Justification for emergent anything

  • #1
Buckethead
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Main Question or Discussion Point

Maybe not today, but eventually physics will have to come face to face with the hard question of consciousness. Currently, the prevailing idea is that given enough complexity, an AI machine will attain consciousness. Popular speakers such as Daniel Dennett firmly believe that consciousness is an illusion and hardware (the brain specifically) generate consciousness and as a result consciousness can be considered an "emergent property" of the electro-chemical activity of the brain. This is not justified mathematically, scientifically, or otherwise, so my question is why is this concept "emergent property" taken so seriously. To me it is pure nonsense.

My justification for saying this is I know full and well that AI is nothing more than electro-mechanical relays in the form of transistors on silicon (to increase speed and density). There is nothing magical about this. It is purely mechanical. There is absolutely nothing in the way of a theory or a precedent that would allow for "consciouness" (awareness of reality) to come about because a bunch of clacking relays reach some threshold of complexity. So what gives? Why do physicists believe in emergent properties especially with regard to the hard question of consciousness.

I could have put this in the general discussion section, but felt it really needs to be addressed at a more profound level. Sorry if its a bit off target.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
russ_watters
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Popular speakers such as Daniel Dennett firmly believe that consciousness is an illusion and hardware (the brain specifically) generate consciousness and as a result consciousness can be considered an "emergent property" of the electro-chemical activity of the brain. This is not justified mathematically, scientifically, or otherwise, so my question is why is this concept "emergent property" taken so seriously. To me it is pure nonsense.

My justification for saying this is I know full and well that AI is nothing more than electro-mechanical relays in the form of transistors on silicon (to increase speed and density). There is nothing magical about this. It is purely mechanical. There is absolutely nothing in the way of a theory or a precedent that would allow for "consciouness" (awareness of reality) to come about because a bunch of clacking relays reach some threshold of complexity. So what gives? Why do physicists believe in emergent properties especially with regard to the hard question of consciousness.
This probably isn't a question we'll explore much here, but the simple answer and reason it's no a discussable topic is that you applied exactly the same analysis to the brain and AI and yet came opposite conclusions. The reality is you simply have a non-evidence based belief about consciousness being something "more". Maybe you're right, but if you are, it isn't a question ever answerable by science. If you're right, it is a matter of religion.
 
  • #3
Buckethead
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Thank you for the quick reply. Interesting. Yes, I do seem to have allowed for consciousness in the brain, and not in AI. However, I strongly disagree that the difference boils down to religion. There is a difference. It is not a belief that transistor switches cannot have consciousness. It is a fact that there is no theory or anything close that can close the gap between ones and zeros propagating through transistors and the rise of consciousness. Nothing! No pathway, no hypothesis, no segway between the two. Show me a paper that indicates I'm wrong about this.

To put this more in perspective, you say "you simply have a non-evidence based belief about consciousness being something "more"." But the thing is, how can you say that consciousness, something that has not been shown to be caused by clacking relays, (or their equivalent, densely packed transistors turning on and off) by any theory, is the result of such things. Where is the evidence?

Maybe you are not saying that. Maybe you are saying that as far as you know only the brain can create consciousness. If this is true, then what is the difference between the brain and a complex computer system?

My bottom line point is, where is the evidence that mechanical processes cause consciousness? If all you can say is, well the brain is the evidence, and brains are purely mechanical, then it follows that transistors can do the same thing. But if transistors can do the same thing, where is the theory as to why? Just saying that complex computer systems can give rise to consciousness because the brain can is not backed up by evidence.
 
  • #4
There is a difference. It is not a belief that transistor switches cannot have consciousness. It is a fact that there is no theory or anything close that can close the gap between ones and zeros propagating through transistors and the rise of consciousness. Nothing! No pathway, no hypothesis, no segway between the two. Show me a paper that indicates I'm wrong about this.
The underlying mechanism is not actually different; the only thing that differs is the substrate. You say that 1's and 0's propagating cannot ever amount to consciousness yet our brains work the same. Neurons are binary in nature; they either fire (1) or they do not fire (0).

