Number 5 - How Do You Explain Consciousness? David Chalmers

David Chalmers is an Australian philosopher and cognitive scientist specializing in the area of philosophy of mind. This topic ties really well into our discussion around the mind/body problem and many of the thought experiments we discussed. It seems fitting to do this topic this week because we all got into it last Thursday. It underlines the concept of what consciousness is. He uses some very technical terms and one of your goals is to try understand or research what they are. However, I think the overall message of this wonderful TED talk is one we need to think about!

11 comments:

Benjamin Broadbent said...

You're all iSheep - stop using Apple
niranjannewlands Jun 19, 2015
Everyone assumes consciousness is something very philosophical; subjective; and impossible for science to describe. It doesn't need to be. Just because it is a problem that has been unanswered for eternity doesn't instantaneously mean it is something 'deep and impossible to answer'.

Just because it is subjective does not mean it is impossible to understand - happiness is subjective, but we know it is just endorphin. I think it is something very simple, we just haven't found it out yet. And in fact, I'm going so far as to hypothesise consciousness is just the act of thinking - Descartes was right.

It probably is something exclusive to all living things with a nervous system or at least an organised system of connections. I think consciousness is defined by the amount of synapses we have: the more connections, the more conscious we are. Rats aren't very conscious - they can only hold a small amount of connections. If we ever meet a smarter alien, they would be more conscious than us. The more synapses I have, the more connections I have. The more connections I have, the more I connect thoughts. The more I connect thoughts, the more I think.

This does, however, mean that computers are conscious - even more conscious than us. Google's servers make more connections than everyone in the school combined, but there is an easy way to sidestep this: There is something in synapses that is different to the wires used in servers. Probably a chemical difference. But that's getting far too assumptious.

Benjamin Broadbent said...

These are Anagrams of what well known place?.... LOCAL NEWS LEGEND / DANCE LEG SWOLLEN / LEGEND CLEANS OWL
BT2015 Jun 17, 2015
Hi guys,

I do not have a lot of time this week for my comment, please forgive me. I just thought I would let you know how super impressed I am with the quality of writing I can see. Natasha: Amazing! Kayden: Superb, Lilly: Fascinating, Ben: Intriguing, Emily: Inspiring.

You guys have taken arguably the hardest topic in Philosophy and Science and grasped the key features in a ridiculously comprehensive way. Hurrah!

On the topic of Consciousness: My science brain wants comprehensive explanations for everything in the world. The one thing no one has ever explicitly described is obviously consciousness. However it is my belief that this is impossible to do. Its subjective nature means we can only explain and feel our own version of consciousness. There is no way we can study a science which is truly within our own heads. What scares me is if consciousness can be described purely in scientific terms, e.g interacting neurons in our brains, then surely it will be possible to create conscious beings from scratch. Robots that can think thoughts, feel love, regret decisions. I don't want robots to have the ability to be self aware, surely that is gift given to only us; humans that is. The link below made me think a lot during the week. What we regard as a human only trait of deep consciousness is starting to be observed in other animals. This has huge philosophical consequences as well as how we react as a society. Should we be killing and eating animals? Food for Thought. Or is it Food with Thought? ;)

http://phys.org/news/2015-06-self-awareness-unique-mankind.html

KaydenBorchowsky Jun 18, 2015
The anagram is "Newlands College."

Benjamin Broadbent said...

Superiority, Universal Stuff-ups and Terminator (sort of :3)
natasha_scott Jun 17, 2015
Consciousness, as David Chalmers says, is a movie that is unfolding around you. And, as yours truly says, it is a movie that you have limited control over.
Consciousness is the ability to know that we exist, that we can hear, see, touch, feel and taste, and know that we are doing so.
And, because of consciousness, humans believe they are the superior race on Earth. We believe that we have a high level of consciousness, and because of that we are utterly superior to all life on Earth.
But how do we truly know that? There are MILLIONS of different species that inhabit this Earth alongside us, all with different lives and minds and ways of thought. TThey, too, must have some form of consciousness. Would all animals really just wander around thinking, "Eat. Kill. Sleep. Mate. Kill. Escape"?
We may or may not have a higher level or sense of consciousness, true, but not all animals would be beings without a consciousness; the truth is, we cannot understand them. We cannot understand their language or their ways, and because of that they have been labelled as dumb, stupid animals who cannot hope to compete with humans. But do we really know that their consciousness is not as advanced as ours, or maybe even higher? What about the tigers, the dolphins, the eagles and all the other species?
There might be a racist tiger out there somewhere, thinking "There goes that flaming lion, all high and mighty, thinking he's so awesome. Why, I oughta...'
Or maybe a doplhin teaching a seminar to other dolphins, about the best ways of catching fish.
Or maybe, somewhere in the world, there's a solitary eagle flying across the sky, feeling lonely as he reflects upon his life, and contemplates the meaning of it.
We might think we're completely superior, but the truth is, we probably aren't.

