X-Message-Number: 17934
Date: Wed, 14 Nov 2001 23:21:32 -0700
From: Mike Perry <>
Subject: Consciousness Thing

Charles Platt, #17916, writes:

>I suggest that consciousness is nothing more than an additional routine
>that simulates the personal effects of alternative actions, and chooses

Basically my feeling too.

>This would be very easy to simulate.

I agree.

>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.

A fine example, and something I think would be well within the ability of 
today's technology to do with a robot cat, in a way that avoided obviously 
simplistic approaches and really required some judgment and ability to 
anticipate. So we could argue that the robot too would be conscious.

>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.

In some cases an ad-hoc argument would be offered, e.g. for a simple 
computer program that answers "Yes, you bet!" if you type "Are you 
conscious?" but can't do much else. But we can imagine a very sophisticated 
program that really simulates a brain and does a good job. Let's say it 
uses technology we don't have yet, but are likely to have in the future. 
Though entirely nonbiological it can talk just like a human (perhaps it is 
embedded in a robot with voice and other capabilities) and has structures 
that correspond to the parts of the human brain that activate when it is 
functioning. It says it feels pleasure and pain and so on, and seems in 
every way to have human emotions, except that, once again, it is made of 
nonbiological material. Is it conscious or just faking it? I submit there 
is no way in principle to answer this question, beyond the thought that it 
is a definitional question. You have to decide what you mean by 
consciousness, and it isn't sufficient to just say that if the entity in 
question has "awareness" and "feeling" then it is conscious. In an 
important sense you can never know this. My feeling is that I can't think 
of a good reason for *not* regarding something like this as conscious, so I 
would accept it as such. Corollary: I wouldn't worry if my brain were about 
to be replaced by an artificial, inorganic device that in other ways was 
equivalent, if it offered certain advantages such as greater durability or 
memory backups.

Mike Perry

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