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

From: Colin Hales <>
Date: Thu, 14 Jun 2007 10:23:38 +1000 (EST)

Hi again.... very busy...responses erratically available...sorry...

<my blah blah snipped>

>> RE: 'creativity'
>> ... Say at stage t the biosphere was at complexity level X and then at
stage t = t+(something), the biosphere complexity was at KX, where X is
some key performance indicator of complexity (eg entropy) and K > 1 ....

> Thats exactly what I mean by a creative process. And I also have a
fairly precise definition of complexity, but I certainly accept
> proxies as these are usually easier to measure. For example
> Bedau-Packard statistics...

>> This could be called creative if you like. Like Prigogine did. I'd
>> against the tendency to use the word because it has so many loaded
meanings that are suggestive of much more then the previous para.

> Most scientific terms have common usage in sharp contrast to the
scientific meanings. Energy is a classic example eg "I've run out of
energy" when referring to motivation or tiredness. If the statement were
literally true, the speaker would be dead. This doesn't prevent sensible
scientific discussion using the term in a well defined way. I know of no
other technical meanings of the word creative, so I don't see a problem

It may be technically OK then, but I would say the use of the word
'creativity' is unwise if you wish to unambiguously discuss evolution to a
wide audience. As I said...

>> Scientifically the word could be left entirely out of any desciptions
of the biosphere.

> Only by generating a new word that means the same thing (ie the well
defined concept we talked about before).

I don't think we need a new word....I'll stick to the far less ambiguous
term 'organisational complexity', I think. the word creativity is so
loaded that its use in general discourse is bound to be prone to
misconstrual, especially in any discussion which purports to be assessing
the relationship between 'organisational complexity' and consciousness.

>> The bogus logic I detect in posts around this area...
>> 'Humans are complex and are conscious'
>> 'Humans were made by a complex biosphere'
>> therefore 'The biosphere is conscious'

> Perhaps so, but not from me.
> To return to your original claim:

> "Re: How would a computer know if it were conscious?
> "Easy.
> "The computer would be able to go head to head with a human in a
> The competition?
> Do science on exquisite novelty that neither party had encountered.
(More interesting: Make their life depend on getting it right. The
survivors are conscious)."

> "Doing science on exquisite novelty" is simply an example of a
> creative process. Evolution produces exquisite novelty. Is it science -
well maybe not, but both science and evolution are search
> processes.

In a very real way, the procedural mandate we scientists enforce on
ourselves are, to me anyway, a literal metaphor for the evolutionary
process. The trial and error of evolution = (relatively!) random
creativity followed by proscription via death(defeat in critical argument
eg by evidence) => that which remains does so by not being killed off. In
science our laws of nature are the same.... on the knife edge, validity
contingent on the appearance of one tiny shred of contrary evidence. (yes
I know they are not killed! - they are usually upgraded).

> I think that taking the Popperian view of science would
> imply that both science and biological evolution are exemplars of a
generic evolutionary process. There is variation (of hypotheses or
species), there is selection (falsification in the former or
> extinction in the latter) and there is heritability (scientific
> journal articles / genetic code).
> So it seems the only real difference between doing science and
> evolving species is that one is performed by conscious entities, and the
other (pace IDers) is not.

I think different aspects of what I just described (rather more
colourfully :-) )

> But this rather begs your answer in a
> trivial way. What if I were to produce an evolutionary algorithm that
performs science in the convention everyday use of the term - lets say by
forming hypotheses and mining published datasets for testing
> them. It is not too difficult to imagine this - after all John Koza has
produced several new patents in the area of electrical circuits from an
Evolutionary Programming algorithm.

The question-begging loop at this epistemic boundary is a minefield.
[[engage tiptoe mode]]

I would say:
(1) The evolutionary algorithms are not 'doing science' on the natural
world. They are doing science on abstract entities whose relationship with
the natural world is only in the mind(consciousness) of their grounder -
the human programmer. The science done by the artefact can be the
perfectly good science of abstractions, but simply wrong or irrelevant
insofar as it bears any ability to prescribe or verify claims/propositions
about the natural world (about which it has no awareness whatever). The
usefulness of the outcome (patents) took human involvement. The inventor
(software) doesn't even know it's in a universe, let alone that it
participated in an invention process.

(2) "Is this evolutionary algorithm conscious then?".
In the sense that we are conscious of the natural world around us? Most
definitely no. Nowhere in the computer are any processes that include all
aspects of the physics of human cortical matter. Without knowing exactly
why it is the case that cortical matter bestow qualia on us... what I can
definitely claim (because I know what is in the chips at the atomic level
and I know what is in cortical material at the atomic level) is that in
no way does the computer include all the aspects of the cortical matter
that we utilise in our scientific behaviour. Science is grounded in
cortical-qualia (via observation)...The computer cannot be scientifically
claimed to have qualia...ergo is not conscious...

...Which will now hit the question-begging to the of the
question-begging thing.... (and please don't jump into the solipsism mud)

FACT: The ONLY _scientifically_ provable example (.ie. a generalisation
about the natural world that remains tentatively unrefuted) we have of a
real known consciousness is ourselves (scientists). The scientific proof?
= Science exists/is possible/is successful and fails without human
cortical qualia being involved The word 'consciousness', invoked in this
context means specifically and only the cortical qualia in which sciencwe
has been grounded. This is a scientifically provable proposition I can
make without knowing what qualia are.

Based on this, of the 2 following positions, which is less vulnerable to
critical attack?

A) Information processing (function) begets consciousness, regardless of
the behaviour of the matter doing the information processing (form).
Computers process information. Therefore I believe the computer is

B) Human cortical qualia are a necessary condition for the scientific
behaviour and unless the complete suite of the physics involved in that
process is included in the computer, the computer is not conscious.

Which form of question-begging gets the most solid points as science? (B)
of course. (B) is science and has an empirical future. Belief (A) is
religion, not science.

Bit of a no-brainer, eh?

colin hales

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Received on Wed Jun 13 2007 - 20:24:27 PDT

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