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The Consciousness Question (If such a question really exists)


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Posting this in General Philosophy if that fits.

My question is this:

"Is there any kind of a test (perhaps along the lines of the Turing test) that we could administer to a sentient creature (or a machine) that would allow us to define or determine whether or not the said subject was actually  conscious?

I don't know,but it seems a central feature of my existence that I tell myself that I do  possess consciousness but I cannot see a way to verify this other than to take it as a matter of a priori belief.

 

Could there be any possible tests or is it just the Turing test that might be applicable?

 

Apologies if this question has been asked before(said sarcastically as there is apparently no emoji for that)

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9 minutes ago, geordief said:

Posting this in General Philosophy if that fits.

My question is this:

"Is there any kind of a test (perhaps along the lines of the Turing test) that we could administer to a sentient creature (or a machine) that would allow us to define or determine whether or not the said subject was actually  conscious?

I don't know,but it seems a central feature of my existence that I tell myself that I do  possess consciousness but I cannot see a way to verify this other than to take it as a matter of a priori belief.

 

Could there be any possible tests or is it just the Turing test that might be applicable?

 

Apologies if this question has been asked before(said sarcastically as there is apparently no emoji for that)

I think you mean self awareness, which is an interesting question; for instance the mirror test is recognised as a measure of visual self-recognition.

Dog's fail the test, but their primary sence is smell rather than vision, so they see the dog in the mirror but it doesn't smell like me (or a dog).

How would we design a test to determine the consciousness of a bacteria/mouse/camel, if we can't walk a mile in their shoe's?

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27 minutes ago, geordief said:

Posting this in General Philosophy if that fits.

My question is this:

"Is there any kind of a test (perhaps along the lines of the Turing test) that we could administer to a sentient creature (or a machine) that would allow us to define or determine whether or not the said subject was actually  conscious?

I don't know,but it seems a central feature of my existence that I tell myself that I do  possess consciousness but I cannot see a way to verify this other than to take it as a matter of a priori belief.

 

Could there be any possible tests or is it just the Turing test that might be applicable?

 

Apologies if this question has been asked before(said sarcastically as there is apparently no emoji for that)

I don't see how there could be. Consciousness seems to me to be a continuum, rather than a yes/no property of organisms.  Most people would think a mouse was conscious, or a bird or a lizard. An insect? More questionable, perhaps. A jellyfish? Perhaps not really.  

Edited by exchemist
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Some people have tried to develop methods of measuring consciousness in the most general sense. I think the most developed idea is integrated information theory put forward by a neurologist in 2004. It measures how integrated various systems in a whole are. Even if you accept this as a reasonable measure, to actually apply the test all possible combinations of connectivity are sought, so to 'measure' the consciousness of a worm with 300 synapses would currently take 10^9 years.

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2 hours ago, geordief said:

 

 

Could there be any possible tests or is it just the Turing test that might be applicable?

 

 

Ned Block has rejected any Turing test - what's sometimes dubbed the Blockhead argument.  

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blockhead_(thought_experiment)

Then there are thinkers like Colin McGinn, who is one of the New Mysterians, who simply reject that the human mind is equipped to ever measure, or open any epistemological access, to consciousness in any entity.  Their position is that we can never know if an AI, or a mouse, is truly conscious.  

I'm a bit more hopeful.  Like the "Phi" guy, Tononi (referenced by @Prometheus), I see possible paths with neuroimaging, TCMS, and neural net modelings with computers.  I think we are in the infancy stage of studying the connectome. (the term for the comprehensive map of neural connections in the brain)

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"I am constantly trying to communicate something incommunicable, to explain something inexplicable, to tell about something I only feel in my bones and which can only be experienced in those bones." ~ Franz Kafka

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2 hours ago, geordief said:

Could there be any possible tests or is it just the Turing test that might be applicable?

I have a problem with the premise of this question. Who does the testing? By what means have you determined that you are the agent capable of judging whether other entities are conscious? You must have started with an presumption that you yourself are conscious - without having passed any tests or posited any standards of qualification - and have thereby also become the sole authority on the subject of consciousness.

(IOW: I am the alpha and the omega)

In fact, all you can do, with no matter how sophisticated or wily a test, is compare others to your own currently perceived state of consciousness. 

