Self-awareness vs. automatons; iceberg of consciousness; Greg Egan

From: Plunge (
Date: Tue May 23 2000 - 22:31:38 MDT

Forget where I saw this SF plot idea: Some people are discovered not to be
self-aware. Of course, they act just like normal people, but in reality are
just "zombies". Although this is not a new idea (especially to Extropians),
it is very interesting, and scary. Exactly what is self-awareness anyway?
How close are we to the border between automatons and higher beings?
Perhaps we all slip into and out of self-awareness, but the self-awareness
itself bridges the gaps to maintain the illusion of continuity.

Self-awareness may just be a specialized/larger version of other-awareness
(our mental models of others). We know some of what we're thinking, but
have no direct way of knowing what others are thinking. So our self-models
are probably much more detailed and complex than our models of others. Even
so, our models of ourselves are (necessarily?) very scaled down versions of
what we actually are. This brings to mind the iceberg of consciousness
(i.e. perhaps more than 90% of our thought processes are subconscious). Are
our subconscious selves automatons by definition (no self-awareness)?

Perhaps this is why modifying our own behaviors and attitudes is often so
difficult: our self-models are too incomplete, and/or our self-awareness is
too time-disjointed, to allow us to be very effective at altering ourselves.
Perhaps in essense we are mostly automatons, with just a glimmering of
self-awareness. Almost like piloting a very heavy vehicle, with tremendous
momentum, caught up in the complex causality maelstrom of societal
interactions: we usually can make minor course corrections, and sometimes we
find the wherewithal to make significant/rapid changes. But usually we're
just along for the ride ...

I suspect there may be evolutionary merit for our genes to program us into
thinking we have more control than we really do. You may immediately
respond that thinking otherwise is counterproductive or foolish. But maybe
that's just your genes defending themselves by bolstering the illusion :)

I continue to marvel at Greg Egan's masterful novel, _Diaspora_:
- 6-dimensional universe, vividly described!
- The Introdus (uploading) and its profound implications.


This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Thu Jul 27 2000 - 14:11:36 MDT