X-Message-Number: 12647
Date: Tue, 26 Oct 1999 23:47:04 EDT
Subject: Once more, with feeling

It's almost certainly a waste of time, but when something seems clear and 
simple to you, and the opposite seems clear and simple to someone else, it is 
hard not to continue trying to phrase the issue in such a way that agreement 
is forced.

Among many others, John Clark (dogmatically) and Mike Perry (more cautiously) 
claim, in effect, that there is nothing qualitatively unique about feeling or 
subjective experience, as distinguished from any old goal-seeking mechanism.
Mr. Clark has said:

>You said, without apparent embarrassment, that present day computers were

I said that some computers (programs) show a degree of intelligence, 
depending on the criteria used, and including goal-seeking.

>therefore I can say without embarrassment that present day
>computers are emotional, especially when there is not the slightest chance
>of my ever being proven wrong.

John can say whatever he likes, but justifying it is another matter. If there 
is "not the slightest chance" of his being proven wrong, then his assertion 
is unfalsifiable and useless if not meaningless.

Yes, a few in the extreme strong AI camp claim that even a furnace thermostat 
"thinks" or "feels"--either "It's too cool in here" or "It's not too cool in 
here." But almost everyone with a serious interest in feeling (including 
consciousness) believes it is a real and a profound problem, based on complex 
and specialized physiology, and feeling does not automatically accompany any 
old goal-seeking or problem-solving procedure. Feeling is not mystical, but 
it is certainly still mysterious. It is not a pseudo problem, and not a 
language problem; it is a biological problem.

>externally observed behavior is the only thing you will ever "Know"
>about a mind other than your own, everything else must first pass through
>the lens of theory.

This is a confused and misleading statement. Certainly it is true that the 
only things we know directly are our own feelings; everything else is 
inference, albeit mostly not on a conscious level. So what? We can learn 
about the internal working of other minds in the same way we learn about 
invisible subatomic particles--by experiment and inference. It may also 
become possible one day, e.g. by some kind of electronic "telepathy" to 
actually feel someone else's experiences at the same time he does.  

Meanwhile--and what could be simpler, more obvious or more reasonable?--we 
observe that other people behave much like us, and have anatomy/physiology 
much like ours, hence they almost certainly have feelings similar to ours. 

If you want clinical examples, look at the many experiments involving human 
subjects who do things, including answering questions and solving puzzles, 
without knowing it. For that matter all of us, on many occasions, do many 
things "automatically" without thinking about it or even knowing it. On these 
occasions, is it not obvious that goal-seeking is divorced from feeling? 

Maybe it will help a bit to look again at the robot that seeks an electric 
outlet to recharge itself. Mike Perry says maybe it is indeed "hungry" in a 
primitive sort of way and hence does indeed have a smidgeon of feeling. I say 
there is no reason whatsoever to impute feeling to the thing, but set that 
aside for now. 

Just think: What if it is programmed to seek that same outlet, but not to 
plug itself in and "feed" itself--maybe just to win a race. Now is it feeling 
"hungry?" Or is it feeling "competitive?" Is it feeling "vigorous?" You could 
SAY it is feeling "drawn" or "attracted"--but what would that accomplish? At 
best, it would be a metaphorical way of saying it was programmed to go to the 
outlet. But your feelings and mine are not metaphorical; they are bottom-line 
reality, the basic stuff of life.

Robert Ettinger
Cryonics Institute
Immortalist Society

Rate This Message: http://www.cryonet.org/cgi-bin/rate.cgi?msg=12647