Re: Mindless Thought Experiments

From: Matt Mahoney (
Date: Fri Mar 07 2008 - 11:57:29 MST

--- Lee Corbin <> wrote:

> Matt wrote
> > The argument fails because it is based on the unproven assumption that
> > consciousness exists.
> Wikipedia defines it this way:
> "Consciousness is regarded to comprise qualities such as subjectivity,
> self-awareness, sentience, and the ability to perceive the relationship
> between oneself and one's environment. It is a subject of much research
> in philosophy of mind, psychology, neuroscience, and cognitive
> science."

I mean the aspect of consciousness that which distinguishes a human from a
philosophical zombie.

To put it another way, what distinguishes this universe from an exact copy
where people go about their business but nobody is aware that the universe
exists? There would be an exact copy of you engaging in this same
conversation, but no "you" to be aware of it, even though the copy would claim
to have such awareness.

The term "consciousness" as it is commonly used confuses this aspect (qualia)
with other properties of the human mind, e.g. ability to perceive and later
recall events, use of language, belief in free will, response to pleasure and
pain, etc. Clearly many of these other properties exist in animals, and all
of them can be simulated in machines. It is the qualia aspect, which has no
computational or physical basis, whose presumed existence leads to bizarre
conclusions about consciousness in rainstorms or the digits of pi. I believe
that this mysteriousness results from the brain being programmed such that it
cannot accept the logically true conclusion that qualia does not exist.

-- Matt Mahoney,

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