minimal theory of consciousness

From: Wei Dai <>
Date: Mon, 12 Jul 1999 19:08:33 -0700

Chalmer's wrote in _The Conscious Mind_:

Ultimately one would like a theory of consciousness to do at least the
following: it should give the condition under which physical processes give
rise to consciousness, and for those processes that give rise to
consciousness, it should specify just what sort of experience is
associated. [end quote]

We are still pretty far away from such a theory, so perhaps we should ask
instead what is the minimal theory of consciousness that we need in order
to make practical decisions? I argue that all we need is a theory that for
each object or process, give the person using the theory the probability
that the object or process gives rise to that person's consciousness. In
other words, it should tell me the probability that being some object or
process feels exactly like the way I feel right now. I think all of us
already has a minimal theory of consciousness, since we can all tell for
example that it is very unlikely that being a typical rock feels like the
way we feel. But of course there are areas our theories are deficient in.
None of us can be very confident (i.e. assign a probability close to 0 or
1) about whether being replays of our mental processes feels like the way
we feel.

The minimal theory of consciousness is the link between a theory of
everything and decision theory. In order to derive useful information from
our subjective experiences, we need to know the conditional probability
that we feel the way we do under various assumptions. Given a set of
assumptions, a theory of everything would produce a probability measure P
over the set of all possible objects or processes. Now to get the
probability that I feel the way I do, I compute sum_over_all_x P(x)Q(x),
where Q(x) is the probability that being x feels the way I do.

The minimal theory of consciousness provides a way to formalize certain
problems in the philosphy of consciousness (such as whether replays or
copies are conscious) while ignoring others (such as what it feels like to
be an alien) that do not have direct bearing on practical matters. I hope
narrowing down the scope of the theory of consciousness will make it easier
to solve the problems that really need to be solved.
Received on Mon Jul 12 1999 - 19:09:59 PDT

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