Re: 3 possible views of "consciousness"

From: <>
Date: Mon, 29 Jan 2001 3:33:18 EST

"Jesse Mazer" <>:
> [Position 1] makes the belief that a system *has* subjective
> experience a subjective matter...whereas I believe that the fact that
> I am conscious is an "objective" truth, in the sense that it would be
> true regardless of what anyone else believes.

YOU (as conventionally interpreted) believe you are conscious, we
agree on that. The existence of your consciousness under the
interpretation is objective. And YOU most always (with exceptions
like unconsciousness and perhaps some meditative states) maintain
that interpretation.
But you don't seem to agree with me that the interpretation itself is
a subjective matter.

> But I think it's possible a system that is attributed subjective
> experience might not actually have it, at least not in the way people
> think. For example, I doubt that a lookup table would have much
> subjective experience,

The reward for legitimizing interpretations in which the humongous
lookup table is as conscious as any other implementation of a given AI
program is consistency and evaporation of much of the elusiveness of
consciousness. I've become very comfortable with that, at first blush
counterintuitive, consequence.

> in the same way that a recording of a person
> probably doesn't have its own subjective experience. Likewise, if I
> attribute feelings to a stuffed animal, I'm probably wrong.

Why do you think you're wrong? I argued as forcefully as I could
about a year ago on this list and also in the last chapter of my
"Robot" book that allowing interpretationions like these (and
arbitrarily more extreme cases like Putnam's rock) does not lead to
intellectual or moral disaster. On the contrary, it makes sense of
issues that the intuitive positions endlessly muddle.

> But #1 says it's meaningless to talk about the "truth" of these
> questions, just like it's meaningless to ask whether Shakespeare is
> "really" a better author than Danielle Steele.

It's not meaningless, but you have to agree on an interpretation to
get a meaning. My wife and I often discuss the feelings and
motivations of characters in fiction. These are not meaningless
discussions: there interpretations (which I can claim to be Platonic
worlds as solid as any) in which the characters are as real as you or
I. It is possible to gain emotional therapy by unloading one's
innermost concerns on a teddy bear interpreted as thoughtful listener.

> But #1 doesn't just say that conducting a long personal relationship
> with a system is a good test of consciousness (which I believe)
> says that there's nothing to test, because attributing consciousness
> to a system is a purely aesthetic decision. Even an omniscient God
> could not tell you the "truth" of the matter, if #1 is correct.

I have come to strongly believe there is no truth to the matter that
is independent of interpretation. But within an interpretation ...

Aesthetic decisions matter, in life as in house decorating!
Different contexts reward different interpretations. Movies are more
enjoyable if you interpret the characters as consciously real. Teddy
bears are better listeners. But if you're a movie maker, you will be
more effective if you spend a lot of your time in interpretations
where the movie is a sequence of contrived scenes and dialog spoken by
carefully cued actors. And if you're a teddy bear engineer, much of
the time you will interpret the bears as contrived assemblies of inert

If you interpret the human beings you meet everyday as nothing more
than ugly bags of mostly water, you'll likely be led to acts that will
land you in jail or worse. Human consciousness is a socially agreed
on and enforced interpretation, which I'm happy to go along with.

But it is not a uniquely valid interpretation, and there are
circumstances in which other interpretations are more useful. For
instance, while you're undergoing surgery it's probably best for the
medical team to interpret you as a physical mechanism, a chain of
cause and effect, whose normal functioning they strive to restore, a
class of interpretation will become ever more effective as computer
models of the human body become more accurate and detailed.
Received on Mon Jan 29 2001 - 00:37:25 PST

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Feb 16 2018 - 13:20:07 PST