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Is everything Self-aware?

  1. Dec 29, 2003 #1
    Couldn't everything be considered self-aware if you really look at it? I mean, any interaction between particle A and particle B requires A to affect B and B, once affected, to turn and affect A. B changes what it's doing after being affected by A, so B is reacting to an outside source by changing something about itself. "About itself"... How can you change yourself if you don't know you are there?

    I soppose you could argue that B isn't changing ITSELF, but rather BEING CHANGED by A. But when B later interacts with C, B proactively affects C in a manner consistent with its changed properties (they were changed in its encounter with A). So B hasn't just REACTED to A passively, it has changed the way it PROACTS with other particles.

    An animal will change its proactive routines based on changes made to itself in reactive encounters. Therefore it knows that it exists, or it wouldn't know it had been changed (and thus could not change its proactive routines). That is why we say an animal is self-aware... So don't even elementary particles fit this definition? Are they self-aware?

    Of course you might use another test, the mirror test for example, to determine if an animal is self-aware. For those of you not familiar with it, an animal is introduced to a mirror and sees it every day. Eventually people put a mark on the animal's back. When the animal looks into the mirror it sees the mark- and if it recognizes that the mark is on ITS back and tries to look, it is self-aware. If not, it is not.

    But that seems to rely too heavily on intelligence and sensory ability. A blind human, for example, would fail the test. Likewise the fact that you don't connect an exterior image with your interior self only means you have low intelligence, not that you are unaware of your self.

  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 30, 2003 #2
    This highlights that "self-aware" is a fuzzy notion that isn't very well defined. Trying to come up with a clear, explicit definition of "self-aware" will raise plenty of controversy. Usually, even a fuzzy notion of self aware involves some arbitrary degree of complexity. I wouldn't say any single nerve cell is self aware, any more than I would say that a red blood cell is self aware, yet put enough of them together in my head, and I'll say self awareness has been achieved.

    I've worked with some pretty intricate computer systems--indeterministic distributed multiprocessor systems. The programming in them was so complex, and done by so many different people, that no one person knew enough about the whole system to be able to predict how the system wouldf always behave. And their behavior at times certainly seemed self aware to me, if not downright onery.

    One thing we do in such complicated systems is to include a Built-In-Test function. This is an independant process that runs in the background, looking at the various components, pinging and tweaking the hardware and software, looking for problems so the system can rweconfigure itself around them. Is this getting close of self aware? If it isn't, why isn't it? Because it makes us very uneasy to say that it is, and that's not a very good reason.

    Have you read The Turning Option by Marvin Minsky and Harry Harrison? It covers these kinds of issues with the perspective and insights of the man who's probably best qualified to talk about them. Plus, it's a rather enjoyable piece of science fiction.
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