Skip to main content

Objections to a non physical conclusion for consciousness.

In a paper recently published by Mark Muhlestein in the journal Cognitive Computation the following conclusion is made:

"In this computational framework, the distinction between a computation and the recording of a computation can be blurred arbitrarily, yet the physical implementation of the computation itself is unchanged. From this, we conclude that a purely computational account of consciousness is unsatisfactory."

This conclusion I agree with but for a few reasons not directly addressed in the paper which I elaborate on below.

On the objections, I'd say the ones that are most against this conclusion (that either computation is not all there is or consciousness is not what we think it is, roughly) are objections 3 and 4.

The clarion call that was ringing in my head as I read was the condition that a random number generator was being used. Conscious states are intimately dynamic systems that do not have deterministic response as asserted in the thought experiment because unlike the real woody, the woody emulation or the projection, real woody is subject to the vagaries of internal machinations that do not emerge from random desires or even external ones. These are the autonomic drivers that internally modulate I assert, internal characteristics of cognitive dynamism at the layer of the neocortex from the deeper layers of cognition in subtle and non repeatable ways.

Thus the failing of this paper, a devastating one lies under the assumption that determinism in emerged experiences is even possible. Repeated stimuli may emerge "similar" reported conscious states would never report identical experience states as real cognitive states are ultimately driven by physical sensory modulators that run continuously and are distributed in more places than just the computational core in the mind. How would the woody emulation for example 'simulate' the time dependent process of slowly becoming hungry over time and how that varies cognitive state? or of slowly feeling hot? or of itching at the fibers of wool in the sweater one is wearing while trying to smell that Rose? In a simulation such inputs are assumed to be of in a fixed (and undetermined) input state but I posit that is precisely why any subsequent question regarding derived experience can not be said to be deterministic and can not be said to be identical given "identical inputs". Not only is there feedback between the processing elements in the emulation and other processing elements (that naively in this thought experiment do the "computation")  but there is also feedback between *internal sensory states* modulated by external sensory states that are continuously varying. 

The *illusion* or non physical appearance of consciousness comes from this fundamental disconnect in how it is being characterized in this thought experiment as being purely a process of computation once inputs are gathered, in Bishop's conception and in Maudlin's conceptions.

I assert that Inputs are continuously gathered and modulate the "computation" if you don't simulate that in your simulation what you emerge will indeed be a shadow of consciousness.

Moreover, near the end when he states:

"Evolution has not prepared us for interactions with an entity which exhibits conscious behavior but which is not in fact conscious; we would find it tempting, perhaps overwhelmingly so, to grant full rights and responsibilities to an entity which can pass every imaginable test of sentience. But if Woody says, “Come on in! The water’s fine!” and suggests that you submit to a destructive brain scan in order to upload to a computational substrate, you would be wise to do so only if the nature of consciousness is clearly understood, and if you have included as part of your upload package any hardware (or wetware) necessary for conscious experience."

I agree that caution should be had here for more fundamental reasons. I assert that such a process of copying the minutia of ones computational substrate is insufficient to copy ones consciousness substrate which includes elements distributed through out the physical body. Again, the cognitive system emerges from intimate sensory and physical contact and modulation from both external and internal states which are dynamic...any computations are continuously converged to and are necessarily unique in approach...even if  the input signals are identical. The convergence to an indicted state of experience will always be slightly different, consciousness can still be intimately tied to those insensory , exsensory and cognitive processing interactions, still be physical. Those that are all gung ho about being "uploaded" need to realize that what will be done strictly (if possible) is a copy of a cognitive brain state (absent the inputs of physical modulation!) and then that will have a hell of an *awakening* once it boots in the artificial substrate. Furthermore, what boots up won't at all be the person copied but a simulacrum....the original persons consciousness would end with the destructive copy process...and the now pathological copy would go on in terror in the copied substrate. Even if the entire physical feedback loops of the original individual could also be copied it would still again be a copy and NOT the original agent. 

I can imagine only one scenario where he original consciousness can slide to a new non biological substrate and that is if the original body is piece by piece replaced by non biological elements across it's entire physical construction such that a new consciousness is not created but rather the existing one is moved (but in place) to a new substrate which includes both cognitive replacement and propriosensory and somatosensory replacement.

Now all that said, do I agree with the initial conclusion? Yes, and No. Yes, I agree that cognitive computational processes (with processing units resident only in the brain that are fed specific inputs) are not sufficient to replicate consciousness. However, No I do not accept the often ready fall back that because emerged consciousness is not entirely resident in the brain (but rather in the brain body physical unit) that it must come from some where external to the physical body entirely as some would like to fall to, or that it involved spooky quantum interaction among the cognitive elements that can not be simulated in an emulation.


Popular posts from this blog

Highly targeted Cpg vaccine immunotherapy for a range of cancer


This will surely go down as a seminal advance in cancer therapy. It reads like magic:

So this new approach looks for the specific proteins that are associated with a given tumors resistance to attack by the body's T cells, it then adjusts those T cells to be hyper sensitive to the specific oncogenic proteins targeted. These cells become essentially The Terminator​ T cells in the specific tumor AND have the multiplied effect of traveling along the immune pathway of spreading that the cancer many have metastasized. This is huge squared because it means you can essentially use targeting one tumor to identify and eliminate distal tumors that you many not even realize exist.

This allows the therapy for treating cancer to, for the first time; end the "wack a mole" problem that has frustrated traditional shot gun methods of treatment involving radiation and chemotherapy ...which by their nature unfortunately damage parts of the body that are not cancer laden but …

Engineers versus Programmers

I have found as more non formally trained people enter the coding space, the quality of code that results varies in an interesting way.

The formalities of learning to code in a structured course at University involve often strong focus on "correctness" and efficiency in the form of big O representations for the algorithms created.

Much less focus tends to be placed on what I'll call practical programming, which is the type of code that engineers (note I didn't use "programmers" on purpose) must learn to write.

Programmers are what Universities create, students that can take a defined development environment and within in write an algorithm for computing some sequence or traversing a tree or encoding and decoding a string. Efficiency and invariant rules are guiding development missions. Execution time for creating the solution is often a week or more depending on the professor and their style of teaching code and giving out problems. This type of coding is devo…

AgilEntity Architecture: Action Oriented Workflow

Permissions, fine grained versus management headache
The usual method for determining which users can perform a given function on a given object in a managed system, employs providing those Users with specific access rights via the use of permissions. Often these permissions are also able to be granted to collections called Groups, to which Users are added. The combination of Permissions and Groups provides the ability to provide as atomic a dissemination of rights across the User space as possible. However, this granularity comes at the price of reduced efficiency for managing the created permissions and more importantly the Groups that collect Users designated to perform sets of actions. Essentially the Groups serve as access control lists in many systems, which for the variable and often changing environment of business applications means a need to constantly update the ACL’s (groups) in order to add or remove individuals based on their ability to perform certain actions. Also, the…