 

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1 hour ago, Peterkin said:

I have a problem with the premise of this question. Who does the testing? By what means have you determined that you are the agent capable of judging whether other entities are conscious? You must have started with an presumption that you yourself are conscious - without having passed any tests or posited any standards of qualification - and have thereby also become the sole authority on the subject of consciousness.

(IOW: I am the alpha and the omega)

In fact, all you can do, with no matter how sophisticated or wily a test, is compare others to your own currently perceived state of consciousness. 

 

Indeed, if I metamorphose into you, that doesn't make us clever; it just means, we understand each other.

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48 minutes ago, dimreepr said:

Indeed, if I metamorphose into you, that doesn't make us clever; it just means, we understand each other.

To the extent that we each understand ourselves.

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I never heard even a good definition of consciousness, and so I don't expect there can be a test.

But the philosopher in me speculate... If you can communicate with the subject, maybe simple questions like 'what do you think' or 'what do you feel' would suffice. This might show if the subject is aware of its own thinking process, and maybe even if it possesses a model of its own mind... I really have no idea, but I always felt that having a model of your own mind has something to do with your own consciousness (well, it sounds recursive - a mind with a model of itself)

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39 minutes ago, Danijel Gorupec said:

If you can communicate with the subject, maybe simple questions like 'what do you think' or 'what do you feel' would suffice.

That's true, but it limits us to the species with which we can communicate - for most people, that's just other people, pets and computers.

For species with whom we have no common language, we can usually read body language: if the subject is trying to run away from you, bite your hand or steal your shiny cufflink, it's aware. If it just stands there and shows no response to being kicked, it's probably unconscious.

But, yes, on the whole, that's the only convincing test: ask them.

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8 hours ago, Peterkin said:

I have a problem with the premise of this question. Who does the testing? By what means have you determined that you are the agent capable of judging whether other entities are conscious? You must have started with an presumption that you yourself are conscious - without having passed any tests or posited any standards of qualification - and have thereby also become the sole authority on the subject of consciousness.

(IOW: I am the alpha and the omega)

In fact, all you can do, with no matter how sophisticated or wily a test, is compare others to your own currently perceived state of consciousness. 

 

I see.Perhaps we might   even devise a test  to determine  whether another person had a qualitatively   higher level of self awareness  than oneself?

 

I am not being serious .I must admit the subject is a lot more difficult  than I had imagined.

 

The answers I got to the OP have been helpful and informative.

 

It seems there has been a fair bit of research  into the subject.....

 

 

 

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38 minutes ago, geordief said:

It seems there has been a fair bit of research  into the subject....

Perennially fascinating to philosophers, psychologists, neurologists and biologists since forever, I guess. We just can't stop touching that yellow dot on our forehead.  

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11 hours ago, geordief said:

I see.Perhaps we might   even devise a test  to determine  whether another person had a qualitatively   higher level of self awareness  than oneself?

If a lion could speak English, there's nothing to suggest we would understand them, because understanding depends on mutual experiences to give context to the language.

For instance, the rosetta stone allows us to understand the language, but we have no idea what the language would sound like.

We understand our culture because we all live it, what test do you suggest? I've never seen star war's 🙂 

 

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35 minutes ago, dimreepr said:

If a lion could speak English, there's nothing to suggest we would understand them, because understanding depends on mutual experiences to give context to the language.

For instance, the rosetta stone allows us to understand the language, but we have no idea what the language would sound like.

We understand our culture because we all live it, what test do you suggest? I've never seen star war's 🙂 

 

I think others here have   noted possible observations that would show if a subject was conscious or not.

 

 

I initially had in mind to drill down into  more basic and fundamental  reactions of the subject with its environment that would show up the fundamental concept.

But I have given up on that idea because I find the subject so difficult  and ,perhaps defuse.

 

I do like  the idea of the connectome as mentioned by @Prometheus but note the apparently enormous practical difficulties  in studying  that concept.

But perhaps my test might boil down to whether the subject interacts with its environment   in an"interesting" way(as Peterkin has said we  as the experimenters seem to have a priori defined a conscious system  as "something like us" and so "interesting" may be the most we can  or should  hope  for)

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14 minutes ago, geordief said:

I think others here have   noted possible observations that would show if a subject was conscious or not.

 

 

I initially had in mind to drill down into  more basic and fundamental  reactions of the subject with its environment that would show up the fundamental concept.

But I have given up on that idea because I find the subject so difficult  and ,perhaps defuse.

