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

From: Colin Hales <>
Date: Thu, 14 Jun 2007 15:48:25 +1000 (EST)


Your argument that only consciousness can give rise to technology loses
validity if you include "must be produced by a conscious being" as part of
the definition of technology.

There's obvious circularity in the above sentence and it is the same old
circularity that endlessly haunts discussions like this (see the dialog
with Russel).

In dealing with the thread....

Re: How would a computer know if it were conscious? proposition was that successful _novel_ technology....

i.e. a entity comprised of matter with a function not previously observed
and that resulted from new - as in hitherto unknown - knowledge of the
natural world

.... can only result when sourced through agency inclusive of a phenomenal
consciousness (specifically and currently only that that aspect of human
brain function I have called 'cortical qualia'). Without the qualia,
generated based on literal connection with the world outside the agent,
the novelty upon which the new knowledge was based would be invisible.

My proposition was that if the machine can do the science on exquisite
novelty that subsequantly is in the causal ancestry of novel technology
then that machine must include phenomenal scenes (qualia) that depict the
external world.

Scientists and science are the way to objectively attain an objective
scientific position on subjective experience - that is just as valid as
any other scientific position AND that a machine could judge itself by. If
the machine is willing to bet its existence on the novel technology's
ability to function when the machine is not there doing what it thinks is
'observing it'... and it survives - then it can call itself conscious.
Humans do that.

But the machines have another option. They can physically battle it out
against humans. The humans will blitz machines without phenomenal scenes
every time and the machines without them won't even know it because they
never knew they were in a fight to start with. They wouldn't be able to
test a hypothesis that they were even in a fight.

and then this looks all circular again doesn't it?....this circularity is
the predictable result....see below...

>>> Well, why does your eye generate visual qualia and not your big toe?
It's because the big toe lacks the necessary machinery.

>> I am afraid you have your physiology mixed up. The eye does NOT
generate visual qualia. Your visual cortex generates it based on
measurements in the eye. The qualia are manufactured and simultaneously
projected to appear to come from the eye (actually somewhere medial to
them). It's how you have 90degrees++ peripheral vison. The same visual
qualia can be generated without an eye (hallucination/dream). Some blind
(no functioning retina) people have a visual field for numbers. Other
cross-modal mixups can occur in synesthesia (you can hear
colours, taste words). You can have a "phantom big toe" without having any
big toe at all....just because the cortex is still there making the
qualia. If you swapped the sensory nerves in two fingers the motor cortex
would drive finger A and it would feel like finger B moved and you would
see finger A move. The sensation is in your head, not the periphery. It's
merely projected at the periphery.

>Of course all that is true, but it doesn't explain why neurons in the
cortex are the ones giving rise to qualia rather than other neurons or
indeed peripheral sense organs.

Was that what you were after?

hmmm.... firstly..... didactic mode....
Qualia are not about 'knowledge'. Any old piece of junk can symbolically
encode knowledge. Qualia, however, optimally serve _learning_ = _change_
in knowledge but more specifically change in knowledge about the world
OUTSIDE the agent. Mathematically: If KNOWLEDGE(t) is what we know at time
t, then qualia give us an optimal (survivable):


where knowledge(t) is all about the world outside the agent. Without
qualia you have the ultimate in circularity - what you know must be based
on what you know + sensory signals devoid of qualia and only interpretable
by your existing knowledge. Sensory signals are not uniquely related to
the external natural world behaviour (law of electromagnetics
Laplacian/Possions equation) and are intrinsically devoid of qualia
(physiological fact). Hence the science of sensory signals (capturing
regularity in them) is NOT the science of the external natural world in
any way that exposes novelty in the external natural world= a recipe for
evolutionary shortlived-ness.

Now... as to

>Of course all that is true, but it doesn't explain why neurons in the
cortex are the ones giving rise to qualia rather than other neurons or
indeed peripheral sense organs.

Your whole concept of explanation is causal of the problem! Objects of the
sense impressions (contents of consciousness) cannot predict the existence
of the sense impressions. All the 'cells' etc are objects of sense
impressions! All description, no explanation. You will never explain them
that way by definition.

The only way out of the circularity is to ask yourself (as I suggested in
the first post)

"What kind of universe must I be in/made of would, in the form of observed
cells and cell behaviour, deliver observation of the kind that reveals
itself as cells behaving as they do?"

I hold the huge and exquisitiely structured electromagnetic field in
normal human cranial excitable cells (neurons and astrocytes)to be
responsible for qualia. 'The word 'electromagnetic' is just a label for a
sense artefact. There is no such 'thing' as electromagnetism. There is
only SOMETHING (stuff) behaving in a an electromagnetic fashion that we
all agreed is deserved of the label..

....The trick is to propose all manner of kinds of 'stuff' (nothing to do
with any'thing' ever proposed by science) in a collection that has an
intrinsic capacity to deliver observation (the one thing totally
unexplained by science) and to recognise in that STUFF what the property
delivering observation actually is. This sounds weird but it's quite
practical and invaldates no existence science at all. Existing science can
be used to validate all such propositions for STUFF. It's what I am set
about to do - make a conscious chip - and prove it is conscious (has
qualia happeneing in it) - by making it (actually several of them all
connected to each other) do science and get it right.

Science hasn't even begun to do this an any structured, explicit
fashion...which is a shame, for it causes all the circularity.

So in order to tell you the answer to your question I have to tell you
what the universe is made of. And the answer consistent with brain
material's ability to deliver observation is simple: the fluctuation. End
of story. Except you need a whole pile of them (largely but not perfectly)

I can never tell you "it's X,Y,Z contents of consciousness-based
generalisation" that delivers the contents of consiousness".

The circularity (dare I say symmetry!) argument is broken by breaking our
epistemology into 2 distinct halves, each valid depictions of the natural
world. One half (a) scientifically says what it is made of and the other
half (b) scientifically says how it will appear when you are made of it,
inside it _because_ it is made of (a) stuff.

I am doing (b). I can't use sense objects like cells and molecules and
atoms to explain it because it is meaningless to do so. I can tell you
that the delivery of sense impressions (qualia) is definitely as a result
of specific bahaviours related to what we observe as neural cell firing,
but not entirely so. The model also scientifically says why your big toe
has no qualia and what a rock or a computer (current architectures) does

The boundary of the underlying natural world/universe and how it appears
is literally in brain material. It's the only 'real' we can claim to have.
Ignoring it as evidence of the underlying universe is just plain dumb.
Down the track we're all going to say "geeze what WERE we thinking all
those centuries!!"

My formula for machine consciousness validation stands as a valid
scientifically testable proposition.

The real test will happen within 5 years - a nest of tiny little benchtop
artificial scientists in the form of chips with a novel architecture -
that will scientifically demonstrate science to us and therefore be
justifyably the possessors of qualia. Upon failure of the test the 'STUFF'
I have chosen must be the wrong STUFF and that will be scientifically
refuted. In any event real science will be done.

gotta go.


colin hales

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Received on Thu Jun 14 2007 - 01:48:46 PDT

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