Consciousness (Human, animal, etc) Can Exist Without a Brain
Debate Rounds (4)
The topic of the debate is consciousness, the premise is that it can exist outside of the brain but we just don't have a machine capable of running it.
Suppose that we understood all of the laws of nature that enable life to exist. Then suppose hypothetically that you could simulate all the models of chemistry/physics/quantum physics necessary, either in a virtual world, or in reality in some sort of "brain machine". I think that you could have an independently thinking consciousness in either the supercomputer program, or the machine that is equivalent to the brain in all aspects.. As for what "ROM" and "operating system" that would be needed to be loaded initially, that is a difficult matter and could be a topic of debate should you so choose.
4 rounds, 5000 characters. You have the burden of proof on any claim that you make, as do I; anything not refuted will be considered true until refuted. You can state in the first round, an overview of why you think that a human brain and a human mind need each other plus the spark of life, in order to create a consciousness, and why the lack of any of these 3 things will not cause the "flame" of consciousness to keep burning. I will be debating that none of these 3 things are required.
This debate is not intended to be taken overly seriously. You can make the "extraordinary claims" without the "extraordinary evidence" part, as long as it's not "extraneous claims with inane evidence".
As the affirmative, I will contend that you have the burden of proof when attempting to convince myself and others viewing this thread of the possibility of consciousness being able to exist absent of mind. I also agree that any statements I make to the contrary will require, if not substantive empirical evidence (with this being a thought experiment), then at least a substantive, reasonable justification.
My argument will largely focus on three key points:
Firstly, there is absolutely no evidence or precedent for a mind absent of body. Naturally, this doesn't mean that one won't be discovered or engineered, however we have no good reason to think that one could possibly exist until there is a reasonable justification for believing that there is. I do not accept your postulate that a simulator which could model the chemistry/physics of the human mind could constitute what we label "consciousness" because we have no good reason to believe that it would.
Secondly, I will contend that the concept of consciousness is still nebulous, poorly defined and, more importantly, poorly understood. Neuroscientists, psychologists, philosophers and other academics still do not agree on a clean definition of consciousness. A cursory Wikipedia search lends the following definition in the first line of the opening paragraph: "Consciousness is the quality or state of self-awareness, or, of being aware of an external object or something within oneself" [http://en.wikipedia.org...]. As a matter of academic integrity, it would be intellectually dishonest to claim the possibility of an absent-body consciousness without any indication of this possibility.
Thirdly, I will argue that this problem has been considered for centuries, and the further it is argued and debated, the further away from the concept of an untethered consciousness we become. Plato and Aristotle would talk to you about the 'soul', Descartes would tell you that mind and matter were distinct, but that mind could influence matter (i.e. the mind influences the brain). Huxley would subsequently tell you that the mind was a by-product of the brain but had no influence upon it, and Searle would claim that the mind is part of the brain and there is no need for their separation (in the same way as one cannot absolve problems of microeconomics by discussion macroeconomics; they are mutually dependent and although they operate individually in different ways they are both part of a whole, larger system.) This, again, is from a cursory Google search but I will endeavour to keep the debate as accessible as possible by reducing my reliance on the work of scholars whom I cannot claim the intelligence to understand the arguments of in their entirety.
I look forward very much to a sporting and thought-provoking debate.
Your first point boils down to "we have no good reason to believe consciousness can work without a brain". My question is "why?". I'll leave it there, because I'll be stating the good reasons shortly.
Your second point is that the word "consciousness" is a placeholder for a concept that isn't fully understood, sort of a "working title" until science can explain it and describe how it arises; correct me if I'm wrong. We may not have a rigourous definition but we do at least agree on what is and isn't conscious. Alive and awake people are all conscious, I'm sure if we were walking across a warzone for example, we'd be able to say "oh that guy is conscious, that guy has no head left he isn't conscious" and we'd agree on who did and didn't have this quality. We know what it is we don't know how it works.
To add to your third point, I'll provie this quote:
Because we do not understand the brain very well we are constantly tempted to use the latest technology as a model for trying to understand it. In my childhood we were always assured that the brain was a telephone switchboard. ("What else could it be?") I was amused to see that Sherrington, the great British neuroscientist, thought that the brain worked like a telegraph system. Freud often compared the brain to hydraulic and electromagnetic systems. Leibniz compared it to a mill, and I am told some of the ancient Greeks thought the brain functions like a catapult. At present, obviously, the metaphor is the digital computer.
—JOHN R. SEARLE, R13;"MINDS, BRAINS, AND SCIENCE"
Not only have we been wondering how the brain and the mind depend on each other, but we have been thinking over many centuries, about the brain by itself and how it works. The question of the day is, "can we make one?".
Ray Kurzweil estimated the computational efficiency of the brain to be about 10^16 calculations per second (page 125, ). Ray Kurzweil estimates the memory of the brain, considering 10^4 bits allocated per neural connection to be 10^18 bits (page 127, ).John Von Neumann estimated the memory requirement of the brain to be 2.8*10^20 bits per human lifetime without the act of forgetting (page 64, ). So we have some rough estimates of the "RAM and ROM" we would need. We are getting close to these numbers, the prediction is that in the next decade we will be able to compute at 10^16 CPS.
