Brent meeker writes:

> >>>>I could make a robot that, having suitable thermocouples, would quickly 
> >>>>withdraw it's 
> >>>>hand from a fire; but not be conscious of it.  Even if I provide the 
> >>>>robot with 
> >>>>"feelings", i.e. judgements about good/bad/pain/pleasure I'm not sure it 
> >>>>would be 
> >>>>conscious.  But if I provide it with "attention" and memory, so that it 
> >>>>noted the 
> >>>>painful event as important and necessary to remember because of it's 
> >>>>strong negative 
> >>>>affect; then I think it would be conscious.
> >>>
> >>>
> >>>It's interesting that people actually withdraw their hand from the fire 
> >>>*before* they experience 
> >>>the pain. The withdrawl is a reflex, presumably evolved in organisms with 
> >>>the most primitive 
> >>>central nervour systems, while the pain seems to be there as an 
> >>>afterthought to teach us a 
> >>>lesson so we won't do it again. Thus, from consideration of evolutionary 
> >>>utility consciousness 
> >>>does indeed seem to be a side-effect of memory and learning. 
> >>
> >>Even more curious, volitional action also occurs before one is aware of it. 
> >>Are you 
> >>familiar with the experiments of Benjamin Libet and Grey Walter?
> > 
> > 
> > These experiments showed that in apparently voluntarily initiated motion, 
> > motor cortex activity 
> > actually preceded the subject's awareness of his intention by a substantial 
> > fraction of a second. 
> > In other words, we act first, then "decide" to act. These studies did not 
> > examine pre-planned 
> > action (presumably that would be far more technically difficult) but it is 
> > easy to imagine the analogous 
> > situation whereby the action is unconsciously "planned" before we become 
> > aware of our decision. In 
> > other words, free will is just a feeling which occurs after the fact. This 
> > is consistent with the logical 
> > impossibility of something that is neither random nor determined, which is 
> > what I feel my free will to be.
> > 
> > 
> >>>I also think that this is an argument against zombies. If it were possible 
> >>>for an organism to 
> >>>behave just like a conscious being, but actually be unconscious, then why 
> >>>would consciousness 
> >>>have evolved? 
> >>
> >>An interesting point - but hard to give any answer before pinning down what 
> >>we mean 
> >>by consciousness.  For example Bruno, Julian Jaynes, and Daniel Dennett 
> >>have 
> >>explanations; but they explain somewhat different consciousnesses, or at 
> >>least 
> >>different aspects.
> > 
> > 
> > Consciousness is the hardest thing to explain but the easiest thing to 
> > understand, if it's your own 
> > consciousness at issue. I think we can go a long way discussing it assuming 
> > that we do know what 
> > we are talking about even though we can't explain it. The question I ask 
> > is, why did people evolve 
> > with this consciousness thing, whatever it is? The answer must be, I think, 
> > that it is a necessary 
> > side-effect of the sort of neural complexity that underpins our behaviour. 
> > If it were not, and it 
> > were possible that beings could behave exactly like humans and not be 
> > conscious, then it would 
> > have been wasteful of nature to have provided us with consciousness. 
> 
> This is not necessarily so.  First, evolution is constrained by what goes 
> before. 
> Its engineering solutions often seem rube-goldberg, e.g. backward retina in 
> mammals. 

Sure, but vision itself would not have evolved unnecessarily.

>   Second, there is selection against some evolved feature only to the extent 
> it has a 
> (net) cost.  For example, Jaynes explanation of consciousness conforms to 
> these two 
> criteria.  I think that any species that evolves intelligence comparable to 
> ours will 
> be conscious for reasons somewhat like Jaynes theory.  They will be social 
> and this 
> combined with intelligence will make language a good evolutionary move.  Once 
> they 
> have language, remembering what has happened, in order to communicate and 
> plan, in 
> symbolic terms will be a easy and natural evolvement.  Whether that leads to 
> hearing 
> your own narrative in your head, as Jaynes supposes, is questionable; but it 
> would be 
> consistent with evolution. It takes advantage of existing structure and 
> functions to 
> realize a useful new function.

Agreed. So consciousness is either there for a reason or it's a necessary 
side-effect of the sort 
of brains we have and the way we have evolved. It's still theoretically 
possible that if the latter 
is the case, we might have been unconscious if we had evolved completely 
different kinds of 
brains, but similar behaviour - although I think it unlikely.
 
> >This does not necessarily 
> > mean that computers can be conscious: maybe if we had evolved with 
> > electronic circuits in our 
> > heads rather than neurons consciousness would not have been a necessary 
> > side-effect. 
> 
> But my point is that this may come down to what we would mean by a computer 
> being 
> conscious.  Bruno has an answer in terms of what the computer can prove.  
> Jaynes (and 
> probably John McCarthy) would say a computer is conscious if it creates a 
> narrative 
> of its experience which it can access as memory.

Maybe this is a copout, but I just don't think it is even logically possible to 
explain what consciousness 
*is* unless you have it. It's like the problem of explaining vision to a blind 
man: he might be the world's 
greatest scientific expert on it but still have zero idea of what it is like to 
see - and that's even though 
he shares most of the rest of his cognitive structure with other humans, and 
can understand analogies 
using other sensations. Knowing what sort of program a conscious computer would 
have to run to be 
conscious, what the purpose of consciousness is, and so on, does not help me to 
understand what the 
computer would be experiencing, except by analogy with what I myself 
experience. 

Stathis Papaioannou
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