 

I do like  the idea of the connectome as mentioned by @Prometheus but note the apparently enormous practical difficulties  in studying  that concept.

But perhaps my test might boil down to whether the subject interacts with its environment   in an"interesting" way(as Peterkin has said we  as the experimenters seem to have a priori defined a conscious system  as "something like us" and so "interesting" may be the most we can  or should  hope  for)

What I see in this thread is the usual phenomenon that has baffled me in discussions of this subject in the past, namely that some responders - including me- treat "conscious" as meaning just some kind of ability to sense and respond to stimuli in a complex way, whereas others seem to be addressing what seems to me a quite separate and far more restrictive issue, namely awareness of self. 

To me, one practical test of what we mean by consciousness would be whether or not we think the organism can feel pain. A wide range of creatures can react violently, when injured or otherwise subjected to some physical insult, in a way that we recognise as similar to our own response to pain. But I would not for a moment suggest they are self-aware. 

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32 minutes ago, geordief said:

I think others here have   noted possible observations that would show if a subject was conscious or not.

But not if the subject is aware of it's consciousness... 

Gaia can be said to be conscious in much the same way as an anthill can be said to be intelligent... 

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16 minutes ago, exchemist said:

But I would not for a moment suggest they are self-aware. 

That, I conjecture, is because you start from an anthropocentric definition of self-awareness.

It keeps coming back to that: we can only have our perspective.

3 minutes ago, dimreepr said:

can be said to be conscious in much the same way as an anthill can be said to be intelligent... 

Many things can be said, and even sound profound, if not entirely plausible, as long as you don't put too fine a point on the meaning of words.

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3 minutes ago, Peterkin said:

Many things can be said, and even sound profound, if not entirely plausible, as long as you don't put too fine a point on the meaning of words.

How else do we communicate meaning? 

Body language is just word's we don't know the sound of...

If an ant kicks a rhino, is the rhino stupid because it doesn't feel or understand the ant's anger?

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21 minutes ago, Peterkin said:

That, I conjecture, is because you start from an anthropocentric definition of self-awareness.

It keeps coming back to that: we can only have our perspective.

Many things can be said, and even sound profound, if not entirely plausible, as long as you don't put too fine a point on the meaning of words.

Well yes, of course, we can only have our own perspective. But that is a perspective and as such has a degree of validity, even if it can't be assumed, on its own, to be objective.

And what we do in life - all the time -  is compare our perspective with that of others and, if they align, we generally conclude we are not mad and that what we all  perceive is real-ish.   

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1 minute ago, exchemist said:

And what we do in life - all the time -  is compare our perspective with that of others and, if they align, we generally conclude we are not mad and that what we all  perceive is real-ish.  

That is, with members of own species, which is hit-and-miss - judging by the history of our species. With members of species we have co-opted it works a little more reliably, since the relationship of subject and interlocutor tends to be one-to-one, rather than mass-to-mass. With members of species with which we have no common language more recent than, say 50,000,000 years, it's subjective. Any genera beyond that evolutionary crotch, we tend to objectify categorically. 

But degree of realishness and sanishness doesn't get us a definition of 'self' or 'awareness', let alone the combination of the two.

13 minutes ago, exchemist said:

Well yes, of course, we can only have our own perspective. But that is a perspective and as such has a degree of validity, even if it can't be assumed, on its own, to be objective.

I wasn't questioning its validity; I'm questioning whether it's sufficiently informative.

 

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1 minute ago, Genady said:

Is such a test needed? Isn't everything conscious?

Actually , -I think that has been my take  for the past while.That consciousness is built into  stuff and becomes more  or less complex as physical systems evolve.

 

The connectome,(which I have only just learned of from @Prometheus in this thread doesn't seem at first glance to     contradict this idea.)

.

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5 minutes ago, geordief said:

Actually , -I think that has been my take  for the past while.That consciousness is built into  stuff and becomes more  or less complex as physical systems evolve.

Sounds like you're describing panpsychism. There's a philosopher called Philip Goff who articulates this view quite well.

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2 minutes ago, Prometheus said:

Sounds like you're describing panpsychism. There's a philosopher called Philip Goff who articulates this view quite well.

Maybe so .That had  always been  my prefered stance but I thought I  had become less enthusiastic about it.

 

Are there any articles attempting to reject that viewpoint or is this a kind of "take it or leave it" idea that holds no real consequences whether it is valid or not?

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