What is consciousness?

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Offline Gerry

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What is consciousness?
« on: 20/07/2010 09:52:05 »
This stems from another forum where “atheism” was a hot topic, and all but the “scientific method” was disqualified.  I’m mostly all for that.  But this got me thinking:  Human consciousness.  Is it measurable?  Can it be isolated and identified?  What is consciousness – and can it be discussed on a scientific forum, or is it a topic more suitable to the philosophical ones? 

Is this the space where “religion” and science meet?  I get that something as profound as “consciousness” could be attributed to mere biology, but there’s way too many questions for that to be a satisfactory answer.  Decision making.  Morality.  Value systems.  Intellect.  Love. The perception of art, music, beauty – all subjective.  Or are they?  Can a love for one type of music over another be attributed to specific physiological things?  Are value systems genetic?  Is consciousness only limited to humans?  Mammals?  Fish?  Bacteria? 

Yup, this is definitely one for the philosophers!



Mod edit - I've formatted your subject as a question - this helps to keep the forum tidy and easy to navigate - thanks!
« Last Edit: 13/08/2010 03:21:54 by JP »

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Offline Hels

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Re: What is consciousness?
« Reply #1 on: 29/07/2010 13:24:15 »
Hi there. This is my first post, so I hope it's helpful.  I usually define consciousness as the extent to which we are aware of the specificity of time.  That's my short answer.  The more long winded answer takes considerably more explaining, but ultimately the short answer is what it all boils down to. I don't think it's a philosophical question at all. But then, neither is God (he he ... I'll have to leave you dangling on that one until I've substantiated the underlying hypothesis).
« Last Edit: 30/07/2010 17:37:16 by Hels »

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Offline grizelda

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Re: What is consciousness?
« Reply #2 on: 30/07/2010 13:01:08 »
Well, there are a small number of types of entities and interactions the universe is made of, and a large number of each type. It is natural to see the recurring experience of the few types as a pattern (another word for type). So leveraging this situation, one could expect that the brain is a pattern-seeking instrument. With a bit of fine tuning, it could detect patterns of patterns, etc. Take music, for instance. There are patterns of rhythm and rhyme, repeating cadences of pitch and volume, staccato, syncopation, a cacophony of patterns. So given a place to stand, and a long enough lever, we can call the sum of the patterns we observe, consciousness, or structure.

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Offline Hels

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Re: What is consciousness?
« Reply #3 on: 30/07/2010 17:36:54 »
Is consciousness just a pattern?  I think that's what you're suggesting (although - a cacophony of patterns?  My paradox loving brain may nick that concept, if you don't mind  [;D]).  I'm not suggesting consciousness is a pattern.  Like time itself, it is a process and for that process to take place a body must have the necessary communications network and that network must be functioning in the right way (the "right way" being quite a generalised term in this regard).  Whilst some people would argue that trees have consciousness and we cannot prove otherwise, and whilst I must adhere to the fact that we cannot prove otherwise, I have to bend to the model of consciousness as a process requiring systems trees don't have. That is not to say consciousness is the sole domain of neural activity, but being a process means that I am not attributing patterns.

Actually, I tend to work completely the other way round.  Rather than looking for patterns in the things which exist, I tend to think how I would make a system which worked with xyz features, but even if the model I create is a perfect replica of that which exists, then all I can ever say is that my model is self consistent and consistent with the facts.  And my model of consciousness is consistent with the (known) facts, but that still doesn't mean it's right.  But until someone proves otherwise, I'm just happy to go with whatever advance in thinking can be gained from this one.

Does that make sense or am I writing at a complete tangent to what you were meaning?

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Offline om

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Re: What is consciousness?
« Reply #4 on: 01/08/2010 05:29:42 »
Human consciousness.  Is it measurable?  Can it be isolated and identified?  What is consciousness – and can it be discussed on a scientific forum, or is it a topic more suitable to the philosophical ones? 

Mod edit - I've formatted your subject as a question - this helps to keep the forum tidy and easy to navigate - thanks!

Gerry, a discussion of quantum theory on Physics World has stumbled onto the same question.   See:http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/43275 [nofollow]


With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel

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Offline grizelda

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Re: What is consciousness?
« Reply #5 on: 02/08/2010 21:47:15 »
 Music usually starts out in some pattern of patterns, then moves away in some pattern to other patterns, and eventually returns to the original pattern. Lather, rinse, repeat. Our brain constantly refers the current pattern to the original pattern, so it always knows where it is in the continuum of things.
 So in general, we have an initial pattern we carry around, and refer the patterns of our experience to it. This is our identity. If not knowing who you are isn't the definition of not-conscious then it should be. 

