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

From: Bruno Marchal <>
Date: Thu, 28 Jun 2007 16:42:24 +0200

Le 21-juin-07, à 01:07, David Nyman a écrit :

> On Jun 5, 3:12 pm, Bruno Marchal <> wrote:
>> 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.
> I agree with this, but I would prefer to stop using the term
> 'consciousness' at all.


> To make a decision (to whatever degree of
> certainty) about whether a machine possessed a 1-person pov analogous
> to a human one, we would surely ask it the same sort of questions one
> would ask a human. That is: questions about its personal 'world' -
> what it sees, hears, tastes (and perhaps extended non-human
> modalitiies); what its intentions are, and how it carries them into
> practice. From the machine's point-of-view, we would expect it to
> report such features of its personal world as being immediately
> present (as ours are), and that it be 'blind' to whatever 'rendering
> mechanisms' may underlie this (as we are).
> If it passed these tests, it would be making similar claims on a
> personal world as we do, and deploying this to achieve similar ends.
> Since in this case it could ask itself the same questions that we can,
> it would have the same grounds for reaching the same conclusion.
> However, I've argued in the other bit of this thread against the
> possibility of a computer in practice being able to instantiate such a
> 1-person world merely in virtue of 'soft' behaviour (i.e.
> programming). I suppose I would therefore have to conclude that no
> machine could actually pass the tests I describe above - whether self-
> administered or not - purely in virtue of running some AI program,
> however complex. This is an empirical prediction, and will have to
> await an empirical outcome.

Now I have big problems to understand this post. I must think ... (and



> On Jun 5, 3:12 pm, Bruno Marchal <> wrote:
>> 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
>> way.
>> 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
>> modality
>> etc.
>> 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.
>> Bruno
> >

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Received on Thu Jun 28 2007 - 10:42:37 PDT

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