Consciousness: A Useless Hypothesis

From: J. R. Molloy (
Date: Sat Jan 19 2002 - 14:35:22 MST

Ghost in the Machine:
What Neuroscientists and Computer Scientists Can Learn from Each Other> 
Think of your brain as a kind of computer? Think again. As neuroscientists
learn more about the way the brain works, computer scientists learn how to
improve machines.
Dr. Terrence Sejnowski, director of the Computational Neurobiology
Laboratory at the Salk Institute, agrees that the properties of the brain
can likely be duplicated in artificial devices, although he regards
questions of consciousness with a decidedly unphilosophical bent of mind.
"My own suspicion is that words like 'consciousness' and 'qualia' will go
the way of words like 'phlogistem' and 'vitalism.'"

From: "John Clark" <>
> I have no idea what Interactive sentience could possibly mean and I
> wouldn't be at all surprised if you didn't either.

You're just trying to be difficult I think.
When several people interact with each other, we thereby confirm our
sentience, so that's interactive sentience. So we don't need to "guess" that
we're sentient.

> I can interact with your
> body, your behavior and your intelligence but I can never interact
> with your sentience.

Sentience usually means feeling or sensation as distinguished from
perception and thought. People interact with each other's sentience all the

> Huh? Are you arguing that I'm intelligent when asleep?

Of course not. When you're asleep, so is your intelligence.

> Not useless at all, it helps us form a mental model of other human beings
> and that helps us predict their behavior and that helps our genes get
> on to the next generation.

Nonsense. There's no such thing as "consciousness" and the models it helps
us form are all wrong.

> Every human being alive takes it as a given that
> intelligent behavior equates with consciousness, including you

Wrong! I do not equate intelligent behavior with "consciousness" and you're
being childish to assert that I do.

> except when
> you're arguing on the Extropian list that is; that's why you don't talk to
> about philosophy when they're asleep

I don't talk to people about philosophy at all, because it's a waste of

> you know you're unlikely to get a
> very high-brow response.

I don't care about "high-brow" responses, John.

> Perhaps I really am the only conscious
> being in the universe

Solipsism is for children.

> but nobody, including you, could function in daily
> life if they thought that, so even if it's false I must accept the axiom
that if
> something acts intelligently then it is conscious.

Accept whatever "axiom" you like. It doesn't change anything.
"Consciousness" is a useless hypothesis just like phlogiston and vitalism
If something acts intelligently, that indicates that it may be intelligent.
That's all.

> You quite wisely think that something that
> produced the ASCII sequence that I have must be conscious

Wrong! I think you're intelligent (although you may act quite unwisely).

> proving
> my point that when push comes to shove even you believe in my
> axiom of existence, everybody does, no exceptions this side of a
> loony bin.

What "axiom of existence"? I don't believe in anything.

--- --- --- --- ---

Useless hypotheses, etc.:
 consciousness, phlogiston, philosophy, vitalism, mind, free will, qualia,
analog computing, cultural relativism, GAC, Cyc, Eliza, cryonics, individual
uniqueness, ego, human values, scientific relinquishment, malevolent AI,
non-sensory experience, SETI

We move into a better future in proportion as the scientific method
accurately identifies incorrect thinking.

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