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Will any physical system that reproduces the functions of a human brain be conscious?

  1. Dec 14, 2007 #1
    What if you have 10 foot neurons made of wood with mechanical clockwork innards, and they shoot different types of metal balls to each other to send messages. What if they have some mechanical method for reproducing every other function of a neuron? What if they are arranged in exactly the same way the neurons in the brain are? Will that group of wooden neurons be conscious?

    What if you take a group of 100 million people and have each one perform the duties of a neuron? Will that system be conscious?

    Seems to me you would have to say that it would be conscious, as strange as that sounds.
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2007
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  3. Dec 14, 2007 #2
    where does conciousness occur though? i've always wondered the same sort of thing only imagine we had a machine that can make EXACT copies of you (scanns 100% accurate recreates 100% accurate)

    would you sorta share conciousness? or does he have a new concious? is it even concious at all? hm
  4. Dec 14, 2007 #3
    -I think he would be conscious and he would think he was you. If you asked him, he'd claim to be you. He'd have all of your memories. It would be two consciousnesses. I think consciousness is something that emerges from certain arrangements of matter.
  5. Dec 14, 2007 #4
    The China brain does create a mental state. This is yet another one of those intuition pumps that fall to bits when analyzed, just like the Chinese room. Our intuition that it is impossible is just a bias against non-neuron minds, furthered by the implausibility by the scenario. There is a natural desire to locate the mind at a specific point, because the mind feels like one thing.
  6. Dec 14, 2007 #5


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    What if you had, say, silicon doped into + & - types and say, had a huge grid of alternating types based on logic, and then decided to pump electricity through it? ;)

    I don't see how you could just take a bunch of neurons and throw them together in whatever order you need to when we don't even understand what makes something "conscious". Obviously if you knew then you would have to call it "conscious" regardless of the materials (light interference anyone?).
  7. Dec 14, 2007 #6
    Yeah...I think only certain arrangements would be conscious in the way we normally understand it, although I think consciousness is a continuum. Some arrangements might be "less" conscious and some "more" conscious, whatever that might mean. Also, some arrangements would operate very slowly, and some could operate faster than our brain. How might it feel to think 100 times slower than you do now?

    Who is to say that a rock is not in some way minimally conscious? It has signals that propagate through the vibration of atoms. The atoms respond to each other's vibration. It can take input from vibration of the rock, and from temperature changes. It can change it's structure by melting. This is obviously different from what the brain does, but is it different enough that it's not conscious? I don't know.
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2007
  8. Dec 14, 2007 #7


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    Well, it could be depending on how you look at it. Why isn't a computer conscious? "It" has a "state of mind" (the content of its cpu registers), it has a "memory", it has feelings ("tiredness" or actually just mechanical wear/fatigue), etc? I mean, sure, you program a PC to do what it does but isn't that what evolution or God effectively did to us? Take 10 normal (i.e. non-mentally dysfunctional) people in a room, shoot their mothers in front of them. All display the same reactions (horror). Take 10 more, repeat, 100 more, rinse and repeat. Any change? No. Some might have different reactions (good riddance, fear, etc). Take 100 computers and load up MS-Paint. MS-Paint loads up. Some will have different reactions (for instance, the Windows based PCs will crash :D). So in any case, how would you logically define "consciousness"?
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2007
  9. Dec 14, 2007 #8
    Look up multiple draft model of consciousness.
  10. Dec 14, 2007 #9
    Perhaps it is on some dim level.
  11. Dec 14, 2007 #10


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    Yeah, I got this: http://www.conscious-robots.com/en/reviews/theories-and-models-of-consciousness/multiple-draft-2.html [Broken]

    Another analogy would be a hardware abstraction layer. The point being, that there is a soul of sorts but it's just a collection of ridiculously complex objects combining to become even more ridiculously complex, and on top of that, self-programmingly ridiculously complex. In any case, just looking at myself gave me the impression of that quote, long before I read it.
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  12. Dec 14, 2007 #11


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    Hi Meatbot – are you familiar with functionalism? It was a concept initiated by Putnam back in the 60’s.
    Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Functionalism_(philosophy_of_mind)" [Broken]

    So yes, the proposal for a mechanical consciousness per your OP is often believed to have mental states per functionalism.

    Putnam has since written a book, “Representation and Reality” (1988) in which he does a 180 and decides functionalism is false, and therefore computationalism fails. In the appendix of his book, he makes the often quoted statement, “Every ordinary open system is a realization of every abstract finite automaton.” This argument basically proves that even a rock can have conscious mental states for exactly the points you make. Putnam points out that such states as are in a rock are purely symbolic and arbitrarily chosen, which is obviously correct and accepted by the most ardent computationalists like Dennett and Chalmers.

    To defend computationalism, Chalmers wrote a paper entitled, “Does a Rock Implement Every Finite-State Automaton” (can be found online). Similar attacks on Putnam’s argument were done by Copeland, Christly and Endicott.

    In Putnam’s defense, Bishop wrote numerous papers which strongly support Putnam’s view, as did a philosopher named Maudlin.

