Re: [asa] Sense and nonsense

From: Don Winterstein <>
Date: Thu Jun 21 2007 - 17:29:58 EDT

"I don't know which side I'd take in the debate - I think we simply don't know enough to be able to say."

A problem that underlies the problems here is that there's no publicly accessible consciousness detector. What's almost certain to happen is that computer people will define consciousness operationally (e.g., Turing test) and eventually build a machine that satisfies their definition. They will be happy, but others of us will be less impressed, because we believe consciousness may not always (or perhaps may not ever) reveal itself in observable behavior. Consider God, for example. As it is, people generally assume entities are conscious largely because of their behavior. I believe that assumption is crude, too restrictive and fundamentally on the wrong track.

Unfortunately this belief (as many of mine) derives from spiritual or extrasensory experiences that I unfortunately cannot share. Being unable to share, I can only state a few conclusions: There is such a thing as a consciousness detector. It is the human soul. The human soul can detect God and other spirits as well as other human souls. This conclusion, based on much experience, is at the root of all my beliefs about God and souls.

Unfortunately this consciousness detector is inefficient and unpredictable. I observe it in action, but I have minimal control over it. By praying and fasting and meditating and reading Scripture I can seek communion with God, but those activities only put me into an opportune frame; they do not guarantee outcome.

It is this kind of "spooky" consciousness and this only that is meaningful to me. A computer that can meet someone's consciousness criteria may be impressive and useful, but I would not accept that it was meaningfully conscious unless I was able to perceive it spiritually.

So when I propose that consciousness may inhere in matter all the way down to quarks and leptons, this is where I'm coming from. I can believe that higher consciousness emerges spontaneously from lower consciousnesses under the right conditions, but I cannot believe consciousness emerges spontaneously from unconscious components.

Moorad wrote, "...It seems to me than any living entity, say, a human being, cannot create anything superior to itself." Consider the USA as a nation. Its citizens by becoming highly specialized work together to produce a social entity that can accomplish far more impressive things than any individual working on his own. The nation, created by its citizens, in certain ways is superior to the sum of its citizens. Similarly, a living cell is superior to the sum of its constituents.

A question is, have the citizens of the nation and the constituents of the cell by specializing and then working together generated living, conscious souls? Could be. Doesn't conflict with anything else I know.


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Iain Strachan<>
  To: Christine Smith<>
  Sent: Thursday, June 21, 2007 10:26 AM
  Subject: Re: [asa] Sense and nonsense

  On 6/21/07, Christine Smith <<>> wrote:
    To this I will repost an earlier question of mine
    which no one ventured an answer--it is evident, as Pim
    pointed out, that brain and thought, emotions, etc.
    are *correlated*, but *correlation does not prove
    causation*--can someone please point me towards
    specific research studies that *mechanistically* show
    how non-sentient electrical impulses and atoms can
    give rise to sentience? Do you propose that this is
    another fundamental property of substances, as I
    believe it was Don(?) argued earlier? Or do you
    propose another *mechanism* which directly causes
    these properties to emerge?

  This is probably the 64 billion dollar question, and is a topic of much controversy among AI researchers.

  The "strong AI" adherents would argue that consciousness is an "emergent property" of a sufficiently large and sufficiently interconnected neurons. The human brain has 10^10 neurons, with 10^14 interconnections (synapses). If you are of the strong AI persuasion, then you will believe that when we can build a computer with sufficient memory to simulate such a large neural network (and that time can only be a couple of decades away at most), then you will have a sentient, conscious machine like Data in Star Trek. In other words you would have a conscious algorithm. A futurologist from British Telecom gave a talk which I attended when he suggested that a "Data" would be a possibility by 2015 - a timeline much shorter than that envisaged by Gene Roddenberry!

  Such theories reach their ultimate philosophical embodiment in so-called "Alorithmic Theories of Everything", which suggest that the universe is just a simulation on a gigantic computer. See<> for an introduction to this idea. It also led to a kind of religious idea, dubbed "The Great Programmer Religion" - the Great Programmer running all possible universes up to a similar complexity as ours, in parallel on a gigantic computer.

  However, not everyone believes this will happen. Notably Roger Penrose, a maths professor at Oxford Univerity, and long-time associate of Stephen Hawking, does NOT accept that a mere algorithm will be able to be conscious. Penrose holds that some bit of physics is yet to be done to understand consciousness - he holds that it is in Quantum mechanics, and in particularly Quantum Gravity, that the answer to the riddle will be found (this would be the other mechanism you referred to that directly causes these phenomena). These ideas are explained in Penrose's popular science book "The Emperor's New Mind".

  There are also quasi-religious ideas embodied in here. It has been suggested that at the scale of the Planck length and Planck time, that the interconnectivity of the universe itself mimics that of a brain, and that possibly consciousness is a fundamental property of the universe, rather than an emergent one and that the properties of matter etc "emerge" from the fundamental underlying consciousness. I think a Google on "Quantum Consciousness" should dredge up some interesting info on all this. I think this latter seems to lie closer to eastern mysticism than to Christianity, however.

  I don't know which side I'd take in the debate - I think we simply don't know enough to be able to say.


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Received on Thu Jun 21 17:26:18 2007

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