Bruno Marchal wrote:
People certainly seem to take their consciousness seriously
on this list!
I've now managed to alienate both the "consciousness doesn't
and the "it exists and we can explain it" factions. I did not
mean that there is no explanation possible for consciousness.
It is likely that in the course of time the neuronal
mechanisms behind the phenomenon will be worked out and it
will be possible to build intelligent, conscious machines.
Imagine that advanced aliens have already achieved this
through surreptitious study of humans over a number of
decades. Their models of human brain function are so good
that by running an emulation of one or more humans and their
environment they can predict their behaviour better than the
humans can themselves. Now, I think you will agree (although
Jonathan Colvin may not) that despite this excellent
understanding of the processes giving rise to human conscious
experience, the aliens may still have absolutely no idea what
the experience is actually like.
No, I'd agree that they have no idea what the experience is like. But this
is no more remarkable than the fact that allthough we may have an
understanding of photons, we can not travel at the speed of light, or that
although we may have an excellent understanding of trees, yet we can not
photosynthesize. Neither of these "problems" seem particularly hard.
But we can photosynthesize. And we can understand why we cannot travel at
the speed of light. All this by using purely 3-person description of those
phenomena in some theory.
With consciousness, the range of the debate goes from non-existence to
only-existing. The problem is that it seems that an entirely 3-person
explanation of the brain-muscles relations evacuates any purpose for
consciousness and the 1-person. That's not the case with photosynthesis.
To be more strictly analogous with the situation for consciousness, what
Jonathan could have said is that we have no idea what it is like to *be* a
photon or to *be* a tree photosynthesising. Most people would say that
photons and trees aren't conscious, and therefore they *can* be entirely
understood from a 3rd person perspective. Perhaps this is true, but it is
not logically consistent to say that it must be true and still maintain the
1st person/ 3rd person distinction we have been discussing. This is because
the whole point of the distinction is that it is not possible to deduce or
understand that which is special about 1st person experience (namely,
consciousness) from an entirely 3rd person perspective. The aliens I have
described in my example could be as different from us as we are different
from trees, and they could easily conclude that an emulation of our minds is
not fundamentally different from an emulation of our weather.
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