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What is consciousness (pure scientific) ?


Itoero
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What is consciousness (pure scientific) ?

Are insects conscious?

 

I think consciousness is the way you interpret (or deal with) stored knowledge.

During your life you get a lot of knowledge through learning/observing which is what forms/feeds your consciousness.

 

Since insects have also a lot of neurons...they have also consciousness.

A cockroach has +/- 1 000 000 neurons in his brain/nervous system while a fruit fly has only 250 000 neurons.

 

You should think of the principles underlying how you put a brain together or what's a brain made of.There is no reason to limit having consciousness to animals with a human-like brain.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_animals_by_number_of_neurons

 

Drosophila flies live for several days completely normally without a head: they will fly, walk and copulate (okay, they have to be raped since a headless female wont start courting rituals). Mantids, however, do start their mating dance when beheaded. Long-term memory in cockroaches will stay even when the head is removed. It seems amazing at first, but its really quite clear how this all works when you look at an insects central nervous system (CNS).

http://bioteaching.com/insect-brains-and-animal-intelligence/

This shows a conscious reaction on a swatting device by a fly:

Edited by Itoero
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Consciousness is not tightly defined though one important aspect is self-awareness. There are not a huge amount of tests that could be done but brain MRI studies looking at patients that have impairments related to self-wareness have highlighted a number of complex pathways that are somehow involved. Even with the fuzziness of the term, if one assumes that simple structures as found in flies are able to express consciousness would mean that the quality is likely to be massively different and may be better served to a) have a different term or b) redefine the concept of consciousness.

 

I also do not see how the argument regarding number of neurons helps in this regard.

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I think self awareness is very subjective and non-definable accurately. Its pretty safe to assume that a gorilla is self aware but it is also safe to assume that it is self aware on a different level of perception than myself for example. Is a bird self aware or a hamster or a fly? Humans might be considered not "self aware" being judged by a highly advanced alien species just like sime of us judge a fly not being self aware. Id say that every living organism is conscious within its own level of perception untill we define what consciousness is exactly and frankly, I dont think its ever happening.

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My preferred "purely scientific" take on consciousness:

 

I Am A Strange Loop by Douglas Hofstadter

 

I Am a Strange Loop is a 2007 book by Douglas Hofstadter, examining in depth the concept of a strange loop to explain the sense of "I". The concept of a strange loop was originally developed in his 1979 book Gödel, Escher, Bach.

 

In the end, we are self-perceiving, self-inventing, locked-in mirages that are little miracles of self-reference.

 Douglas Hofstadter, I Am a Strange Loop p.363

...

He demonstrates how the properties of self-referential systems, demonstrated most famously in Gödel's incompleteness theorems, can be used to describe the unique properties of minds. ...

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Most definitions of consciousness are fuzzy and/or depend on other fuzzy concepts such as "self-awareness" or "self-perception".

 

There is no reason to limit it to living things, though. If a fly is conscious, so is my laptop.

 

In my experience, people like to think that there is something special about consciousness. As a result, they refuse to define the concept too concretely, because when they do, the "magic" is lost. I wonder where this devoutness comes from. Even reputable scientists and atheists like roger Penrose feel the need to come up with funny theories to explain why our consciousness is super special.

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What is consciousness (pure scientific) ?

 

 

If it is "pure scientific" why is it in Philosophy?

 

As it is in philosophy, the important thing is to define exactly what you mean by "consciousness".

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Most definitions of consciousness are fuzzy and/or depend on other fuzzy concepts such as "self-awareness" or "self-perception".

 

There is no reason to limit it to living things, though. If a fly is conscious, so is my laptop.

 

In my experience, people like to think that there is something special about consciousness. As a result, they refuse to define the concept too concretely, because when they do, the "magic" is lost. I wonder where this devoutness comes from. Even reputable scientists and atheists like roger Penrose feel the need to come up with funny theories to explain why our consciousness is super special.

I agree. I found this from a neuroscientist who thinks the same:

 

 

Neuroscientist Christof Koch, chief scientific officer at the Allen Institute for Brain Science, thinks he might know the answer.

