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Consciuosness- I soppose we might as well tackle it

  1. Oct 6, 2003 #1
    Several of my posts deal with consciuosness, and they inevitably run up against the same problem- our lack of knowlege. I have avoided seeking a precise definition (and a definition that can be used to determine if things are conscious- seeing as an adequate one was presented formerly but cannot be used to determine anything), thinking that it might be possible to find the answers to several enquiries without finding an actual definition of consciousness- for I am sure you would all agree with me that it shall be a laborous task to find one.

    Despite the obvious difficulties inherrent in finding the definition, I believe it is necessary in order to answer several other questions. So here we go:

    It seems most logical, when searching for a definition, to first categorize the thing we are trying to define into one of several large groups, then narrow it down repeatedly untill we come to an actual definition. Consciousness, on the broadest scale, seems to be something of the mind rather than of the body (weather or not the mind only exists in the brain is, for the present, irrelevant). Unlike blood or kidneys or arms, consciousness cannot be found as a part of our bodily system. It exists in our minds, in the part of us that thinks and feels.

    In order to define consciousness further we shall have to know a little more about it- what people say and think on the subject. It is said that people (humans) are conscious- this is widely agreed upon. Rocks, on the other hand, are not conscious, nor is air nor water nor metal chairs. In fact, to my knowlege not a single non-living entity is considered conscious... Ah- but one might be. Computer programs might be considered conscious. If not the current versions, then perhaps those that we can concieve of but have not yet created, not because they are impossible but simply because they are so complex. Animals (other than humans), plants, and other living things may or may not be considered conscious- it depends on the person one asks. So humans ARE conscious, animals/plants MAY be conscious, non-living things ARE NOT conscious, with the possible exception of computers. Since consciousness is a property of the MIND, not the body, things can only be conscious if they have a mind (although the simple fact that they have a mind may not be enough to prove that they are also conscious).

    Here I shall stop for now, since I most certainly lack the ability to conduct this investigation all on my own. Any comments pertaining to what I have said, adding to it, or anything that I have missed so far are extremely welcome. After we have gained a sufficient amount of ideas and covered them to an acceptable extent to move on, we shall continue with our main enquiry. (We may have to discover weather or not animals/computers are consciuos before we continue, but then again we may not be able to do that untill we have found our definition of consciousness- I suspect the latter)
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  3. Oct 7, 2003 #2


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    But I think your enterprise can not get further than others have because there are only two sources of information about consciousness.
    1. Our personal inner experience.
    2. Observation of the behavior of others (including linguistic behaviors, i.e. what they tell us).

    No amount of testimony from others is sufficient for us to reliably conclude that they are not robots. I have read many papers by philosophers trying to wiggle out of this by creating more and more improbible scenarios. Could a non-conscious robot be programmed to like Beethoven? Well sure.

    I believe we have to make a non-logical leap of faith to believe that others are not robots. That this other is not a thing, but a person like myself. And I believe that this leap of faith is the basis of morality, for it gets us out of the Humean box. That is, as Hume said 300 years ago, no matter how many empirical statements of the form A is observed to do B you may have, and how cleverly you marshal them with the laws of logic, you will never imply a statement of the form A ought to do B. In order to believe other people are people, you have to transcend empiricism.
  4. Oct 7, 2003 #3


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    Consciousness and Turing

    A related question is the Turing test (this is inaccurate; the Church-Turing thesis, to which the test owes its name and origin, is actually about something different, and much narrower): can a machine be built which will fool humans into thinking that the machine is another human?

    This is relevant to selfAdjoint's second point ("Observation of the behaviour of others") - if a computer can fool you into thinking it is a human, is that sufficient for Sikz to conclude that it has consciousness?

    Taking selfAdjoint's point about introducing morality, what would the fact (or the mere possibility) of a conscious computer imply for morality?

    Sikz: If this is a diversion, please say so.
  5. Oct 7, 2003 #4
    Consciousness is none other than the portal to "human experience." This is why you don't get it, because science is ill-equipped to deal with those things which are "subjective." It's too bad though, because this is tantamount to saying we don't exist. I mean how dumb does it get?

    Be yourself man! :wink:

    EDIT: Changed the "experience of life" to "human experience."
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2003
  6. Oct 7, 2003 #5
    But.. er.. uh... what?
  7. Oct 7, 2003 #6


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    I'll toss you my thoughts....

    I have two definitions, which I pick whenever convenient.

