogical mind-body case, I think this is the real problem, that it cannot be done.

    Going back to your first statement, if the brain can manifest without a mind, because they are separate, then how do you know that you share your experience of the mind with the other people around you. After all, if all brains have developed a faculty for self-differentiation, they would reaffirm your belief. If the brain cannot manifest without a mind, what would be the distinguishing feature between your conceptualization of the brain and that of an eliminative materialist. (That is as much a question to you as to the materialist and goes back to my original post. After the clarification by Wayfarer, I can ask, are materialists panpsychists?)

    Does that seem obvious to you?T Clark
    Nothing sounds obvious to me anymore. Epistemologically, that is. :)
  • T Clark
    3.8k
    To say that the mind is distinct from the brain, to me at least, infers that the brain can manifest without a mind, or that the mind can exist separate from its physical embodiment. Otherwise, I feel that they will be simply co-extent.simeonz

    Well, clearly the brain can exist without the mind. People die or sink into a permanent vegetative state. The mind is gone, but the brain continues. As for the mind existing without the brain - life cannot exist without chemical processes. Do you think life is just chemistry. Can you tell the difference between chemistry and biology? If not, I doubt you and I will be able to discuss this subject very productively.

    That is why I used the term "common-sense" previously. I meant, that albeit privately experienced, the mind is a widely observed phenomenon. But I still struggle to find the scientific value of this statement.simeonz

    "The mind is a widely observed phenomenon" says everything that needs to be said. Everything is "a widely observed phenomenon." That's how they come to exist for the observers.

    But since the facets are related, you might be talking about picture quality, but mean leaked capacitor. How do you differentiate? Unless you can switch the program broadcast or change the TV. But, for the analogical mind-body case, I think this is the real problem, that it cannot be done.simeonz

    Sorry - but a leaked capacitor is (I imagine) a piece of metal with goo all over it. Poor color quality is a term applied to an image of something when the color of the image doesn't match the color of the original. They're completely different things. Is an iron bar something different from 10E +24 iron atoms? "Hey, please hand me 10E +24 iron atoms."
  • simeonz
    44

    Would I be accurate in saying then, that eliminative materialists don't deny personal experience, but just deny private aspects of personal experience that do not manifest in nature?

    Then what would differentiate eliminative materialists from pantheists or panpsychists, aside from sentiment? In particular, does materialism deny awareness and self-awareness as a continuous spectrum for systems of different complexity? Would they consider an ecosystem or a social system to be aware or have sense experience, at least in principle similar to ours? Is my awareness and personal experience thereof related to the one of the ecosystems and social systems of which I am part. Or to put in simpler terms, assuming the position of eliminative materialism, how would they precisely differentiate our sense experience from any other abstract system, simpler or more complex?

    (This unintentionally alludes to the hard problem of consciousness that Wayfarer wrote about.)

    I am sorry if I ramble a bit.
  • Terrapin Station
    11.7k
    My stance is that mental states are identical to physical brain states.

    This says nothing about explanations. Whether something can be explained significantly hinges on who we're explaining it to, what their criteria are for explanations (if they have any and they're judgment about whether it's a successful explanation isn't essentially arbitrary), their psychological biases, etc.

    In other words, explanations and whether any set of words counts as an explanation is a completely different can of worms that what things are ontologically.
  • T Clark
    3.8k
    My stance is that mental states are identical to physical brain states.Terrapin Station

    So, the light from my flashlight is identical with the flashlight.
  • simeonz
    44
    Well, clearly the brain can exist without the mind. People die or sink into a permanent vegetative state. The mind is gone, but the brain continues. As for the mind existing without the brain - life cannot exist without chemical processes. Do you think life is just chemistry. Can you tell the difference between chemistry and biology? If not, I doubt you and I will be able to discuss this subject very productively.T Clark
    I confess this is my omission, but I thought that my general idea was suggested in the spirit of my question. Let me restate it. Do you think that a properly functioning brain, in all its biological aspects, can exist without a mind?
    Edit: For this purpose, we can call a dead brain, a non-brain. At least not anymore brain then a matchbox is.
    "The mind is a widely observed phenomenon" says everything that needs to be said. Everything is "a widely observed phenomenon." That's how they come to exist for the observers.T Clark
    The problem is, that according to a materialist, the mind is not perceived first hand by itself, but is only attested by the brain. Since the brain does not always attest externalities, but sometimes emotions and intuitions, the mind stops being an observation, but a shared sentiment. (Mind you, I am not defending materialism as a belief necessarily, just its deductive method.)
    Sorry - but a leaked capacitor is (I imagine) a piece of metal with goo all over it. Poor color quality is a term applied to an image of something when the color of the image doesn't match the color of the original. They're completely different things. Is an iron bar something different from 10E +24 iron atoms? "Hey, please hand me 10E +24 iron atoms."T Clark
    Ok. But the image is ultimately the result of leds and liquid crystals and capacitors and antennas and electromagnetic processes. The "image quality" is just an aspect of the end result presented on the screen, which is also a facet of the events produced by the underlying mechanisms. The term conceptualizes this aspect, but it does not change the nature of the televising process in substance. An eliminative materialists would argue that there is no image (even less so, image quality) as a separate phenomenon, just a variety of actual events and mechanism, being treated when conceptualized.
  • simeonz
    44
    My whole response just went and gone somewhere. Second attempt. :)