According to Koch, consciousness arises within any sufficiently complex, information-processing system. All animals, from humans on down to earthworms, are conscious; even the internet could be. http://www.wired.co.uk/article/christof-koch-panpsychism-consciousness

Earthworms are conscious because they can respond to stimuli, like odours, and react accordingly. I think people erroneously conflate self-awareness with consciousness, which is another higher level of complexity, but is not the minimum parameter for something to be conscious.

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We don't know. Full stop. We even truly know what in the world is or isn't conscious. We don't know what the requirements for consciousness actually are.

 

We are only really pretty sure other humans are conscious by extrapolation from our personal experience.

 

The question of why we have subjective experience instead of just being highly complex but "perspectiveless" automatons has no currently defined answer.

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I agree. I found this from a neuroscientist who thinks the same:

 

Earthworms are conscious because they can respond to stimuli, like odours, and react accordingly. I think people erroneously conflate self-awareness with consciousness, which is another higher level of complexity, but is not the minimum parameter for something to be conscious.

Hofstadter points out that there are levels of consciousness and that we humans acknowledge and adjudge them according to personal perceptions. Most folks don't hesitate to stick a worm on a hook whereas sticking a dolphin on a hook would be verboten. Perceptions being what they are, there is a wide latitude in our judgments, but they are based on the idea of a continuum of consciousness.

...

The question of why we have subjective experience instead of just being highly complex but "perspectiveless" automatons has no currently defined answer.

Hofstadter defines the experience of consciousness as a 'strange loop'. While you may not know that or disagree with it, it is not true to say that the definition does not exist.

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Dolphins are quite smart, communicate among themselves, and are inventive (youtube video). Dolphins, orcas and sperm whale are all toothed whales; thus, related like chimps, humans and gorillas. In fact, the similarities between apes and toothed whales has been discussed. Dolphins, at least, are considered self aware because they recognize themselves in a mirror.

 

A reported phenomenon is that sperm whales did not usually attack men who pursued them in whalers (also called whaleboats) that were large rowboats. Older males are solitary, but females and younger males live in pods. If a human in a group is attacked, the group will often attack the attacker to defend everyone in the group. Although any one of the sperm whales could easily destroy a whaleboat, they typically did not. I think this phenomenon highlights a difference in the way people and other animals think. People are vengeful, but animals are not AFAIK. Since vengeance is often a conscious premeditated thought, sometimes followed by action, our conscious thought process seems to be unique.

Edited by EdEarl
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Hofstadter points out that there are levels of consciousness and that we humans acknowledge and adjudge them according to personal perceptions. Most folks don't hesitate to stick a worm on a hook whereas sticking a dolphin on a hook would be verboten. Perceptions being what they are, there is a wide latitude in our judgments, but they are based on the idea of a continuum of consciousness.

 

Hofstadter defines the experience of consciousness as a 'strange loop'. While you may not know that or disagree with it, it is not true to say that the definition does not exist.

Empirical evidence that consciousness is a strange loop?

 

Can you use the definition of a strange loop to tell whether something definitely is or isn't conscious? Can you even use it to give an accurate probability of whether something is conscious? Is there a mathematical model that describes the process by which consciousness arises based on it being a strange loop?

Edited by Delta1212
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Empirical evidence that consciousness is a strange loop?

Are you asking me to give the evidence, or asking if it exists?

 

Can you use the definition of a strange loop to tell whether something definitely is or isn't conscious?

I would say no inasmuch as a strange loop is a necessary but not sufficient condition for consciousness. Hofstadter points to Escher's print 'Drawing Hands' as a strange loop, but this does not imply that the drawing is conscious.

 

Can you even use it to give an accurate probability of whether something is conscious?

Again I'd say no for the same reasons I just gave above.

 

Is there a mathematical model that describes the process by which consciousness arises based on it being a strange loop?

