John K Clark (johnkc@well.com)
Sat, 14 Jun 1997 10:12:58 -0700 (PDT)


On Fri, 13 Jun 1997 Brent Allsop <allsop@swttools.fc.hp.com> Wrote:

>once we discover what they are [feelings], how and why they are
>produced we will be able to eff them. We will be able to produce a
>stimulus inside your brain after possibly altering a few neurons and
>say to you: "This is what salt tastes like to someone else". you
>might reply after experiencing the sensation: "Whoa, that isn't what
>salt tastes like to me!" Then you will know for sure that the other
>person, though different than yourself, most definitely is conscious!

If you stimulate a part of my brain I may indeed have a conscious experience
of some sort, but the only reason I would have for thinking it was anything
like the experience you're having is that a theory of consciousness that
somebody thought up tells me it is. Now I'm sure we will have such theories,
I'm sure we will have lots and lots of them, but the trouble is unlike
theories of intelligence, consciousness theories are very easy to dream up,
far, far too easy. These theories have no objective facts they must explain
so there is no limit to the number of them you can crank out. How could we
ever know which theory is correct?

Let's say you have a super sophisticated brain analyzing machine. One day
you feel sad and analyze your brain with the machine. You develop a
reasonably sounding theory to equate the state of the neurons in your head to
your subjective experience. How do you test your theory? Well, you try it on
me. You notice that the state of my neurons is similar (but not identical) to
yours when you felt sad, and from this you use your theory to conclude that I
am experiencing sadness just like you did. As proof your theory was
successful you point to the fact that I have tears in my eyes and I made a
noise with my mouth that sounded like "I feel sad".

In any other area this would be sufficient proof that your theory was correct
but in this one area, for reasons I don't understand, people demand a level
of rigor not seen in any other human endeavor, not even pure mathematics.
A skeptic could correctly point out that the state of my neurons were not
identical to yours only similar, we are after all different people with
different brains. The differences could be crucial, you really felt sad but
it's different with me, I get tear production elevated and the nerves in my
mouth stimulate my tongue to make a noise like " I feel sad" but really I
feel nothing. The only way to know for sure what it's like to be me is to
turn your brain into an identical copy of mine, but then you wouldn't be you
you'd be me.

Actions are not a perfect instrument for studying consciousness but it will
just have to do because we will never find anything better.

On Sat, 14 Jun 1997 Damien Broderick <damien@ariel.ucs.unimelb.edu.au> Wrote:

>Chalmers' argument for the singular and unreductive character of
>consciousness is based firmly on the feasibility of counterfactual
>possible worlds which are replete with zombies. These critters are
>identical with us down the quantal level, but lack the supervenience
>of consciousness and hence lack `experience' and `qualia' - even
>though they claim to have them (being perfect behavioural emulations
>of conscious people). Certainly Dave argues against *us* being
>zombies - he rejects the John Clark model, in other words - but
>his whole argument hangs on the modal possibility that a zombie
>world *is* intelligible. I don't think it is

I agree with you, although I can't prove it with mathematical certainty I
think the idea of intelligent zombies is crazy and it's entirely reasonable
to assume that information (memes and genes) is the essence of a person.
I can give you 4 reasons to support my view, any one of which I find
convincing, the fact that they all point in the same direction makes the
case overwhelming, not beyond a shadow of a doubt but certainly beyond a
reasonable doubt.

1) The Genetic Code, the blueprint for the body, including the brain, is a
DIGITAL code, the only difference is that life's digital code uses base 4
and most computers use base two. The way ribosome's use this information
to assemble the building blocks of life (not atoms but a slightly higher
level object, amino acids) is amazingly computer like.

2) Nobody has ever seen even a hint of fundamental new physics in the matter
of the brain, and it uses the same building blocks as non thinking matter.
The difference must be at a higher level, how the matter is organized and
there science has found vast differences. To organize anything you need to
know how to arrange the parts so that you get something that is a
functioning whole, and all that takes is information.

3) There is no scientific reason that information processing can't duplicate
the behavior of an intelligent person, Turing said that 40 years ago.
I will concede he didn't prove that's the way the brain does it, nor did
he prove anything about consciousness, but I think it's very probable that
information processing , if it's complex enough, generates subjectivity.

4) I don't see how the essence of a person, consciousness, could be an
unobservable characteristic, because if it was we would never have evolved
it, thus information processing must be able to duplicate the essence of a
person. The Turing test may not perfect but it's the best way we have to
find consciousness and we are not likely to find a better one. If the
Turing test is good for intelligence but not for consciousness that would
mean that consciousness is not needed for intelligent behavior, so why did
Evolution ever come up with consciousness in the first place? Evolution
is interested in our internal mental states ONLY if they impact behavior.
Even if consciousness arose by pure chance (extremely unlikely to say the
least) most would have lost it by now because of genetic drift, like the
eyes in fish that have lived in dark caves for millions of years.
If Turing is wrong then so is Darwin.

The only way Turing and Darwin could be wrong is if we posses some inner
non material quality (and not just information) that can not be duplicated by
nanotechnology or even detected by the scientific method, in other words if
we had a soul. If I believed that I would be much more interested in the
mumbo-jumbo of conventional religion than in science.

John K Clark johnkc@well.com

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