    There are similar attacks on computationalism by Harnad who points out that computationalism is symbol manipulation and he comes up with an argument called “the Symbol Grounding problem”. Searle also attacks computationalism by noting that computations are not intrinsic to physics.

    Personally, I have to agree with the anti-computationalists. The biggest problem right now with any computational view is simply defining “computation”. What is a computation? The most brilliant minds in philosophy have thus far failed to produce an adequate definition that shows how a computer can be intrinsic to anything physical in nature.
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  13. Dec 16, 2007 #12
    Well then again, why should he display a different set of conciousness since everything was cloned 100%? What is different that he should share a different set of conciousness?
  14. Dec 16, 2007 #13


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    I think a mechnical brain would be conscious in direct proportion to how closely it simulated the various features and functions of the brain.

    But it would run EXTREEEEEEMELY slowly...
  15. Dec 16, 2007 #14
    I agree with Meatbot that he would be conscious and would probably debate with you about who is the "real you". No real way to resolve who IS the real you after a perfect biological fax is done, although after a period of debate both of "you" would have to admit that your experiencial perceptions have now diverged and the consciousness is no longer identical.

    Another amazing thing, when you think about creating mechanical conscious machines, is how we have the sense that our conscious self remains constant for our entire lives, up to about 100 years. How is it that every time we either wake up from sleep, wake up from anaesthesia, etc. that we haven't been "re-booted" and have to start all over with a new consciousness? Or do we, and we don't realize it somehow???
  16. Dec 16, 2007 #15


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    Robert J. Sawyer wrote a book, with this as a subplot, called https://www.amazon.com/Mindscan-Robert-J-Sawyer/dp/0765311070".
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  17. Dec 16, 2007 #16
    I think that question has a pretty simple answer.
    Your brain with all its 'data' didn't change.
    In theory if you die and am resurrected somewhere else with the same brain and memories in another life you would still be 'you', granted you had memories intact.
  18. Dec 17, 2007 #17

    I agree with your conclusion but to me it is almost unbelievable that a person can undergo a coronary heart bypass, be put under general anaesthesia for hours, maybe have an accidental seizure or two, and then wake up and in a few hours feels pretty much like they are the same person with the same consciousness that they had for the prior 60 years. I am sure that the brain with all its 'data' did change during that process, but just not in areas critical for consciousness.

    Conversely, there are instances of individuals who are otherwise intact but have temporary or even permanent bouts of amnesia, thus apparent disjointed or 'rebooted' consciousness. There must be very specific brain areas which are responsible for maintaining a sense of a lifetime of consciousness, and it may map to areas involved in long-term memory.
  19. Dec 17, 2007 #18
    Then what happens immediately after cloning? Since every molecular and atomic arrangement in the two bodies are the same, why is it that you should be looking through your body and not his? What happends to your conciousness?
  20. Dec 17, 2007 #19


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    It sounds like you are talking sci-fi cloning. Immediately after real cloning, you are still a single-celled egg.
  21. Dec 17, 2007 #20
    well i think they were referring to my post not the OP so if thats the case then i WAS talking about sci-fi sort of cloning.... with a machine to make perfect 100% copies
  22. Dec 17, 2007 #21
    This has always been something that has bothered me, and I take comfort that I do not know the answer, and that maybe our very being and conciousness is unique to us, humans.
  23. Dec 17, 2007 #22
    A good scifi book that looks into this sort of consciousness identity issue is Greg Egan's "Diaspora"
  24. Dec 17, 2007 #23
    After a hypothetically EXACT carbon copy of your entire being is made (sci fi as of today) you would have two separate consciousnesses, one in each copy, and both consciousnesses would immediately diverge. They would share past memories but would then be just like any other set of identical twins with similar traits but gradually diverging world views. And of course, the unsolvable argument over who is really the valid original being.
  25. Dec 26, 2007 #24
    I would think because consciousness is generated by matter and it's a different collection of matter. If it's not different, then you'd be able to experience the input from both sources. You'd be able to see what the clone sees. I think that would require that consciousness is somehow not only determined by the atoms involved, but also by something apart from them. In that case, the two people would be "connected" by some type of consciousness-bearing medium.
  26. Dec 27, 2007 #25


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    You're right Moridin. This topic is about as subjective as it gets.

    The terminology has to be defined and I'll start by noting how "awareness" is often mistaken for "consciousness" and visa versa.

    I think you can safely say that a machine can be made aware of things around it but to say it has a "conscious awareness" will be a stretch because the word consciousness applies to human, neuron interaction with the environment. The environment can be other neurons in the brain and it can be wind sun and water etc...

    You can never get inside another person's head and determine if THEY are conscious or not... so how is it that we can so happily determine the conscious... or unconscious... state of a machine? Turing tests, reflex tests, etc... do not properly gage the existence of consciousness. They help determine awareness of certain criteria but, as we know, what we call consciousness is an elusive target for scrutiny after centuries of use of the word.

    I think the subject might be sensitive because the word "consciousness" has become an almost religious term and so, applying it to the function of a machine may appear as blasphemy to those people used to using it with regard to "enlightenment".

    The term consciousness has been completely struck from the vocabulary of the Neuro-sciences and has been replaced with "awareness" due to the above complications.
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