X-Message-Number: 17946
Date: Thu, 15 Nov 2001 20:58:20 -0800
From: Dave Shipman <>
Subject: In Defense of Consciousness (continued)

Hello All,

	Mike Perry (#17934) weighs in in support of Charles Platt's (#17916) 
attitudes toward the problem of consciousness. No doubt others are also in 
sympathy with this viewpoint. So, in an attempt to broaden some 
perspectives, maybe it's time I responded more directly to Charles' 
original post.

	Sometimes I like to go down to the beach on a nice day. I sit on the wall 
and watch the waves come in. There's a gentle sea breeze which brings with 
it the smell of salt air mixed with the pungent aroma of some seaweed that 
has washed up nearby. A boy and his mother are on the beach flying a kite. 
There's a pretty blond flirting with a surfer. I don't actually have to 
think the words "Life is good". But it is.

	Contrast this scenario of conscious experience with a quote from #17916:

    "I suggest that consciousness is nothing more than an
    additional routine that simulates the personal effects of
    alternative actions, and chooses accordingly.
    This would be very easy to simulate."

Huh? Charles, your use of the term "consciousness" must refer to something 
very different from what I have been talking about.

	Charles goes on to tell a great story of how his clever cat walked in its 
previous footsteps in the snow in order to avoid the troubles of walking on 
fresh snow. But this story illustrates the intelligence of the cat, not its 
consciousness. Now I do believe that the cat is conscious but for entirely 
different reasons. If the cat were sitting next to me on the beach wall, I 
suspect it would be having an experience similar to mine, or at least a 
catlike version of it. Now if I were to actually say to myself the words 
"Life is good", then the cat could not have anything quite like that 
experience since it is incapable of human language processing. But, at the 
risk of overly anthropomorphizing feline mental states, I wouldn't be 
surprised if it was experiencing something analogous to the "Life is good" 
feeling that I am experiencing.

	Now sitting next to me on the side opposite the cat is my Beach 
Observation Tool (BOT). The BOT is a contraption I built in my workshop and 
consists of a video camera pointed toward the beach, an anemometer to 
measure wind speed, and a chemical detector to detect the presence of 
sodium chloride and seaweed esters in the air. The BOT senses the same 
natural phenomena as the cat and I, but I doubt if it is having the same 
experience, or indeed any experience whatsoever. We can further imagine 
that the BOT includes a processor running an image processing algorithm so 
that it could, for example, print out on its LCD screen some spatial 
coordinates and the text "Human female, blond hair, 5ft4in". But I 
guarantee the BOT is not having the same image processing experience that I 
am having in this case. In fact, it doesn't have any experiences at all. 
And I don't see how adding a "simple choice-effect subroutine" could 
possibly change the situation.

	The moral of the story is this:

Consciousness is what life is all about. It is the foundation of our 
existence. As we work to replace ourselves with super-intelligent 
super-durable transhuman hardware, we should try to keep this in mind.

	-- Dave Shipman

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