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Offline sandstone

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Re: What is consciousness?
« Reply #6 on: 12/08/2010 07:32:35 »
Greetings Gerry, you ask an important question.

Just one quote you might find interesting:

Consciousness occurs in systems that do not even have an identifiable brain.  Margaret Wheatley (1992) 'Leadership and the New Science'. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Regards, Sandstone.

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Offline imatfaal

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Re: What is consciousness?
« Reply #7 on: 12/08/2010 12:39:56 »
Sandstone - could you provide an example of consciousness in a non-human system?  Thanks Matthew
There’s no sense in being precise when you don’t even know what you’re talking about.  John Von Neumann

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Offline sandstone

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Re: What is consciousness?
« Reply #8 on: 12/08/2010 14:58:20 »
Greetings Matthew,

On p.106 of 'Leadership and the New Science', Wheatley refers to an observation by Nobel laureate chemist, Prigogine, that in 'non-living' chemical solutions, communication occurs, generating order.  In the chemical clocks he studied, the random mix of molecules became coordinated at a certain point.  A murky grey solution would pulse first black and then white.  Prigogine is quoted as saying: The amazing thing is that each molecule knows in some way what the other molecules will do at the same time, over relatively macroscopic distances.  These experiments provide examples of the ways in which molecules communicate...  That is a property that everybody always accepted in living systems, but in non-living systems it was quite unexpected.

Regards, Sandstone.

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Offline imatfaal

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Re: What is consciousness?
« Reply #9 on: 12/08/2010 15:34:16 »
Communication and reaction to external environmental conditions are not consciousness.  I admit, it is much easier to say what consciousness isn't than provide a definition of what it is; but, a mechanism of internal arrangement is not consciousness.
There’s no sense in being precise when you don’t even know what you’re talking about.  John Von Neumann

At the surface, we may appear as intellects, helpful people, friendly staff or protectors of the interwebs. Deep down inside, we're all trolls. CaptainPanic @ sf.n

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Offline peppercorn

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Re: What is consciousness?
« Reply #10 on: 12/08/2010 15:54:49 »
On p.106 of 'Leadership and the New Science', Wheatley refers to an observation by Nobel laureate chemist, Prigogine, that in 'non-living' chemical solutions, communication occurs, generating order.  In the chemical clocks he studied, the random mix of molecules became coordinated at a certain point.  A murky grey solution would pulse first black and then white.  Prigogine is quoted as saying: The amazing thing is that each molecule knows in some way what the other molecules will do at the same time, over relatively macroscopic distances.  These experiments provide examples of the ways in which molecules communicate...  That is a property that everybody always accepted in living systems, but in non-living systems it was quite unexpected.
An interesting quote, Sandstone. But don't confuse comparison with living systems as meaning the author truly believes the chemical system has 'life', let alone conciousness.  I have seen these patterns in chemical 'soups' that exhibit an unexpected geometric order and they are incredible, but life they are not.

Incidentally, I would suggest that a stretch of an answer to:
Could you provide an example of consciousness in a non-[primate] system?
might be a termite mound.
Clearly, the hive-mind is not really concious in any human sense but it does meet the standard of:
Consciousness occurs in systems that do not even have an identifiable brain.  Margaret Wheatley (1992) 'Leadership and the New Science'. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

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Offline graham.d

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Re: What is consciousness?
« Reply #11 on: 12/08/2010 16:30:56 »
"might be a termite mound" - Peppercorn, have you read "Godel, Escher, Bach" by Douglas Hofstatder (may have spelt his name wrong here)? A very amusing, though also profound, book by this protaganist of Strong AI that has a character he refers to as Aunt Hillary and who is really exactly that!

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Offline imatfaal

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Re: What is consciousness?
« Reply #12 on: 12/08/2010 16:43:53 »
Everyone should read G.E.B. Douglas Hofstadter has got to be one of the most engaging and profound writers out there.  I read it on the tube every morning and night and had total strangers commenting on how much they enjoyed it and they had never read anything else that had the same bizarre structure and beauty. 

