Re: How would a computer know if it were conscious?

From: Bruno Marchal <>
Date: Tue, 5 Jun 2007 16:12:09 +0200

Le 03-juin-07, à 21:52, Hal Finney a écrit :

> Part of what I wanted to get at in my thought experiment is the
> bafflement and confusion an AI should feel when exposed to human ideas
> about consciousness. Various people here have proffered their own
> ideas, and we might assume that the AI would read these suggestions,
> along with many other ideas that contradict the ones offered here.
> It seems hard to escape the conclusion that the only logical response
> is for the AI to figuratively throw up its hands and say that it is
> impossible to know if it is conscious, because even humans cannot agree
> on what consciousness is.

Augustin said about (subjective) *time* that he knows perfectly what it
is, but that if you ask him to say what it is, then he admits being
unable to say anything. I think that this applies to "consciousness".
We know what it is, although only in some personal and uncommunicable
Now this happens to be true also for many mathematical concept.
Strictly speaking we don't know how to define the natural numbers, and
we know today that indeed we cannot define them in a communicable way,
that is without assuming the auditor knows already what they are.

So what can we do. We can do what mathematicians do all the time. We
can abandon the very idea of *defining* what consciousness is, and try
instead to focus on principles or statements about which we can agree
that they apply to consciousness. Then we can search for (mathematical)
object obeying to such or similar principles. This can be made easier
by admitting some theory or realm for consciousness like the idea that
consciousness could apply to *some* machine or to some *computational
events" etc.

We could agree for example that:
1) each one of us know what consciousness is, but nobody can prove
he/she/it is conscious.
2) consciousness is related to inner personal or self-referential

This is how I proceed in "Conscience et Mécanisme". ("conscience" is
the french for consciousness, "conscience morale" is the french for the
english "conscience").

> In particular I don't think an AI could be expected to claim that it
> knows that it is conscious, that consciousness is a deep and intrinsic
> part of itself, that whatever else it might be mistaken about it could
> not be mistaken about being conscious. I don't see any logical way it
> could reach this conclusion by studying the corpus of writings on the
> topic. If anyone disagrees, I'd like to hear how it could happen.

As far as a machine is correct, when she introspects herself, she
cannot not discover a gap between truth (p) and provability (Bp). The
machine can discover correctly (but not necessarily in a completely
communicable way) a gap between provability (which can potentially
leads to falsities, despite correctness) and the incorrigible
knowability or knowledgeability (Bp & p), and then the gap between
those notions and observability (Bp & Dp) and sensibility (Bp & Dp &
p). Even without using the conventional name of "consciousness",
machines can discover semantical fixpoint playing the role of non
expressible but true statements.
We can *already* talk with machine about those true unnameable things,
as have done Tarski, Godel, Lob, Solovay, Boolos, Goldblatt, etc.

> And the corollary to this is that perhaps humans also cannot
> legitimately
> make such claims, since logically their position is not so different
> from that of the AI. In that case the seemingly axiomatic question of
> whether we are conscious may after all be something that we could be
> mistaken about.

This is an inference from "I cannot express p" to "I can express not
p". Or from ~Bp to B~p. Many atheist reason like that about the
concept of "unameable" reality, but it is a logical error.
Even for someone who is not willing to take the comp hyp into
consideration, it is a third person communicable fact that
self-observing machines can discover and talk about many non 3-provable
and sometimes even non 3-definable true "statements" about them. Some
true statements can only be interrogated.
Personally I don' think we can be *personally* mistaken about our own
consciousness even if we can be mistaken about anything that
consciousness could be about.


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Received on Tue Jun 05 2007 - 10:12:16 PDT

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