Saturday, January 16, 2021

On Consciousness

I found the following link on Complexity Theory particularly interesting and enlightening :

One of the statements in the series of lectures is that Consciousness is an emergent property of complexity which, in our case, I take to be the biological complexity of our brains.

In spite of our inability to agree on a definition of consciousness; not to mention our lack of trust in others' answers, it still seems that we know that we are individually conscious.  We may suspect that others are also conscious given that we can ask them whether they are but what we don't know is whether we experience this as an individual or if we are all partaking in a collective consciousness (dualism) which exists independently of our physical form. Furthermore when looking at other species we don't have the luxury of being able to ask them so we try to infer from their behavior whether they are conscious or not.

Thinking of consciousness as being an emergent property of complexity takes it one step away from us as individuals and enables us to think in terms of different species having different levels of consciousness.  So consciousness may not be the binary question that I have thought it to be and by, theoretically at least, being able to measure the biological complexity of a brain, we may be able to determine how conscious a particular species is when full grown.

Not only do we have this problem inter-species but even within a species; as the organism develops from inception to adult at which point does the organism become conscious?  Maybe it is something like a gradual development from not having consciousness at all at inception to knowing that one is conscious when an adult.  Could this be different for different species where some species never attain the complexity required to be conscious whereas others are dimly conscious while others, ourselves included, attain self-awareness that we are conscious?

Does emergence hint at some kind of dualism in that, although dependent on the physical, consciousness exists in a sense independent of the physical?  I would argue that, no, the concept of emergence shows that it is possible for properties that are immaterial to arise from the material and this makes the rationale for dualism difficult to support.

If it turns out that consciousness is an emergent property of material complexity then it would seem that the immaterial would not be capable of being considered to be consciousness in the same way that we consider ourselves to be. (PK)

Lastly, and again, if consciousness is an emergent property of complexity then in the world of AI it would seem that it would be plausible for something inorganic to attain consciousness.  Not only would it be conscious in a way that is fundamentally different to us, we would be able to determine the level of consciousness beyond simply having to ask the AI entity whether it is conscious or not and simply having to believe the answer.

Thanks to Pauk Kotschy for his comments on my article and for sharing the following Scientific American article on much the same topic.

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