    Well, clearly the brain can exist without the mind. People die or sink into a permanent vegetative state. The mind is gone, but the brain continues. As for the mind existing without the brain - life cannot exist without chemical processes. Do you think life is just chemistry. Can you tell the difference between chemistry and biology? If not, I doubt you and I will be able to discuss this subject very productively.T Clark
    Let me restate my question. Do you think that a properly functioning brain, in all its biological aspects, can exist without manifesting a mind?
    For this purpose, a dead brain can be assumed to be a non-brain. No more brain then a matchbox is.
    "The mind is a widely observed phenomenon" says everything that needs to be said. Everything is "a widely observed phenomenon." That's how they come to exist for the observers.T Clark
    Yes, but if I were a materialist, I would claim that the the mind is not perceived first hand (such as by itself), but is merely attested to by the brain. And the brain does not always attest to externalities. Sometimes it purports intuitions and emotions. A materialist would then argue, the mind is simply a shared sentiment or concept.
    Sorry - but a leaked capacitor is (I imagine) a piece of metal with goo all over it. Poor color quality is a term applied to an image of something when the color of the image doesn't match the color of the original. They're completely different things. Is an iron bar something different from 10E +24 iron atoms? "Hey, please hand me 10E +24 iron atoms."T Clark
    Yes, but the TV is still a system of leds, liquid crystals, capacitors, antennas, electromagnetic events, etc. The image is an aspect of the end result as seen by the viewer, which is one facet produced by underlying processes. A materialist would argue that the "image quality" is just term or conceptualization. That there is no "image quality", but just a state of the screen crystals and a number of preceding steps that evoke it.
  • simeonz
    44
    In light of my posts above, I want to make an overall remark. I am not trying to support eliminative materialism. I am just defending possible lines of argumentation. More so, I am curious if it can be reconciled with some pantheistic variation. And not because I am necessarily asserting the latter. (Although admittedly, I have respect for the self-containment of the position.) I am just trying to determine what precisely materialism is asserting. What are the consequences, what are the predictions it makes.
  • T Clark
    3.8k
    Let me restate my question. Do you think that a properly functioning brain, in all its biological aspects, can exist without manifesting a mind?simeonz

    I don't know and I don't see why it matters.

    Yes, but if I were a materialist, I would claim that the the mind is not perceived first hand (such as by itself), but is merely attested to by the brain. And the brain does not always attest to externalities. Sometimes it purports intuitions and emotions. A materialist would then argue, the mind is simply a shared sentiment or concept.simeonz

    Either I don't understand this, I don't agree with it, or both.

    Yes, but the TV is still a system of leds, liquid crystals, capacitors, antennas, electromagnetic events, etc. The image is an aspect of the end result as seen by the viewer, which is one facet produced by underlying processes.simeonz

    If you really don't think that a television set is different from the image produced on the set, you and I are too far apart to have a fruitful discussion.
  • Terrapin Station
    11.7k
    So, the light from my flashlight is identical with the flashlight.T Clark

    Insofar as we're talking about it at or inside of the surface of the flashlight I'd agree with that.
  • Coben
    484
    I think they mean something different when they say "exist" than I, and apparently you, do.T Clark
    I think, actually, they are nuts. Not on everything, but on this part.
  • Wayfarer
    8k
    Eliminative materialism sounds like a regurgitation of behaviorism
    — T Clark

    :up: That’s exactly what it is.
    — Wayfarer

    ... hold noses... access handkerchiefs, gas masks...
    bongo fury

    Behaviourist after torrid love-making session: “That was wonderful for you, dear. Was it good for me?”
  • TheHedoMinimalist
    166
    Then what would differentiate eliminative materialists from pantheists or panpsychists, aside from sentiment?simeonz

    Well, a pantheist or panpsychist believes that all things have mental activity while an eliminative materialist might believe that only things and beings capable of decision making and autonomous action has the capacity to experience things. This is because the only way that a thing made of atoms can do those high level tasks is if they have some sort of software. Software is strange to the materialist in the same way that consciousness is strange. 100 years ago, it would be hard for anyone to believe that we could create something like AI from an object made of only atoms. People who claim that you would need to have a soul or some other weird thing to create an intelligent entity. We now know that intelligent and autonomous entities can be created from mere atoms. So, why couldn’t consciousness be created from mere atoms? It’s strange to imagine but it’s also strange to imagine that intelligence can be created from atoms. We now know that matter can arrange itself in very complex and interesting ways.