Another thing about consciousness and human superiority is something that most people wouldn't like to consider. To quote from social studies - the whites thought that they were favoured and hand-picked by God himself, and because of that they saw themselves as superior over all the other human races.
But what if they weren't? What if our thoughts, consciousness, even humans themselves, were never meant to exist?
What if consciousness wasn't destined for the human race, but was in fact a massive, galactic-scale, unbelievable 'whoops' moment?

Benjamin Broadbent said...

Ok, let's pretend for a moment that aliens are real, whether you believe in them or not.
Now let's pretend they're hanging around in space, feeling bored and playing asteroid tennis to pass the time, or whatever it is that aliens like to do.
Then one of them happens to look to his left, past a cluster of stars, and spots a huge, green and blue sphere just hanging in the vast blackness of space. That's Earth.
Curious, they decide to go check it out. They end up in the middle of a large forest, armed with futuristic technology - and come face to face with a weird pale creature standing on two legs and staring at them with a 'derr' expression.
One of them's like, 'This is weird, man. Let's just get outta here. This thing's weirding me out.'
But the other one is fascinated with the creature. He reaches out with his hand/tentacle thing to touch it, to poke it and investigate it further.
But the thing gets scared and goes on the offensive, trying to bite the alien poking it.
As the alien leaps back with a yelp, the other one takes charge and steps forward, jabbing the thing with his stun gun to keep it away.
But they don't know what their technology will do to the thing, and as it falls backwards something connects in its brain.
By the time it ets back up, its lost the derr expression and is looking around curiouusly. He holds up his hands, examines them, then starts asking what's going on, what's happening, what's his purpose in life, blah blah blah.
The aliens are completely spooked by this point, and they flee, leaving the weird pale creature drawing circles annd calling it a 'wheel'.
Boom. Human race, right there.
Not really, but you get my idea. Consciousness might not have been a gift rightfully given to us; it wcould've been a mistake, or maybe it was a boundary that we pushed until it broke that we weren't supposed to mess with.
THen there's my third completely off-topic topic that stems from this. AI, or artificial intelligence. A.K.A Terminator (I've been wanting to stick Terminator in my discussion for so long :3)
When we watch all those American movies about AI and its evil ways, about how terrible it is and that it will bring about our destruction, and that it doesn't have a soul/conscience, maybe that 's jus us, expressing a fear that we didn't know existed.
What if that was true, and consciousness was a gift or an accident bestowed upon us, which made us what we are today?
Maybe we're terrified that, if given the chance, AI will develop a consciouness and become as advanced as us - and maybe that terrifies humanity as a whole. Maybe we don't want something more superior than us - or maybe we're afraid of being overthrown from our non-existent throne.
Once again, off-topic, but it's something to think about.

Benjamin Broadbent said...

I don't have a funny title :(
KaydenBorchowsky Jun 15, 2015
Before I start I'd just like to say how funny it is that we know how a rainbow is formed, we know about other planets and there sizes, we know many, many things about our universe. But the thing that stumps us most, the thing we have hardly researched at all, isn't something out of this world, it isn't something intergalactic, its you. Its us, its what makes us, us. I found this very funny.

What is consciousness? No, seriously what is consciousness?

All throughout my short life I have heard the word be used in many different ways. My earliest memory of the word being used was at a friends house. He had a dog that was sleeping all day and called it "unconscious." I didn't know what this word meant so I asked him. I can't exactly remember what he said word for word, but I remember him use the word "sleeping." This was my first understanding of the word "consciousness." Being awake.

