I have spent so much time and effort trying (and ultimately failing) to successfully communicate with people in the physics and philosophy academies, using their complicated and abstruse language and math equations, that I’ve made many of my insights, discoveries, and contributions completely inaccessible to the rest of the world, including my own friends and family.
My close friend Adam recently asked me some important questions, like whether computers could be conscious. Of course, I’ve answered this question many times, and in great detail, on this blog and in my papers (particularly this and this). But I realized that I really only addressed people who already knew the language of quantum mechanics, computer science, philosophical logic, and so forth. So in this and subsequent posts, I’m going to try to address some important questions in direct, ordinary language without all the bullshit jargon.
Today, I want to mention two such questions:
· Is there an afterlife?
· Can a computer be conscious?
Ask these questions of a physicist, biologist, or computer scientist, and probably the vast majority will answer firmly and with conviction: No, there is no afterlife; Yes, a computer can be conscious. And if you probe them further as to why they are so certain of these answers, you’ll find that there is an (often unstated) assumption that pervades the scientific community about consciousness:
Assumption: The brain causes consciousness.
Is that assumption true? If it is, then it’s not unreasonable to believe that consciousness ends when the brain dies. Or that someday we’ll be able to copy the brain and recreate a person’s consciousness. Or that a person’s brain could be simulated in a computer, thus producing consciousness in a computer.
But again, all these popular ideas stem from that one assumption, and there aren’t many scientists who question it (or even acknowledge it as an assumption). So that’s where I’ll start. Consider, again, the assumption:
Assumption: The brain causes consciousness.
Several questions for you about that assumption:
· Do you believe it?
· If so, why? What evidence do you have that it is true?
· What evidence has the scientific community offered to support it?
· Which beliefs depend on it? For example, anyone who believes that consciousness ends with brain death necessarily makes the above assumption. Anyone who believes that a computer will someday be conscious by simulating a brain also makes the above assumption. Many, many other popular science beliefs depend on this assumption.
· What if the assumption is incorrect? Is it possible to prove that it is false? How might it be disproven? If the assumption could actually be disproven, how might that impact your beliefs? How might it impact the popular scientific beliefs about consciousness?
 Note on this post: Ordinarily, I would try to be more precise with my words. For example, the assumption is actually that a conscious state entirely depends on the physical state of a living brain, but this is where the eyes of ordinary readers start to glaze over. So I won’t be so precise in this and related future blog posts.
Andrew, thanks for the clear and concise write-up addressing whether the brain causes consciousnesses, and if so, does that mean one could essentially program consciousness into maybe a computer and / or replicate consciousness after one's death.ReplyDelete
We discussed this after I heard Michio Kaku's theory on quantifying consciousness (summary copied from another page, below), but I guess his theory implies, simply put, that consciousness is generated by the brain, right? I don't think it's addressed otherwise, so now I'm a bit incredulous.
So, back to you, Andrew - how can one prove consciousness is NOT generated by the brain?
Michio Kaku's theory on quantifying consciousness suggests consciousness is the number of feedback loops required to create a model of your position in space with relation to other organisms and time.
He believes a thermostat has 1 unit of consciousness - it senses the temperature around it. A flower has around 10 units of consciousness - understands temperature, weather, humidity, gravity, etc.
Level 1 Consciousness: Example - reptiles. Understand position in space.
Level 2 Consciousness: Example - mammal. Understand relation to other organisms - emotions, social hierarchy.
Level 3 Consciousness: Example - humans. Understand relation to time, ability to imagine the future.
How does his theory hold up? What are some holes in his theory?
Yes, Kaku's idea about consciousness assumes that the brain causes consciousness. Popular science writers do not usually have the freedom to go against the grain of academic consensus. I do think he explains things well... I have several of his books... and he is better than most at looking at all sides and possibilities.Delete