I can't remember Aunt Hillary - time to reread it.  And I am still not convinced that a termite mound exhibits hive-consciousness - but I think that is probably just my anthropo-centric definition
There’s no sense in being precise when you don’t even know what you’re talking about.  John Von Neumann

At the surface, we may appear as intellects, helpful people, friendly staff or protectors of the interwebs. Deep down inside, we're all trolls. CaptainPanic @ sf.n

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Offline graham.d

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Re: What is consciousness?
« Reply #13 on: 12/08/2010 16:54:38 »
"I am still not convinced that a termite mound exhibits hive-consciousness". No, but Hofstatder uses it as an example how many individually operating primitives can combine to produce something that has purpose and order; something complex from a few simple behavioural rules.

One of the many interesting bits was where he proposes a problem for the reader to solve and then gives the answer on the next page. He then does a similiar thing; I spent ages trying to solve it until giving up only to find that on the next page he says something like - "of course there is no solution to this" grrr!

Great book.

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Offline imatfaal

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Re: What is consciousness?
« Reply #14 on: 12/08/2010 17:38:31 »
I seem to remember reading (on rec.puzzles i think) that there are rumours of hidden messages in the text; not in a da vinci code way, but in a douglas hofstatder likes games and puzzles way.  the same person who recommended GEB to me also said I should read the emporer's new mind by penrose; now that was a real stuggle and it left me totally cold.
There’s no sense in being precise when you don’t even know what you’re talking about.  John Von Neumann

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Offline graham.d

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Re: What is consciousness?
« Reply #15 on: 12/08/2010 17:45:02 »
It could have been me that recommended it (though it probably wasn't) as I like all of Roger Penrose's stuff. Another writer I admire is Steven Pinker. "The Language Instinct" is an example.

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Offline imatfaal

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Re: What is consciousness?
« Reply #16 on: 12/08/2010 17:50:21 »
Agree entirely - 'the Blank Slate' is also superb and quite a brave book
There’s no sense in being precise when you don’t even know what you’re talking about.  John Von Neumann

At the surface, we may appear as intellects, helpful people, friendly staff or protectors of the interwebs. Deep down inside, we're all trolls. CaptainPanic @ sf.n

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Offline peppercorn

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Re: What is consciousness?
« Reply #17 on: 12/08/2010 17:50:35 »
"might be a termite mound" - Peppercorn, have you read "Godel, Escher, Bach" by Douglas Hofstatder (may have spelt his name wrong here)? A very amusing, though also profound, book by this protaganist of Strong AI that has a character he refers to as Aunt Hillary and who is really exactly that!
Sounds well worth a look  [:0]
Trouble is the world is chock-full of amazing books - where to start...

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Offline sandstone

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What is consciousness?
« Reply #18 on: 13/08/2010 06:45:24 »
Matthew,

There was no suggestion that the solution was a living entity.  According to Prigogine, it simply appeared to behave in a conscious manner. 

Sandstone.

 

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Offline imatfaal

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What is consciousness?
« Reply #19 on: 13/08/2010 16:42:47 »
Sandy - you have so far provided an example of a self-organising system that, although very interesting, follows well understood checmincal/mathematical pathways.  consciousness is so much more than that; it is difficult to define but in my eyes must contain elements of premeditation, strategic planning, emotional enjoyment, empathic feelings, and cognitive reasoning to name just a few things. 
There’s no sense in being precise when you don’t even know what you’re talking about.  John Von Neumann

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Offline yor_on

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What is consciousness?
« Reply #20 on: 30/09/2010 02:35:07 »
Sandy what you are describing falls under chaos theory I think, and fractals. that's not 'intelligence' as we see it, it's more of a principle that most (all) systems in nature uses. We use it f.ex when we get a baby. A oak use it when it leaves the acorn.

Consciousness is something else.
And self-consciousness is the next step
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Offline granpa

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What is consciousness?
« Reply #21 on: 30/09/2010 06:28:09 »
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Awareness#Self-awareness
Quote
Popular ideas about consciousness suggest the phenomenon describes a condition of being aware of one's awareness or, self-awareness.

computers know 'how' to do things but dont know 'what' they are doing.
Being 'aware' is knowing 'what' you are doing.
« Last Edit: 30/09/2010 06:30:18 by granpa »

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Offline Geezer

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What is consciousness?
« Reply #22 on: 30/09/2010 06:57:52 »
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Awareness#Self-awareness
Quote
Popular ideas about consciousness suggest the phenomenon describes a condition of being aware of one's awareness or, self-awareness.

computers know 'how' to do things but dont know 'what' they are doing.
Being 'aware' is knowing 'what' you are doing.

I suspect that's an arbitrary distinction. Where do you draw the line between how and what?

For example, our dogs clearly know how to do a lot of things, and I'm pretty sure they have a very good idea of what they are doing too.

