Re: I am not sentient

From: David Cake (dave@difference.com.au)
Date: Sun May 30 2004 - 04:06:38 MDT


>It's a little embarrassing to admit this but I'm handicapped. When I was
>3 years old I fell off my tricycle and hit my head, I wasn't badly hurt
>physically but it rendered me permanently non-sentient. I think I've done
>a good job overcoming my disability, I do pretty well on IQ tests if I do
>say so myself, I earn a good living, I have friends, I laugh and cry just
>like anybody else, in fact I've done such a good job overcoming my
>handicap that nobody has ever guesses that I'm no more conscious than a
>rock. When I was younger I assumed I was the only human in this condition
>but now that I come to think (thinking has nothing to do with
>consciousness remember, Iíve hears members of this list say so) about it,
>if somebody else was as good at this charade as I am there would be no
>way I could tell.
>
>Perhaps there are even people who are non-sentient but don't know it,
>they think they know what consciousness is, but really it's like the
>difference between a firefly and a supernova, they have no hint of the
>immense and glorious feeling of sentience that most other people have but
>they do not. This is all speculation of course; I wouldn't know anything
>about it, as I said I'm smart as a whip but no more conscious than sack
>full of door knobs. I envy you conscious beings. I think.

        See, either sentience can be defined in a
testable manner. If a being has internal mental
states, and can both recognising them and
abstractly reason about its own mental states (a
precondition which implies some degree of
intelligence and linguistic capability), then I'd
argue that that (and a few other, easier to
satisfy, preconditions) makes it sentient. Or at
least, thats a good enough working definition for
now, and we can refine our definition as it comes
closer to reality.
        Now, its perfectly possible to make up a
thought experiment where there exists a being
that is intelligent and capable of perfectly
mimicking consciousness, but is not
consciousness. But its perfectly possible to make
up thought experiments with inherent logical
fallacies of all kinds, and I'm yet to be
convinced that this isn't a subtle form of such.
Once definitions of consciousness are pinned
down, each will shown to either be actually
testable (if perhaps in many cases impractical to
actually test against a worst case scenario of
deliberate falsification) or philosophically
untenable.

        Note that the possible construction of
systems that can effectively simulate a conscious
being in a restricted range of procedures (ie the
Turing test, Chinese rooms, and their ilk)
doesn't prove anything about the existence or
importance of consciousness, any more than the
existence of synthesisers and audio reproduction
techniques says much significant about the
existence or usefulness of analog music
instruments. In fact it says pretty much the same
thing - which is to say, nothing about the
existence whatsoever, and potentially enabling
simple facsimiles to substitute for reality in a
number of simplistic scenarios (which is
nonetheless useful).

        Cheers
                David



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