    (1) The theoretical one: Consciousness is a description of a process which takes in data and produces complex results, and at the same time has self-awareness in that it's processes react to the state of the process itself. It is an emergent behaviour from a complex and versatile neural network.
    (2) The functionalist one: Consciousness is the value given to those entities that behave in a way that is similar to a human.
  8. Oct 7, 2003 #7
    And yet consciousness is obviously a quality which is inherently universal, meaning it's a "by-product" of Universal Existence as a whole, whether it belies the human condition or not. And yet, why is it that humans -- i.e., that which we are humanly aware of anyway -- have the greatest capacity to experience it? :wink:
  9. Oct 7, 2003 #8
    Could you elaborate? How exactly is that so obvious; how did you come to that conclusion?
  10. Oct 7, 2003 #9
    Ah, here's an interesting idea! Could there be any connection between consciousness and an illogical drive for self-preservation? What I mean is this: Humans have a desire to remain alive, even at the expense of other people and things (although SOME things, love, duty, etc can override the survival instinct). A computer program with human intelligence programmed in, however, would only object to its own destruction if it was not benificial in relation to one of its programmed in (or learned) goals. Of course, the desire could be programmed in. But say we programmed in intelligence and emotion. Wouldn't the computer then want to stay alive in order to experience emotions (if it was really conscious), but not if it wasnt?

    I'm really not sure about the relevance of that last part, or even this entire post. I thought it seemed interesting, however, that conscious beings and possibly conscious beings (animals) have a will for personal survival- although in all likelyhood the two are not related at all.

    Any thoughts on this? (I'd still like to hear an elaboration on what you said in your last post, Iacchus32)
  11. Oct 7, 2003 #10
    How would the Universe experience anything, if it weren't conscious in some way shape or form? What would there be for "it" to realize? Or, what would there be for "us" to realize? -- if, in fact we weren't the Universe looking back at itself? :smile:

    If we are creatures of the Universe, indeed, a Universe which can only speak of itself by means of consciousness, then the Universe itself "must" be conscious.
  12. Oct 8, 2003 #11
    So you're saying that we are part of the universe and that we comprise its consciousness (since we are conscious)? That we are the part of the universe looking back at itself?
  13. Oct 8, 2003 #12
    We can still design overlimits and safeguards into our machines, whether they're conscious or not. But, if we could design one that experienced emotions, even if it only emulated them, then that would belie the ultimate achievment.
  14. Oct 8, 2003 #13
    Here's an interesting idea: What if consciousness is aphsical and influences brain process through truely random events? In this case we could construct a computer that somehow harnessed quantum mechanics in order to achieve a random variable, and we could have the random variable influence decisions in an AI program.

    Such a thing would be a very interesting expirement, don't you think?
  15. Oct 8, 2003 #14
    Yes, for the most part, except that I believe there's something very reciprocal about it, in the sense that consciousness (or intelligence) doesn't arise out of nowhere. And, although human beings are most highly evolved in this respect, it doesn't mean it originates with us.

    Cosider the radio waves which we pick up over the radio. The radio waves have always existed in some form -- as "the medium" -- before the existence of the modern radio, "its receptacle."
  16. Oct 8, 2003 #15
    Ah, intriuging. We are the instrument for the expression of consciousness, but the consciousness exists regardless of our own existance. We are the dependant variable, consciousness the independent.

    In which case you think that all of our individual consciousnesses are actually facets of the same universal consciousness? If this is what you think, what are your views on death?
  17. Oct 8, 2003 #16
    By the way another thought just occurred to me, pertaining to our original question of consciousness's definition. Does consciousness exist in the mind, or is consciousness the mind in its entirety? Are consciousness and mind one and the same, or is consciousness only one part of the mind?

    If they are one and the same, it follows that everything with a mind is conscious... In which case we would require a definition of the mind to understand consciousness and see what has it and what doesn't.

    BTW theres another post of mine directly before this one- last post on the first page. I added this in a new post instead of editing the olde one because I figured you might already be reading it and this post's ideas might be missed entirely.
  18. Oct 8, 2003 #17
    Perhaps with the "random" ability to lapse (slowly fall apart) with the "random" ability to regenerate, while including those tendencies and proclivities -- hence "overall aptitudes" -- which we deem to be human? Maybe in this way we could teach it to question and learn?
  19. Oct 8, 2003 #18
    "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last."

    Do I believe that there's an eternal beginning, from which everything springs? Yes. And, that when we die, we return to the "spring of our youth," so to speak? Yes.
  20. Oct 8, 2003 #19
    The mind, although highly advanced as it is, is merely the receptacle.
  21. Oct 8, 2003 #20
    That seems to make sense.

    Perhaps so, but I would think not on these topics. That would have to be done with the actual code, since such things most likely involve the physical brain rather than the "will"/"soul"/"consciousness" (assuming there is such a thing). The "random" would effect its actual decisions, and that's it. So at some point in the program considerable weight would be given to the results of the "random". That's the best way I could think to do it, at least. As long as its an expirement we should try including such things as "overall aptitudes", for our understanding of the human brain is so little that we don't KNOW for sure that those aptitudes come from it. In fact a substantial fraction of the population would claim that much of those things come from past lives or other phenomena. Also those overall aptitudes would most likely come over through the "random" and be inherent in the decisions the program made.
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