Stathis Papaioannou wrote:
> 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 
> help 
> the organism deal with its environment, and it may be wrong to just assume  
> without further evidence that consciousness continues if all interaction with 
> the 
> 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 this 
> is true, we could still imagine stimulating a brain which has all its sensory 
> inputs 
> 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?

No.  I already noted that we can't insist that interaction with the 
environment is continuous. Maybe "potential interaction" would be 
appropriate.  But I note that even in your example you contemplate 
"stimulating" the brain.  I'm just trying to take what I consider an 
operational defintion and abstract it to the kind of 
mathematical/philosophical definition that can be applied to questions 
about rocks thinking.

At the experimental level, I recall that in the late '60s, when sensory 
deprivation experiments were the craze, there was a report that after an 
hour or so in a sensory deprivation tank a persons mind would end up in 
a loop.

Incidentally, the attribute in question seems to morph around among 
"conscious", "intelligent", and "computing something".  I don't think 
those are all exactly the same.  Certainly computing and intelligence 
don't necessarily entail consciousness.  And consciousness itself admits 
of categories.

Brent Meeker

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