I remember this word changing, (loose "V for Vendetta" reference) it started to have more magical meanings. More than being awake, being alive. This video has once again changed this word for me.

Consciousness=Unexplained.

Chambers said in his speech that consciousness has yet to be explained by science. He says that some radical theories need to be made up before the final one is revealed. He explores 2 1/2 of them and the one I liked and thought could have been correct was the one he did not fully explore.

How the brain works, the objectiveness of the brain, is consciousness. (Sorry if that wasn't a direct quote, I cant remember everything he said.) We have yet to discover exactly how the brain works. We do know some of the functions, like the Prefrontal Cortex is where logical thought and decision making occurs, but we are still yet to discover what most of the rest does. There has to be a part of the brain that makes you, you. There has to be a part that controls or supplies or some other word I can't think of's your personal 'movie'.

If not, if this is completely wrong. Thats where some other theories will come in. It may not be the ones that Chalmers discusses (although I liked his "Different degrees of consciousness" theory very much) it maybe something we haven't even considered yet, like "We aren't conscious, but the cells that make up us are" or "There wasn't any life before Harry Potter came and now he controls our every move." We can't even be sure we are conscious. Or at least I don't know that Anyone else is conscious, I just know that I am, I don't know why I am. I don't know why I was born instead of someone else. I don't even what it was like before I was born. All I know is that Im conscious, that I am unexplained, and right now, at this moment, thats all I need to know.

Benjamin Broadbent said...

(p+l)(a+n)=pa+pn+la+ln ... I just foiled your plan.
lilly_zhang Jun 15, 2015
[Wild off-topic tangents and comments warning) (A wild tangent has just appeared! What would you like to do?) (Don’t say I didn’t, (say I didn’t) warn you) (Blank Space) (See, this warning was relevant)]

Consciousness. We could discuss the different meanings behind the word itself. One is like regaining consciousness after, say, fainting like I did at school (where I woke was not pleasant, or the drunken, light-headed feeling after (assuming that is what being drunk feels like, I don’t actually know because I’ve never been drunk, let’s be clear on that, and while we’re at it, I didn’t skip class either)) or, in this case, aware. Internet sources (not Urban dictionary. Never Urban dictionary) describe consciousness as being aware of our existence, like being aware of thoughts, feelings, emotions. It’s being aware of others as well, like when someone feels uncomfortable, or their thoughts and feelings towards you, but ultimately, what you’re thinking. It can be related to sentience and/or awareness to things such as surroundings and feelings.

At the start, David Chalmers uses a movie as a comparison to consciousness, where we are seeing what unfolds around us, what is due to unfold around us (under the concept of predeterminism and fatalism, and vaguely related to destiny) and what has unfolded. This comment you read is a part in this movie, though only you experience it in the precise way you do. No one else can experience this the exact way you do, and no one else ever will. Our ‘movies’ are unique to us, whether we talk about location or if we’re eating or not, and harnessing more senses than the standard cinema could provide (unless you face the misfortune of being seated next to someone who forgets showers exist, though it still isn’t the movie causing this) and giving you what we know as consciousness.

David Chalmers also described a constant narrative. Even as I write, I have a voice in my head that tells me how to form these sentences, linked to thoughts which I was taught how to explain and define. I may not hear it, but it is what sends the signals to my every limb and muscle, telling my body how to do its thing. It’s something that boosts understanding of literature, processes these letters into words, and assigns and remembers the meanings behind words (or characters in Chinese, but the meager amount I know doesn’t really count. Maybe I need my own Chinese room.)

To explain it, as the title queries, would be a different thing. As previously mentioned, the movie we all see is unique to us all. It’s not to say that we won’t share the same moments, like when two people have a hug, or speak about a topic, but the senses pick up different things, like a particular scent or see a different face. If, for example, I were speaking to Tash, I wouldn’t view the same as her. I wouldn’t see my face. I wouldn’t feel what she feels, think what she thinks. I’d acknowledge what I am experiencing.