It's not too hard to give a machine an objective (a "what") and let it figure out the "how" for itself.
There ain'ta no sanity clause, and there ain'ta no centrifugal force ćther.

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Offline yor_on

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What is consciousness?
« Reply #23 on: 30/09/2010 17:15:54 »
There are some interesting experiments made involving 'recognizing yourself' for that one, mostly with mirrors :)
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Offline granpa

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What is consciousness?
« Reply #24 on: 30/09/2010 22:42:18 »
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Awareness#Self-awareness
Quote
Popular ideas about consciousness suggest the phenomenon describes a condition of being aware of one's awareness or, self-awareness.

computers know 'how' to do things but dont know 'what' they are doing.
Being 'aware' is knowing 'what' you are doing.

I suspect that's an arbitrary distinction. Where do you draw the line between how and what?

For example, our dogs clearly know how to do a lot of things, and I'm pretty sure they have a very good idea of what they are doing too.

It's not too hard to give a machine an objective (a "what") and let it figure out the "how" for itself.

No. Its not arbitrary at all.
Knowing 'what' you are doing requires a completely different type of programming.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logic_programming
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prolog

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Offline yor_on

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What is consciousness?
« Reply #25 on: 01/10/2010 01:48:45 »
I expect it to be levels to that Geezer, I think I know what you allure to as I've had some animalistic friends myself, no not human :) And I agree to them having an 'awareness', but from that to start to look at your surroundings , being 'objective' as we humans see ourselves, I think that takes it some steps further. And the mirror is a good test of this 'objectivity', as to recognize yourself in there you need to 'lift yourself' out from your own body and into someone else's head, or place as it may be here, sort of.

If you look on birds you can see that they too use tools, just as monkeys and us, and there are some amazing experiments with them where certain 'brainy' birds have solved tool puzzles in several steps to get to their food. But I've never read about them acting as if they recognized themselves in a mirror? Monkeys can do it, how about dolphins?

==
Or am I wrong there? Do birds recognize themselves in a mirror?
To define intelligence with 'tool solving' may not be the same, I'm not sure there.
« Last Edit: 01/10/2010 01:50:58 by yor_on »
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Offline Geezer

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What is consciousness?
« Reply #26 on: 01/10/2010 08:40:25 »
We frequently give machines an objective (a what) and expect them to work out the how. That's what happens every time we plug a destination into a GPS system in our vehicles. 
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Offline yor_on

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What is consciousness?
« Reply #27 on: 01/10/2010 15:00:52 »
A program is a square. Inside that square you define the rules for what you expect to happen, or rather what you allow to happen. That's a linear process, life's not linear. But if we get to quantum computing I believe we also will get to non-linear computing. Not in our questions though, but the way the answers come to be will.
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Offline peppercorn

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What is consciousness?
« Reply #28 on: 01/10/2010 15:55:12 »
A program is a square. Inside that square you define the rules for what you expect to happen, or rather what you allow to happen. That's a linear process, life's not linear. But if we get to quantum computing I believe we also will get to non-linear computing. Not in our questions though, but the way the answers come to be will.

Are you saying you believe animal brains have quantum-computational elements to them?  This is a bit of a stretch of the imagination - where's the evidence?

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Offline imatfaal

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What is consciousness?
« Reply #29 on: 01/10/2010 16:15:46 »
Doesn't Penrose argue something similar to that in the Emperor's New Mind - that book left me very cold and I don't remember it well as a result, but I seem to recollect a claim of connexion between consciousness and the collapse of the quantum waveform.  It has some real fans and hopefully one of them can set me straight
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Offline yor_on

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« Reply #30 on: 01/10/2010 16:45:21 »
Look, I don't know what world you believe yourself to be in, heh :)

But mine is definitely a non-linear one. Not open for discussion as I see it? The evidence for it being true exist everywhere. From climate to the calculations of the orbits of the spheres ::))

I compare a super position in QM to our so called 'free choices' here, the irony of it is that in chaos mathematics you will find certain mathematical 'constants' coming back in the 'history' of their bifurcations as observed by us. Although it also are impossible to backtrack those same bifurcations to any singular origin, according to the same math. That makes Chaos mathematics, super-positions aka quantum computers and 'free will' very similar to me.

It may well be that our brains contain the same principle as a quantum computer is expected to do. As for how it does it if so? Don't know, that one becomes as weird as the whole concept of 'super positions' to me :)
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Offline yor_on

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« Reply #31 on: 01/10/2010 16:59:52 »
And looking at it like that intelligence becomes even harder to define, as I now could state that all living things, well animal ones over a certain complexity at least, have this free choice.