    In particular, does materialism deny awareness and self-awareness as a continuous spectrum for systems of different complexity?simeonz

    They do not deny that it is a spectrum but they don’t have to think that it begins on a molecular level or that all objects are part of the spectrum.

    Would they consider an ecosystem or a social system to be aware or have sense experience, at least in principle similar to ours?simeonz

    Probably not because ecosystems and social systems are not unified systems in the same way that an organism is. An organism is a unified embodied system which is composed of parts called organ systems which are composed of smaller parts called organs. All these organs work very closely together to maintain the organism. The same cannot be said of social systems. People who are part of a social system sometimes contribute to it and sometimes they don’t and they don’t make their entire existence about the social system. The very concept of a social system or ecosystem is a lot more vague than the concept of an organism. Scientists rarely disagree where an organism’s body begins and ends. They do disagree about where an ecosystem or social system begins and ends at though. So, you basically also need to be part of a compact system to experience mental states.
    Or to put in simpler terms, assuming the position of eliminative materialism, how would they precisely differentiate our sense experience from any other abstract system, simpler or more complex?simeonz

    I don’t fully understand this question. What do you mean by an abstract system?
  • bongo fury
    77
    Thanks to you and others for supplying informed clarification as requested in the OP.

    Does ontological eliminative materialism ascribe awareness to everything or nothing?simeonz

    On the wikipedia page is Quine's question:

    Is physicalism a repudiation of mental objects after all, or a theory of them?

    This neatly distinguishes a strong eliminativism (ascribing consciousness to nothing) from mere identity-ism (ascribing consciousness to some things, some brain states). The former would be what causes horrified reactions from many (see above), and the latter is accepted by @Terrapin (I think), and @TheHedoMinimalist (I think).

    Note we are also given an intermediate option of ascribing some modified notion of consciousness to some things, some brain states. That would be my choice, and the likely scale of modification is enough to make me often want to side with the strong camp, especially when identity-ists embrace the folk-psychology of consciousness (e.g. mental words and pictures) with so little care or modification as to suggest Cartesian dualism.

    Then there is, as the OP says, the further option of ascribing consciousness to everything, and the subsequent question whether this could tell us anything that ascribing it to nothing wouldn't have told us anyway. (Or not, as argued here.)

    My question:

    Doesn't ascribing consciousness to any machines with "software" set the bar a bit low? Are you at all impressed by Searle's Chinese Room objection?
  • simeonz
    44
    Well, a pantheist or panpsychist believes that all things have mental activity while an eliminative materialist might believe that only things and beings capable of decision making and autonomous action has the capacity to experience things.TheHedoMinimalist
    I am not proficient with the pantheist theories enough to speak of them. But I cannot imagine that any mature philosophy would ascribe the property of mindfulness/awareness to a kilogram of matter in itself. A heavy lifeless planet shouldn't be more intelligent than a significantly lighter human being. I presume, one would rather ascribe to matter the potentiality of consciousness, which would then manifest to a different degree in layers through emergent structures. For example, the ability to capture information, perform analytical processing, and produce anticipatory responses, could be used as criteria for the realization of this potentiality. I don't understand, how an eliminative materialist would differ from a pantheist with respect to any such criterion.

    Other questions arise. Assuming we treat consciousness as a spectrum, rather then a binary property, which to my way of thinking, concurs with our understanding of how brain conditions affect our awareness, it seems natural to ask, how much capacity for memorization, analysis and responsiveness a system has to have, in order to be considered minimally conscious? Some such criterion has to exist, at least in principle, for both materialists or pantheists, even if the threshold is set at the vacuum state.

    Let's examine some actual cases. The human brain has greater overall capacity for information processing than that of animal species. Both have (in general) greater analytical performance compared to plants. Doesn't it follow that animals are more conscious then plants? If so, doesn't it follow that they are actually conscious? Plants, on the other hand, are capable of some sophisticated behavior (both reactive and non-reactive), if their daily and annual routines are considered in their own time scale. Doesn't that make them more conscious then, say dirt?

    But is dirt completely unconscious? Particles cannot capture substantial amount of information, because their states are too few, but they have reactions as varying as can be expected. After all, their position momentum state is the only "memory" of past "observations" that they possess. But it isn't trivial however. One could ask, why wouldn't they be considered capable of microscopic amount of awareness? Not by virtue of having a mass, but because of their memory and responses. If not, there has to be some specific point in the scale of structural and behavioral complexity at which we consider awareness to become manifested.

