RE: computationalism and supervenience

From: Stathis Papaioannou <>
Date: Sat, 9 Sep 2006 14:34:57 +1000

Brent Meeker writes:

> >>Self-awareness is awareness of some specific aspect of a construct called "myself".
> >>It is not strictly reflexive awareness of the being aware of being aware... So in
> >>the abstract computation it is just this part of a computation having some relation
> >>we identify as "awareness" relative to some other part of the computation. I think
> >>it is a matter of constructing a narrative for memory in which "I" is just another
> >>player.
> >
> >
> > I don't think "self-awareness" captures the essence of consciousness.
> Neither do I; I was just responding to you noting that self-awareness is
> "observer-relative". The "observer" is really just a construct forced on us by
> grammar which demands that an action be done by someone or something. We could more
> accurately say there is observation.

> >We commonly think
> > that consciousness is associated with intelligence, which is perhaps why it is often stated
> > that a recording cannot be conscious, since a recording will not adapt to its environment in
> > the manner we normally expect of intelligent agents. However, consider the experience of
> > pain when you put your hand over a flame. There is certainly intelligent behaviour associated
> > with this experience - learning to avoid it - but there is nothing "intelligent" about the raw
> > experience of pain itself. It simply seems that when certain neurons in the brain fire, you
> > experience a pain, as reliably and as stupidly as flicking a switch turns on a light. When an
> > infant or an animal screams in agony it is not engaging in self-reflection, and for that matter
> > neither is a philosopher: acute pain usually displaces every other concurrent conscious
> > experience. A being played a recording of a painful experience over and over into the relevant
> > neural pathways may not be able to meaningfully interact with its environment, but it will
> > be hellishly conscious nonetheless.
> >
> > Stathis Papaioannou
> I could make a robot that, having suitable thermocouples, would quickly withdraw it's
> hand from a fire; but not be conscious of it. Even if I provide the robot with
> "feelings", i.e. judgements about good/bad/pain/pleasure I'm not sure it would be
> conscious. But if I provide it with "attention" and memory, so that it noted the
> painful event as important and necessary to remember because of it's strong negative
> affect; then I think it would be conscious.

It's interesting that people actually withdraw their hand from the fire *before* they experience
the pain. The withdrawl is a reflex, presumably evolved in organisms with the most primitive
central nervour systems, while the pain seems to be there as an afterthought to teach us a
lesson so we won't do it again. Thus, from consideration of evolutionary utility consciousness
does indeed seem to be a side-effect of memory and learning.

I also think that this is an argument against zombies. If it were possible for an organism to
behave just like a conscious being, but actually be unconscious, then why would consciousness
have evolved?

Stathis Papaioannou
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Received on Sat Sep 09 2006 - 00:35:53 PDT

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