Here I will say yes. I'll give a quote from MathWorld to support my answer, but if you want to understand the full argument you will have to read Hofstadter (presuming you have not) and make your own determination. Lead a horse to water and all that. ;)

 

Strange Loop @ Wolfram MathWorld

A strange loop is a phenomenon in which, whenever movement is made upwards or downwards through the levels of some hierarchical system, the system unexpectedly arrives back where it started. Hofstadter (1989) uses the strange loop as a paradigm in which to interpret paradoxes in logic (such as Grelling's paradox, the liar's paradox, and Russell's antinomy) and calls a system in which a strange loop appears a tangled hierarchy. ...

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Are all self-referential systems conscious then?

 

I'm asking not for the mathematics of self-referential systems (i.e. Strange loops) but for a mathematical model of consciousness based on the math of strange loops that gives testable and accurate predictions about consciousness.

 

Without that, we don't "know" consciousness is a strange loop, nor does consciousness being "a strange loop" tell us anything particularly useful about what consciousness is. It's just one neat idea among many.

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At it's most basic, couldn't it be defined as that minimum state which gives something operational autonomy in making decisions/responses to stimuli? This can apply to non-living systems as well. They contain algorithms which allows them to respond to stimuli in a variety of ways, which is the decision-making part. I suppose one could go through all the living taxa, from bacteria, and work through them to the one that is deemed to be conscious. I've read worms are conscious, so one could analyse all the behavioural algorithms that they use and this might be the starting point of consciousness and say "This is what consciousness looks like at its most basic in algorithmic terms". Would this be a useful, empirical approach to nailing it down? I think what we should be looking for is the minimum rule set that makes something 'conscious'; no airy-fairy philosophical or metaphysical stuff to confound the definition.

Edited by StringJunky
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Are all self-referential systems conscious then?

As I just said, strange loops are a necessary but not sufficient condition for consciousness, so no.

 

I'm asking not for the mathematics of self-referential systems (i.e. Strange loops) but for a mathematical model of consciousness based on the math of strange loops that gives testable and accurate predictions about consciousness.

 

Without that, we don't "know" consciousness is a strange loop, nor does consciousness being "a strange loop" tell us anything particularly useful about what consciousness is. It's just one neat idea among many.

Also as I said, you will have to read Hofstadter's I Am A Strange Loop (and Gödel, Escher, Bach) to make your own determination of whether or not his model is up to your snuff. What have you got to lose? :)
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As I just said, strange loops are a necessary but not sufficient condition for consciousness, so no.

 

Also as I said, you will have to read Hofstadter's I Am A Strange Loop (and Gödel, Escher, Bach) to make your own determination of whether or not his model is up to your snuff. What have you got to lose? :)

I am, in fact, familiar with it, and I don't think that it offers an actual explanation as to what consciousness is, where exactly it comes from or why it exists at all, and it certainly doesn't do so in a scientific way, which requires a testable model of consciousness in order to qualify.

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As I just said, strange loops are a necessary but not sufficient condition for consciousness, so no.

 

Also as I said, you will have to read Hofstadter's I Am A Strange Loop (and Gödel, Escher, Bach) to make your own determination of whether or not his model is up to your snuff. What have you got to lose? :)

I am, in fact, familiar with it, and I don't think that it offers an actual explanation as to what consciousness is, where exactly it comes from or why it exists at all, and it certainly doesn't do so in a scientific way, which requires a testable model of consciousness in order to qualify.

 

Mmmmm....does 'familiar with it' mean you read it, or just read about it? In any case you're under no constraint to accept Doug's or my contentions and certainly as a conscious being you are free to form your own conclusions. I don't see any scientific refutation from you however, rather you just offer "I don't think...'.

