Re: Searles' Fundamental Error

From: Stathis Papaioannou <>
Date: Tue, 20 Feb 2007 23:22:34 +1100

On 2/20/07, Mark Peaty <> wrote:

 Stathis:'Would any device that can create a representation of the world,
> itself and the relationship between the world and itself be conscious?'
> MP: Well that, in a nutshell, is how I understand it; with the proviso
> that it is dynamic: that all representations of all salient features and
> relationships are being updated sufficiently often to deal with all salient
> changes in the environment and self. In the natural world this occurs
> because all the creatures in the past who/which failed significantly in this
> respect got eaten by something that stalked its way in between the updates,
> or the creature in effect did not pay enough attention to its environment
> and in consequence lost out somehow in ever contributing to the continuation
> of its specie's gene pool.
> Stathis [in another response to me in this thread]: 'You can't prove that
> a machine will be conscious in the same way you are.'
> MP: Well, that depends what you mean;
> 1. to what extent does it matter what I can prove anyway?
> 2. exactly what or, rather, what range of sufficiently complex
> systems are you referring to as 'machines';
> 3. what do you mean by 'conscious in the same way you are'?;
> I'm sure others can think of equally or more interesting questions than
> these, but I can respond to these.
> 1. I am sure I couldn't prove whether or not a machine was
> conscious, but it the 'machine' was, and it was smart enough and interested
> enough IT could, by engaging us in conversation about its experiences, what
> it felt like to be what/who it is, and questioning us about what it is like
> to be us. Furthermore, as Colin Hales has pointed out, if the machine was
> doing real science it would be pretty much conclusive that it was conscious.
> 2. By the word machine I could refer to many of the biological
> entities that are significantly less complex than humans. What ever one says
> in this respect, someone somewhere is going to disagree, but I think maybe
> insects and the like could be quite reasonably be classed as sentient
> machines with near Zombie status.
> 3. If we accept a rough and ready type of physicalism, and
> naturalism maybe the word I am looking for here, then it is pretty much
> axiomatic that the consciousness of a creature/machine will differ from mine
> in the same degree that its body, instinctive behaviour, and environmental
> niche differ from mine. I think this must be true of all sentient entities.
> Some of the people I know are 'colour blind'; about half the people I know
> are female; many of the people I know exhibit quite substantial differences
> in temperament and predispositions. I take it that these differences from me
> are real and entail various real differences in the quality of what it is
> like to be them [or rather their brain's updating of the model of them in
> their worlds].
> I am interested in birds [and here is meant the feathered variety] and
> often speculate about why they are doing what they do and what it may be
> like to be them. They have very small heads compared to mine so their brains
> can update their models of self in the world very much faster than mine can.
> This must mean that their perceptions of time and changes are very
> different. To them I must be a very slow and stupid seeming terrestrial
> giant. Also many birds can see by means of ultra violet light. This means
> that many things such as flowers and other birds will look very different
> compared to what I see. [Aside: I am psyching myself up slowly to start
> creating a flight simulator program that flies birds rather than aircraft.
> One of the challenges - by no mean the hardest though - will be to
> represent UV reflectance in a meaningful way.]
1. If it behaved as if it were conscious *and* it did this using the same
sort of hardware as I am using (i.e. a human brain) then I would agree that
almost certainly it is conscious. If the hardware were on a different
substrate but a direct analogue of a human brain and the result was a
functionally equivalent machine then I would be almost as confident, but if
the configuration were completely different I would not be confident that it
was conscious and I would bet that at least it was differently conscious. As
for scientific research, I never managed to understand why Colin thought
this was more than just a version of the Turing test.

2. I don't consider biological machines to be fundamentally different to
other machines.

3. Sure, different entities with (at least) functionally different brains
will be differently conscious. But I like to use "conscious in the way I am"
in order to avoid having to explain or define consciousness in general, or
my consciousness in particular. I can meaningfully talk about "seeing red"
to a blind person who has no idea what the experience is like: What
wavelengths of light lead me to see red? Can I still see red if my eyes are
closed or my optic nerve severed? What if I have a stroke in the visual
cortex? What if certain parts of my cortex are electrically stimulated? That
is, I can go a very long way with the definition "that experience which i
have when a red coloured object enters my visual field".

Stathis [from the other posting again]: 'There is good reason to believe
> that the third person observable behaviour of the brain can be emulated,
> because the brain is just chemical reactions and chemistry is a
> well-understood field.'
> MP: Once again it depends what you mean. Does 'Third person observable
> behaviour of the brain' include EEG recordings and the output of MRI
> imaging? Or do you mean just the movements of muscles which is the main
> indicator of brain activity? If the former then I think that would be very
> hard, perhaps impossible; if the latter however, that just might be
> achievable.

Huh? I think it would be a relatively trivial matter to emulate MRI and EEG
data, certainly compared to emulating behaviour as evidenced by muscle
activity (complex, intelligent behaviour such as doing science or writing
novels is after all just muscle activity, which is just chemical reactions
in the muscles triggered by chemical reactions in the brain).

Stathis: 'I think it is very unlikely that something as elaborate as
> consciousness could have developed with no evolutionary purpose (evolution
> cannot distinguish between me and my zombie twin if zombies are possible),
> but it is a logical possibility.'
> MP: I agree with the first bit, but I do not agree with the last bit. If
> you adopt what I call UMSITW [the Updating Model of Self In The World], then
> anything which impinges on consciousness, has a real effect on the brain. In
> effect the only feasible zombie like persons you will meet will either be
> sleep walking or otherwise deficient as a consequence of drug use or brain
> trauma. I think Oliver Sachs's book The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat
> gives many examples illustrating the point that all deficiencies in
> consciousness correlate strictly with lesions in the sufferer's brain.

A human with an intact brain behaving like an awake human could not really
be a zombie unless you believe in magic. However, it is possible to conceive
of intelligently-behaving beings who do not have an internal life because
they lack the right sort of brains. I am not suggesting that this is the
case and there are reasons to think it is unlikely to be the case, but it is
not ruled out by any empirical observation.

Stathis Papaioannou

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Received on Tue Feb 20 2007 - 07:22:54 PST

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