Lee,

What you are describing here is panpsychism. If I insist that it is impossible to know whether and in what way an entity is conscious without actually *being* that entity oneself, then to be consistent I have to admit that anything and everything might be conscious. OK; I admit it; technically, I'm a panpsychist. However, I can treat this belief in the same way as I treat a belief in solipsism. Looking at the world around me, other humans behave in roughly the same way I do, so by analogy with my own experience, I assume they are conscious. Rocks, on the other hand, display no behaviour, so I assume they are not conscious. Animals fall somewhere between humans and rocks, so I assume they have varying levels of consciousness depending on the complexity of their nervous system. The implicit theory behind this classification scheme is that consciousness is associated with the sort of information processing that occurs in organisms with central nervous systems. Using empathy as a substitute for direct experience, I can't be absolutely sure of this, of course, but then I can't be absolutely sure that the world doesn't disappear when I turn my back on it, either.


Now to my aliens. It is a nuisance when discussing philosophy of mind that we cannot switch our consciousness off in order to study it as disinterested observers. Addressing this problem, my hypothetical aliens are intelligent but non-conscious or differently-conscious. I did not state this in my last post, so you may have assumed that any intelligent entity would be conscious. Maybe this is so; maybe it is even the case that any aliens able to study us at all must have enough in common with us to recognise us as fellow conscious entities. However, for the sake of argument, I wanted to eliminate the kind of empathy that allows us to believe that other humans or animals are conscious. The point I wanted to make is that *only* through empathy (as a substitute for direct experience) would the aliens recognise us as conscious. There is nothing they could go on from our behaviour alone, no matter how well they understood it, that would provide them with an idea of what it is like to be human from the point of view of a human. Even if they had derived some rule through contact with multiple species, eg. "any organism able to count to ten is conscious", this would only be understood as an abstraction unless they were in some way able to empathise with us.

--Stathis Papaioannou

Stathis writes

> 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.

On this list??  You think that most people *here* presume that
photons and trees are not conscious?  On what grounds could
they possibly think that?

After all, Consciousness is Deeply Mysterious, and thus might
penetrate anything or everything to an unknown degree.  In fact,
it may turn out that there exists an inverse square law:  something
is Conscious precisely to the square of the degree that it *appears*
to us  not to be conscious.  (The appearance of consciousness and
evidently conscious exchanges between Conscious entities, you see,
serves as an outlet, and diminishes True Consciousness.) Why not?

> 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.

Yes, in other words, it is ineffable.

> The aliens I have described in my example [who were very clever and
> who could manufacture consciousness in objects under their control]
> 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.

Oh my.  So while I understood earlier from you that your Martians were
wizards at creating human consciousness in objects, I didn't gather that
they *themselves* were possibly not anything-like-conscious. Have I
misunderstood anything?

Lee


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