Also, if we look to how entanglements is thought to play a role in the photosynthesis of plants? Here's the PDF..Quantum entanglement in photosynthetic light harvesting complexes. Where, do I draw the line?
==

Although both may be needed for us I think the idea of 'super positions', as in the possibility of two outcomes coexisting simultaneously, is the one more appropriate if comparing it to the idea of our 'free will'.

And when writing a program you might allow for an open field of possibilities, like using some 'probability generator' as a bit sequence generated from some electric clock. And in that this computer clock in itself relies on Quantum mechanical uncertainty maybe nothing is 'linear' in that motto. But, naah, a program will still conform to the linearity imposed by our limitations, I think? As well as it executes binary computations in a sequential pattern, as I sees it?
« Last Edit: 01/10/2010 17:37:26 by yor_on »
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Offline Geezer

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What is consciousness?
« Reply #32 on: 01/10/2010 18:27:01 »
I still think my GPS example is quite interesting. A GPS system has a goal, and it is "conscious" of its location. It can handle all sorts of changes, and still figure out a way to attain the goal.

Imagine you don't know that computers and GPS even exist. Somebody hands you this "thing" that you put in your car that can tell you how to get places - it can even talk to you.

Would you be able to conclude that it was entirely artificial, or would you be forced to conclude that there must be a human on the other end controlling it?
There ain'ta no sanity clause, and there ain'ta no centrifugal force ćther.

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Offline yor_on

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« Reply #33 on: 01/10/2010 19:56:18 »
A 'Heinleinian' example that one Geezer :) All technology sufficiently advanced becomes like magic to someone not informed. Or in this case assumed to be 'human'.

But there are the Turing test for that one too :) If you can't differ who you're speaking too from a human, then you're on your way to create something at least superficially alike a human. To really see if it's 'intelligent' it would also need to be able to make those 'Einsteinian leaps' to me though.

But I'm not sure what intelligence is either?
Tool solving, is that enough?

Or do you need self awareness like the mirror-experiments implicates?
And what more would you need, to get to those intuitive leaps of imagination?
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Offline Geezer

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What is consciousness?
« Reply #34 on: 01/10/2010 21:01:12 »
[;D]

I've got a feeling we're not going to come to any hard conclusions on this one! The problem as I see it is that there is no "intelligence threshold" that allows us to decide one way or the other. It's all shades of grey.

I also tend to think that, as humans, we tend to stack the odds in our favor a bit. It may be a sort of innate human arrogance that comes from a need to convince ourselves that we are somehow "special".

I'm pretty sure of one thing though. Nearly all the electronic gadjets in my house and car would have been indistinguishable from magic as recently as sixty years ago  [:D]
There ain'ta no sanity clause, and there ain'ta no centrifugal force ćther.

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Offline yor_on

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What is consciousness?
« Reply #35 on: 02/10/2010 00:29:21 »
I know one thing though, intelligence is not only to be good at physics, or math. There are guys and gals out there that are wizards at other things like boat building, music, poetry, painting, engines, wood working, carpentry, you name it. some are just very cool human beings to be with. There are all kinds of 'intelligence' it seems to me..
==

As I agree on your 'thing' too, that makes it two :)
« Last Edit: 02/10/2010 00:32:02 by yor_on »
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Offline Geezer

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What is consciousness?
« Reply #36 on: 02/10/2010 02:21:09 »
intelligence is not only to be good at physics, or math.


That's what I kept telling my teachers!
There ain'ta no sanity clause, and there ain'ta no centrifugal force ćther.

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Offline yor_on

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What is consciousness?
« Reply #37 on: 02/10/2010 15:56:04 »
:)

Hmm ::))

Did it work?
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Got to admit that I might have used it once or two myself..
"BOMB DISPOSAL EXPERT. If you see me running, try to keep up."

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Offline yor_on

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What is consciousness?
« Reply #38 on: 02/10/2010 17:02:52 »
Maybe the origin to 'intelligence' goes back to our ability to freely choose. There's a dichotomy in those choices in that, although they are truly 'free' if they are alike a 'super position', we still want to describe them as a result from linear thinking and also define 'reality', such as it is, to fit inside those 'squares of reality' we walk between.

Heh, quite poetic.. I think I'll keep that one :)
"BOMB DISPOSAL EXPERT. If you see me running, try to keep up."