Brent Meeker writes:
> Consider a computer which is doing something (whether it is dreaming or
> musing or just running is the point in question). If there is no
> interaction between what it's running and the rest of the world I'd say
> it's not conscious. It doesn't necessarily need an external observer
> though. To invoke an external observer would require that we already
> knew how to distinguish an observer from a non-observer. This just
> pushes the problem away a step. One could as well claim that the walls
> of the room which are struck by the photons from the screen constitute
> an observer - under a suitable mapping of wall states. The computer
> could, like a Mars rover, act directly on the rest of the world.
The idea that we can only be conscious when interacting with the environment
is certainly worth considering. After all, consciousness evolved in order to
the organism deal with its environment, and it may be wrong to just assume
without further evidence that consciousness continues if all interaction with
environment ceases. Maybe even those activities which at first glance seem to
involve consciousness in the absence of environmental interaction actually rely
on a trickle of sensory input: for example, maybe dreaming is dependent on
proprioceptive feedback from eye movements, which is why we only dream
during REM sleep, and maybe general anaesthetics actually work by eliminating
all sensory input rather than by a direct effect on the cortex. But even if all
is true, we could still imagine stimulating a brain which has all its sensory
removed so that the pattern of neural activity is exactly the same as it would
have been had it arisen in the usual way. Would you say that the artificially
stimulated brain is not conscious, even though everything up to and including
the peripheral nerves is physically identical to and goes through the same
physical processes as the normal brain?
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