X-Message-Number: 17916
Date: Tue, 13 Nov 2001 11:10:33 -0500 (EST)
From: Charles Platt <>
Subject: The Old Consciousness Thing

To David Shipman:

If you tell me what consciousness is (not what it feels like, which is a
self-referential exercise), then we can have a meaningful discussion of
the possibilities for building a conscious device. But not until!

I suggest that consciousness is nothing more than an additional routine
that simulates the personal effects of alternative actions, and chooses
accordingly. For example, I avoid touching a hot object because I remember
how it felt the last time, and "I" prefer to avoid this feeling.

This would be very easy to simulate.

By these criteria, my cat is certainly conscious. Last year, after a
6-inch snowfall, my cat went out for a quick walk. Later in the day, when
he wanted to go out again, he paused in the doorway and surveyed the snow,
which was marked with his own deep footprints. Very carefully, he walked
out, placing his paws precisely in the previous footprints, thus
minimizing his discomfort from contact with fresh snow. To me, this was
clearly a conscious decision, derived after imagining the consequences if
he created fresh tracks instead of following old ones.

The final, insuperable problem in the "consciousness" debate is that any
entity can claim to be conscious, and you have no way to refute this.
Moreover, any entity can claim that another entity is conscious,without
any possibility of being proven wrong. You cannot prove that my cat is not
conscious, and I cannot prove that you are not conscious. Because,
"consciousness" is almost entirely an internal matter.

Even a parrot nailed to a perch could be conscious. "Nah, nah, he's not
dead, he's just resting."


Rate This Message: http://www.cryonet.org/cgi-bin/rate.cgi?msg=17916