Also, simply because you are not aware of any theories, does not mean there aren't any. It is just difficult to even get a concrete definition down for consciousness. If, for example, consciousness is simply a mechanism by which an agent can reflect, albeit partially, upon information that has been processed by the brain in order to, in a sense, double check to see if the brain/subconscious made the correct 'calculation', then we could even program consciousness into an AI agent.

Check out the book "Goedel, Escher, Bach", as well as Jean-Paul Sartre's "Being and Nothingness" for just two out of the many books that deal with consciousness. Sir Roger Penrose also wrote a paper on his theory of consciousness, which is called Orch OR (orchestrated objective reduction).

I believe that this discussion ultimately isn't appropriate for a physics forum, so you should focus the discussion on emergence (which you also claimed doesn't exist) rather than consciousness.
 
  • #5
phinds
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It is not a belief that transistor switches cannot have consciousness.
Sure. It is also not a belief that a neuron cannot have consciousness. Both of these things are facts.

Your willingness to believe that an accumulation of neurons can have consciousness is well founded, since it is well exhibited by, for example, this conversation. Your UNwillingness to believe that an accumulation of transistors can have consciousness is purely a personal opinion / bias and without any justification that I can see. It's just something you prefer to believe.
 
  • #6
Buckethead
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The underlying mechanism is not actually different; the only thing that differs is the substrate. You say that 1's and 0's propagating cannot ever amount to consciousness yet our brains work the same. Neurons are binary in nature; they either fire (1) or they do not fire (0).
Respectfully, this is a very limited comparison. A red brick and a sunset have the same color but they are not the same thing. Consciousness exists in the brain, but has not been shown to exist in complex computer systems. Even though it appears that the the two are similar, they are not. The binary manipulation could be an insignificant property of the two just like the color of brick and a sunset. Obviously because one has consciousness and the other does not indicates a deep and massive difference in the dynamics of the two. The fact that it appears they are both binary in nature is almost meaningless.
It is just difficult to even get a concrete definition down for consciousness.
Indeed! I've always felt it is crackpottery to claim that something can generate consiousness when one has not even defined a pure and accurate test for consciousness.
If, for example, consciousness is simply a mechanism by which an agent can reflect,....
If indeed.
Check out the book "Goedel, Escher, Bach", as well as Jean-Paul Sartre's "Being and Nothingness" for just two out of the many books that deal with consciousness. Sir Roger Penrose also wrote a paper on his theory of consciousness, which is called Orch OR (orchestrated objective reduction).
Thanks for the tips. I'll look into these.
I believe that this discussion ultimately isn't appropriate for a physics forum, so you should focus the discussion on emergence (which you also claimed doesn't exist) rather than consciousness.
Agreed! The concept of emergent properties reaches it's pinnacle with emergent consciousness which is why I brought consciousness into the discussion. But until consciousness can become a more concrete scientific principle it is almost not quite worth discussing. Instead I'd be happy to move the focus to anything that is claimed to be an emergent property. I think they are all baseless. The color purple: an emergent property from the mixture of red and blue? I don't think so. Purple is a conscious experience derived from the firing of red and blue sensors in the eye. In other words subjective and therefore not real. I don't think I've seen a so called "emergent property" that is valid. If you have, I'd like to discuss it.
.
 
  • #7
russ_watters
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This thread has rapidly run its course and proven why consciousness is not a discussable topic. Thread locked.
 
  • #8
Nugatory
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In addition to the suggestions by @ngrunenberg, @Buckethead will also be interested in Daniel C Dennett's book "Consciousness Explained". It is not a light read, but it makes the case for consciousness as an emergent phenomenon coherently and strongly. Convincingly? Well, that's more in the eye of the beholder....
 

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