    A different approach that leads me to similar conundrums is to think of the possibility of brain engineering. How many neurons (or similar structures) would we need to create an organism whose behavior can be considered minimally sentient - five, five hundred, five million, etc? How many neurons can process information in a manner that appears to be minimally intelligent? Why not one neuron. Wouldn't a single neuron carry sentience alone, assuming it has some suitable interface to a not immediately hostile environment.

    They do not deny that it is a spectrum but they don’t have to think that it begins on a molecular level or that all objects are part of the spectrum.TheHedoMinimalist
    That is completely fair. But then they must, at least in principle (even if currently unknown) hypothesize a function that maps states of matter to degrees of being aware/conscious/sentient, a set of states, which are considered non-sentient, and a boundary between the two. There is nothing incoherent in that, but it poses interesting questions.

    Probably not because ecosystems and social systems are not unified systems in the same way that an organism is. An organism is a unified embodied system which is composed of parts called organ systems which are composed of smaller parts called organs. All these organs work very closely together to maintain the organism. The same cannot be said of social systems. People who are part of a social system sometimes contribute to it and sometimes they don’t and they don’t make their entire existence about the social system. The very concept of a social system or ecosystem is a lot more vague than the concept of an organism.TheHedoMinimalist
    I would like to illustrate how I think societies and ecosystems are similar with respect to consciousness using a thought experiment. Suppose that we use a person for each neuron in the brain, and give each person orders to interact with the rest like a neuron would, but using some pre-arranged conventional means of human interaction. We instruct each individual what corresponding neuron state it has initially, such that it matches the one from a living brain (taken at some time instant). Then we also feed the peripheral signals to the central nervous system, as the real brain would have experienced them. At this point, would the people collectively manifest the consciousness of the original brain, as a whole, the way it would have manifested inside the person? Or to put differently, do eliminative materialists allow for consciousness nesting?

    While societies and ecosystems are very different qualitatively to biological organisms, they have some semblances - like traditions and legislation as collective memory, public sentiments, herd mentality, group thinking, as analytical processes, and various internal and external affects - politics, environmental changes by human activities, etc. Assuming that, for eliminative materialist, consciousness exists in a continuum, manifesting as state and structure, I was wondering if it would be applicable (in some amount) to supra-structures made of other conscious entities?

    Or to put in simpler terms, assuming the position of eliminative materialism, how would they precisely differentiate our sense experience from any other abstract system, simpler or more complex? — simeonz


    I don’t fully understand this question. What do you mean by an abstract system?
    TheHedoMinimalist
    The term "abstract" was probably inaccurate, but the idea was to be able to describe all types of conscious structures not by exhaustion, but using a principle. In other words - not to name the human condition as conscious, or the animal one, but to use a rule that incorporates structures of various scales and appearances.
  • simeonz
    44
    Doesn't ascribing consciousness to any machines with "software" set the bar a bit low? Are you at all impressed by Searle's Chinese Room objection?bongo fury
    I know the question wasn't posed to me. But albeit not focusing on AI, I actually am a software engineer by trade, so I thought I could interject. :)

    For language translation or anthropomorphic simulations, AI can focus on fixed training set with fixed evaluation criteria. Artificial general intelligence (AGI) on the other hand, which is more akin to human sentience, is about reinforcement learning. The software agent has to pursue a goal, which is to gradually minimize some penalty, which it learns to do by acting imperfectly (or projecting the outcome of its actions first, if possible) and by simple trial and error. That is, a lot of the behavior is constructed through experience and goal reevaluation.

    In this respect, the classical Turing test is outdated, because it limits the scope of the observations to static behavior. It cannot evaluate the progress the system makes to attune itself. In the experiment, the man in the room does not exert any effort to evolve with respect to some goal, it acts more like a classical pre-trained AI, which distances him from human sentience as well.

    Also, it is worth noting that in the experiment, the man in the room acts like a cog in a machinery. Akin to a neuron in the brain, but possessing individual consciousness, the man infers that no other consciousness manifests, because its own consciousness is not employed. For this to be true, consciousness must apply in only one way in any given situation. This relates to my previous post, where I asked whether eliminative materialists allow consciousness to nest (and used a thought experiment to illustrate what I mean).

    But in any case, translation requires very primitive intelligence. Not to mention that I agree that human intelligence may be extended in the environment (extended cognition from post), so even AGI, being individually engineered, cannot encompass some evolutionary aspects (unless we hard-code them) - empathy, social instinct, self-preservation, etc. In other words, any system thrown out of historical and social context can be considered unintelligent. The man in the closed room is starved from environmental interactions.
bold
italic
underline
strike
code
quote
ulist
image
url
mention
reveal
youtube
tweet
Add a Comment