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

From: Plunge (
Date: Wed May 24 2000 - 17:59:24 MDT


I just checked the mailing list archive. Yes it was your "Zombie Era",
thanks for reminding me. Great job on that, very thought-provoking.

The spookiest part about consciousness, as you define it below, is trying to
explain why we have it. Why isn't life just a process devoid of inner
states and experience? Didn't Sam Skinner suggest that behaviorism
(input -> black-box -> output) should be enough to explain everything? For
that matter, why is there something rather than nothing? These can probably
be treated as rhetorical questions. :)

Greg Egan and Greg Bear are probably my two favorite SF authors. Their
novels are often as heavy-hitting as 10 novels condensed into one, and
well-written to boot. I haven't had a ride like _Diaspora_ since reading
Poul Anderson's _Tau Zero_

Thanks for the welcome,

-----Original Message-----
[]On Behalf Of Anders Sandberg
Sent: Wednesday, May 24, 2000 8:11 AM
Subject: Re: Self-awareness vs. automatons; iceberg of consciousness;
Greg Egan

"Plunge" <> writes:

> 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
> just "zombies".

Maybe it was my text "The Zombie Era" I posted a few weeks back?

> Exactly what is self-awareness anyway?

Maybe the awareness of our own existence as a subsystem of the world?
Note that self-awareness is something different from consciousness
(which it is often mixed up with; the term consciousness is often used
to refer to a lot of things). Also, my story did not deal with people
lacking self-awareness, they lacked conscious experience but could
still talk convincingly about their internal states (which they did
not feel).

> How close are we to the border between automatons and higher beings?

Why would self-awareness be the distinguishing line? I can imagine
both self-aware automatons and higher beings without self-awareness.

> Perhaps we all slip into and out of self-awareness, but the self-awareness
> itself bridges the gaps to maintain the illusion of continuity.

Just look at dreaming and sleep for example. Also, in flow states
people are in general not aware of themselves, they are too busy to
divert their attention to watch themselves.

> 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
> too time-disjointed, to allow us to be very effective at altering

A good point. I don't know if disjointed self-awareness is bad for
self-modification (sometimes, such as in training martial arts it is
bad for the performance), but clearly our incomplete self-models make
us use less than optimal tools or try to solve the wrong problems.

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

It would be interesting to write a book set during the Introdus,
looking at the social changes caused by it and the philosophical
issues brought up by it. In Diaspora everybody is so used to being
software that nobody takes notice, in Permutation City mainly the
Copies brood over their metaphysical nature. During the Introdus just
about everybody would have to be confronted with these issues.

> Delurking,
> Chris


Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!                  
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y

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