As I alluded when I first posted, Hofstadter's work is the best take I have run across that meets the criteria set out in the OP, as well as Phi's mod note. I encourage readers to fully explore these neat, if not difficult, ideas. :)

 

At it's most basic, couldn't it be defined as that minimum state which gives something operational autonomy in making decisions/responses to stimuli? This can apply to non-living systems as well. They contain algorithms which allows them to respond to stimuli in a variety of ways, which is the decision-making part. I suppose one could go through all the living taxa, from bacteria, and work through them to the one that is deemed to be conscious. I've read worms are conscious, so one could analyse all the behavioural algorithms that they use and this might be the starting point of consciousness and say "This is what consciousness looks like at its most basic in algorithmic terms". Would this be a useful, empirical approach to nailing it down? I think what we should be looking for is the minimum rule set that makes something 'conscious'; no airy-fairy philosophical or metaphysical stuff to confound the definition.

Here again, Hofstadter's approach is to allow for a continuum of consciousness, i.e. some things are more conscious than others. The worm is more conscious than the bacteria and less conscious than we peoples. He also makes clear that given the variability of consciousness within peoples, the judgment of where things rank is a subjective result of that variability itself. A strange loop, ain't it? :)

Addendum:

 

Hofstadter says he wrote I Am A Strange Loop in good part because folks -me among them- didn't understand that Gödel, Escher, Bach was about 'I', that is consciousness. My copy of GEB was lost in a fire and I just went searching the webernet for an inexpensive replacement copy. There to my amazement I found it is now downloadable as a PDF! Woot woot!! Here's the addy: link removed

 

What's more, I also found that I Am a Strange Loop is also now available as a free PDF. Woot woot woot!!! >> link removed

Notice: I am presuming these PDFs are authorized by the author and respect his copyrights. I have dropped Doug a note to check, and if they are not authorized I will have staff remove the links.

 

I do have a hardcopy of the latter and I'm on my third read so I thought I would throw a passage from my current place into the mix here to bolster my claims. Mind you that no mere snippet is going to answer all you dear tender readers' questions, anymore than some snippet of Wile's proof would explain the whole. Both are structured, progressive, logical arguments leading to conclusions and to the best of my knowledge constitute scientific investigations.

 

Anyway, FWIW:

Chapter 13: The Elusive Apple of My "I": pg. 179

Our keenest insights into causality in the often terribly confusing world of living beings invariably result from well-honed acts of categorization at a macroscopic level. For example, the reasons for a mysterious war taking place in some remote land might suddenly leap into sharp focus for us when an insightful commentator links the war's origin to an ancient conflict between certain religious dogmas. On the other hand, no enlightenment whatsoever would come if a physicist tried to explain the war by saying it came about thanks to trillions upon trillions of momentum-conserving collisions taking place among ephemeral quantum-mechanical specks. ...

Edited by hypervalent_iodine
links removed due to copyright
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Most definitions of consciousness are fuzzy and/or depend on other fuzzy concepts such as "self-awareness" or "self-perception".

 

There is no reason to limit it to living things, though. If a fly is conscious, so is my laptop.

 

In my experience, people like to think that there is something special about consciousness. As a result, they refuse to define the concept too concretely, because when they do, the "magic" is lost. I wonder where this devoutness comes from. Even reputable scientists and atheists like roger Penrose feel the need to come up with funny theories to explain why our consciousness is super special.

I agree with th elast part of your post but not the highlighted portion. A fly is a product of natural biology. Every individual fly must survive independently and be successful enough to reproduce. A fly grows to be and lives 100% autonomously. They have been doing so for millions of generations. Your laptap is not autonomous and does nothing independently. Even machines we (humans) build to mimic autonomous behavior do not have the ability to grow, develop, adapt, change, and etc as a fly does.

 

People absolutely project magical properties on to consciousness in my opinion. One error is separating the mind from the body. The two are one in the same in that both are required for awareness of any kind. As such an man made device, even one designed to be autonomous, cannot oversee their own physical changes, reproduction, and adaptation.

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I agree with th elast part of your post but not the highlighted portion. A fly is a product of natural biology. Every individual fly must survive independently and be successful enough to reproduce. A fly grows to be and lives 100% autonomously. They have been doing so for millions of generations. Your laptap is not autonomous and does nothing independently. Even machines we (humans) build to mimic autonomous behavior do not have the ability to grow, develop, adapt, change, and etc as a fly does.