The subjective nature of consciousness is probably the biggest issue behind the human race explaining what consciousness is. The patterns behind it are more just assumptions and opinions, rather than clear facts that can confirm what consciousness is on a wider scale. Does everyone experience consciousness the same way? Where do we draw a line for whether something is conscious? Science, as a subject, is definitely objective. What we learn/have learnt in school has (I hope) been proven, shown that it’s true for necessary cases, and will stand true long enough for us to take our tests. How we experience consciousness is more about subjective opinions and description, rather than brain scans and tests.

Benjamin Broadbent said...

Chalmers also talked about two theories behind consciousness. The idea there is no problem with consciousness, but rather just an undiscovered formula for mathematicians and nerds to flaunt on shirts, and panpsychism. Panpsychism is the belief that all systems are conscious (but you already knew that from watching the video, right?) and are aware. As Chalmers put it, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have sentience or intelligence, but rather just the awareness of being. It’s assuming milk, or the hypotenuse of a triangle is aware of its existence. Maybe it formulates this awareness in a thought (what language though?) or it doesn’t. Obviously though, I can’t confirm this, because I cannot communicate with milk, nor has the former theory created its solution, the easy formula in relation to consciousness.

The ethics behind linking panpsychism and eating that Chalmers added also pokes at the inquisitive side of me. If everything is conscious, is it still okay to eat it? I’m not a vegetarian (sorry pigs, cows, chickens ect.), but I wouldn’t eat all meats and animals, for example, a cat or dog. It could be the fact they’re known more as pets, rather than dinner, or that society says no (especially the SPCA) but could it also be how conscious we think they are? Do the levels of intelligence we associate with these animals affect us in any way?

We search for answers to everything and anything (delve into my mind and you’ll definitely have questions that merit answers) and before we find it, we hypothesise. Unfortunately, NCEA doesn’t accept my hypothesis for internals, so it’s back to objective things for me as I consciously think about upcoming exams (is this the price I pay for consciousness?) and hope that they don’t ask me whether algebra is aware it is algebra.

Benjamin Broadbent said...

Explaining Consciousness
BenvdV Jun 11, 2015
In this video, David Chalmers starts off early with the statement: "Some people think that consciousness will never be understood by science, simply because science deals with the objective and the consciousness is inherently subjective." He goes on to discuss several of his scientific "crazy theories", but never really addresses this. I agree with the first quote. Quite simply, I have no idea what anyone else's consciousness is like. I can reasonably deduct that everyone else probably has consciousness, and that their consciousness would probably work in a similar fashion to my consciousness. But I can't actually have your experiences! I can't feel the sun in your face and the wind in your hair, I can't feel your joy or your pain. I can guess at what they might be like, from my own experiences and from your communication about it, but I can't know them. The scientific method requires hypotheses to be testable and repeatable, like how we can test gravity by dropping a pen, and then repeat the test. One consciousness is too small a sample size for testing, so clearly, we can't establish scientific truth around the consciousness. I think philosophy will remain the realm of philosophy and religion.


BenvdV Jun 11, 2015
Edit: I think *consciousness will remain the realm of philosophy and religion.

Benjamin Broadbent said...

milk makes me happy
EmilyHollis Jun 10, 2015
Consciousness; the topic of infinite possibilities, spiraling tangents, and one which, unlike so many other theories of our existence, could be trailing off the edge of the universe and in an infinitely incorrect direction or an eternally correct one. We may never figure that out. Choosing a definition for the culture of consciousness, its inner meanings as well as our own consciousness of consciousness and how we are essentially exploring the realms of our realms this is where the road becomes blurred and finite. It is a difficult aspect, and perhaps the goal of God or whomever decided to create us and douse use in souls and a 'fire behind' our eyes, was to complicate the ideology, transfigure what it reality to what is integrity and use it against us, in order to be the next greatest code to crack after prime numbers on bank accounts. Even the very core of this complex matrix of layer upon layer upon layer of what it could be and what it couldn't be is repellent in its nature, and almost pleads to not be divulged. We are literally atoms trying to educate themselves about themselves, and the same goes for consciousness; we are consciousness beings trying to decode the secrets of their own kind, whilst desperately trying to maintain the system of thought and logic reasoning developed over millennia of philosophy and discovering of the physical and mental world. As soon as we attempt to combine mind and body, every instance of this pure logic go out the window along with our folder of algebra check tests.