 

People absolutely project magical properties on to consciousness in my opinion. One error is separating the mind from the body. The two are one in the same in that both are required for awareness of any kind.As such an man made device, even one designed to be autonomous, cannot oversee their own physical changes, reproduction, and adaptation.

Hofstadter -and so I- would beg to differ on the bolded. Just because no sufficiently complex artificial net has not yet been confirmed to be conscious, does not mean it can never be so. After all, at some point Earth had no conscious life and yet here we and the flys be now.

 

(At the risk of being called out for appeal to authority, I appeal to authority. :lol:

Douglas Hofstadter profile @ Indiana University

College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor, Cognitive Science

Adjunct Professor, Comparative Literature

Director, Center for Research on Concepts and Cognition)

 

Education

•B.S., Mathematics (with distinction), Stanford University, 1965

•M.S., Physics, University of Oregon, 1972

•Ph.D., Physics, University of Oregon, 1975•Thesis advisor: Gregory H. Wannier

•Thesis area: Theoretical solid-state physics

•Thesis title: “The Energy Levels and Wave Functions of Bloch Electrons In a Homogeneous Magnetic Field”

 

 

Awards

•Pulitzer Prize (General Nonfiction category), 1980

• American Book Award (Science Hardback category), 1980 for Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid

• Guggenheim Fellow, 1980-81

 

 

PS I have made a couple new posts that were appended to post #16 and so did not appear separately.

Edited by Acme
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I agree with th elast part of your post but not the highlighted portion. A fly is a product of natural biology. Every individual fly must survive independently and be successful enough to reproduce. A fly grows to be and lives 100% autonomously. They have been doing so for millions of generations. Your laptap is not autonomous and does nothing independently. Even machines we (humans) build to mimic autonomous behavior do not have the ability to grow, develop, adapt, change, and etc as a fly does.

 

People absolutely project magical properties on to consciousness in my opinion. One error is separating the mind from the body. The two are one in the same in that both are required for awareness of any kind. As such an man made device, even one designed to be autonomous, cannot oversee their own physical changes, reproduction, and adaptation.

Why couldn't they?

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Why couldn't they?

I posted that machines do not and cannot. I mean that as a reference to the here and now. I am not implying they never will. The camparison made was a fly to laptop and not theoretical AI tech. I personnally do believe conscious machines will eventual exist.

Edited by Ten oz
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I posted that machines do not and cannot. I mean that as a reference to the here and now. I am not implying they never will. The camparison made was a fly to laptop and not theoretical AI tech. I personnally do believe conscious machines will eventual exist.

 

Ok, it sounded like you were making a blanket statement about anything that could be made by man rather than anything that man has already created. In which case, I agree.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Interesting TED Talk on the subject.

 

https://www.ted.com/talks/anil_seth_how_your_brain_hallucinates_your_conscious_reality

 

Your brain hallucinates your conscious reality

Right now, billions of neurons in your brain are working together to generate a conscious experience -- and not just any conscious experience, your experience of the world around you and of yourself within it. How does this happen? According to neuroscientist Anil Seth, we're all hallucinating all the time; when we agree about our hallucinations, we call it "reality." Join Seth for a delightfully disorienting talk that may leave you questioning the very nature of your existence.

Anil Seth · Cognitive neuroscientist

How can the "inner universe" of consciousness be explained in terms of mere biology and physics? Anil Seth explores the brain basis of consciousness and self.

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Interesting TED Talk on the subject.

 

https://www.ted.com/talks/anil_seth_how_your_brain_hallucinates_your_conscious_reality

 

Your brain hallucinates your conscious reality

 

Anil Seth · Cognitive neuroscientist

How can the "inner universe" of consciousness be explained in terms of mere biology and physics? Anil Seth explores the brain basis of consciousness and self.

From your quote: " "we're all hallucinating all the time; when we agree about our hallucinations, we call it "reality."" I think of human models of reality as intersubjective consensus.

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