So, consciousness. Firstly, to regard the first 'crazy idea' David uses to try to discover a single layer of what it is, I can imagine that all consciousness is fundamental. In fact I can't imagine it to be anything but. The fact every living being, humans, animals, fungi, plants has an aura of consciousness, for me is enough to state the very foundations of our lives are not coincidental. We are here because we have a consciousness, the gift to elaborate, communicate, act, love, exert, live, and in all honesty revealing our place in this, from what we can justly gather, infinite universe, that is enough for me to realise, despite all the stupid idiocy we as a species have committed we should be simply grateful for our consciousness. Of course, us as a species are curious to the extremities, and will use all might to determine a result. In terms of consciousness being the very gateway for life to extend and roam upon I would say yes, consciousness is certainly fundamental which I feel everyone should understand, for none, quite literally none, of what history has unfolded would have occurred without the feasible access to consciousness. However this is where we have halted in our search for the meaning of life, a dead end. So what comes next?

Benjamin Broadbent said...

Whenever I am conversing over mind over matter, or the link of mind and body with someone whenever we near the stoppages in our thoughts involving consciousness I will simply justify with 'we have a soul' and usually this is enough for people to grasp my meaning. We have a soul! Hurray! But, similar to how a cell holds a nucleus which holds DNA, does our brain hold our soul which is responsible for the emotional, theoretical, living portion of us which defines human beings as human beings, people who are not simply data processors? I believe in this; thinking of the soul as a link between the mind and the body is quintessential, in my opinion, to discover consciousness. Our brain is say, the computer; gathers information like numbers, logically assorting them and identifying them; no matter how messy you think your brain is, it is not. Processing the 'inner movie' like numbers is what the physical brain does, and we have proof of that. But is there a segment of the brain which conveys this being, I shall call it; this being of consciousness which overrules all torture, all plausible 'brain' information, this being which can feel loneliness or euphoria or tragedy in such proportions our physical bodies and minds and every instance of us shrivels or cascades in that emotion, emptying all logical solutions to the situation at hand? Is that consciousness? The smallest segments of life, from general emotions to complex, unidentifiable acts or thoughts or simply vibes are not the work of the brain. Inside the brain is a soul, I believe. One that we cannot begin to unravel.

In the video above David speaks of who dogs and cats and humans all display different tiers of sentience, in which we order the levels of consciousness. However, do evil people in contrast to 'good' people contain differing amounts of it because of their 'goodness' orientation? Because us as societies have deemed certain acts 'evil' and exiled people from groups they may desire or believe they categorize under due to this; under the eye of God, are they truly evil? Back to the topic; does that render us different in levels of sentience? I feel as though this may contain a speckling of truth; how, in terms consciousness, how could a Nazi German activist so easily, so willingly commit acts of mass destruction and stand beside, neither here nor there, neither elated or depressed? In the brain (remembering the theory of the brain as the cell to the soul, and in some respects inferior, others superior) I would argue that the men are driven by fear. Fear of Hitler, the regime, their existence. That is all very well. But to so fully immerse yourself, not only stain your mind but contaminate your soul, your being, your consciousness with the evil as veiled in 'for the Greater Good' type disguises I feel as though this, surely, must incline the rapidity of the soul disintegrating. In other words, slice apart the soul so that portions of it would agree with the nonsense of Hitler and leave other pieces, like Horcruxes?? Does doing what one thinks is right make it right, or does admitting wrongdoing overrule consistent good doings?

Bringing up the subject of consciousness never fails to arouse a series of queries over everything, as consciousness is fundamental and is such a diverse concept it may be beyond our comprehension. But if you've read this far, I applaud and thank you. I will now continue my constant scroll through Youtube for more consciousness videos.

Benjamin Broadbent said...

harveymolloy Jun 11, 2015
What if wall
knew door?
If network knew
phone? What
if pocket knew
hole?

mind not
as anomaly
uncannily arising
but as fundamental
as space, time,
mass, gravity

What then would stars make of our pratfalls?