The brain performs logical and computational operations. Some of its processes are analog, and some of them are digital. We've built machines to perform these processes; the brain is not necessarily more complicated, it's just a lot of it. We know for a fact that humans are made of nothing but atoms, and atoms obey the laws of nature. So it would be straightforward to assume that, if only we knew how the brain was built, that we would be able to use the technology we have today to make some sort of consciousness. It probably would not be as smart as a human but maybe it could at least have sentience and think about things we ask it, and respond.
In the way that neurons are wired, they can be stimulated in a number of ways. These seem to represent basic logical operations such as AND, OR, NOT, etc. Together, a network of neurons that only uses these 3 operations can perform any operation, no matter how complex. In practice though, the neural pulses that transmit across axons to the body of a neuron can have more complicated arrangements than just simply AND, OR, and NOT. The stimulation criteria may change for a neuron body's input over time as well, which could be difficult to model. However, given that there is much research being done in this area, and we are always figuring out more about how the brain works, I think it will only be a matter of time before we figure it out and reproduce it.
And I'm opening up a chance for you to find a flaw in this statement: I see no special powers or miracles that are used to create a living brain. The brain may be more advanced than anything we have ever built, but I see no evidence for anything spooky like a "soul" or "the hand of god" being necessary to install consciousness in an arrangement of atoms called a "brain". Unless you can suggest something that we pathetic humans could never get our hands on, which is a vital ingredient to consciousness, we'll figure out the recipe soon enough.
The Singularity is Near, Ray Kurzweil
The Computer & the Brain, John Von Neumann
First, I will address your contentions to my arguments. Second, I will address what I perceive as flaws in your arguments. Finally, I will pose some further arguments for my case.
As it happens, I am an undergraduate psychology student (with an exam in a few hours so do forgive the rushed tone of this argument but I felt this topic too tempting to leave!) and although I make absolutely no claim to be qualified or an expert in the field, I feel quite comfortable navigating most of the terrain being discussed here.
In your opening line, you asked "why?" it is that I believe "we have no good reason to believe consciousness can work without a brain". I explained in my preceding argument that we have no good reason to believe something is the case until it is demonstrated that it is the case. To jump ahead to your concluding paragraph where you challenge me to find a flaw in the statement, " I see no special powers or miracles that are used to create a living brain. The brain may be more advanced than anything we have ever built, but I see no evidence for anything spooky like a "soul" or "the hand of god" being necessary to install consciousness in an arrangement of atoms called a "brain"." my answer will be the same. Of course I will not contend the existence of a soul! Or any other supernatural 'essence'! And this is for *exactly the same reason*. We have no good reason to think that a soul exists because there is no reason to without precedent, in the same way that there is no good reason to think that a mind could exist absent-brain until we have justification for such a position. You went on to say, "...we'll figure out the recipe soon enough." This is the assertion of an opinion, not a factual statement, as you can have no way of proving this.
In your paragraph addressing my second point, you essentially grapple with definitions, which I think is an important question to talk about and I don't entirely agree with your statement but I shan't waste too much more time on it. I disagree with your statement "We know what it is we don't know how it works". We currently have neither, but only a nebulous, abstract conception of what it is to be conscious based on personal experience, without a clear understanding or empirical framework.
Your remaining arguments take the form of analysing historical and present technological allegories to the functioning of the human brain, which I actually agree are good working models. However, I contend that you have committed a misapplication of them in this context.
Alan Turing would certainly have appreciate your allegory pertaining to logical operations, and given the recent news (which you have probably heard about) that a piece of software, Eugene Goostman, controversially passed the Turing test for the first time (1). That system can convince humans that it is animate just over 30% of the time. Although I'm sure you would agree that this does not (yet?) constitute consciousness, it does fall into the ever-approaching field of artificial intelligence. The key point, however, is this: Turing, who predicted the singularity, rise of AI, etc, stipulated that the assessment for such a machine is its ability to render statements and responses indistinguishable from that of a human. It emulates a human. But it is not conscious. Although Alfred Ayer(2) stated that a thing which fails the consciousness test is not conscious, this does not mean that something that passes the test is conscious. Eugene passed the test because its serious of recorded responses was sufficiently believable to pass as a human, but Turing had hypothesised that by 2000 that type of machine wouldn't be articulating prerecorded responses but would be changing over time based on learning algorithms and logical conversation patterns. We haven't developed those yet, we haven't developed any form of conscious machine, and we cannot contend that "Consciousness (Human, animal, etc) Can Exist Without a Brain" without sufficient evidence or precedent; the most prominent AI scientists in the world are developing learning algorithms, which even they assert is not synonymous with the concept of consciousness.
The ability to preserve one's mind indefinitely in an artificial 'brain' is alluring and compelling, and gives us hope of transcendence without the need for supernatural intervention. However, like religion, the idea brings comfort and hope to the vulnerable. This alone does not make it true.
There is no good reason to believe that mind can exist absent of brain.
I hope your exam has gone favourably.
On to the debate: If the brain uses pulses coming into a neuron to generate pulses going out of the neuron, in a fashion similar to OR, AND, and NOT, then our computing machines are plainly working off the same sorts of input/output structure. It is often said that a person can do everything a computer can, given enough time, a calculator, pencil, and stack of paper. Brain and machine are both capable of the same task. The brain is capable of emulating the machine. Is the machine capable of emulating the brain?
Many of us are familiar with video game console emulators. You might think "A Wii can emulate an SNES, but an SNES cannot emulate a Wii. If something is being emulated by a more complex machine, then it cannot emulate the complex machine." If you consier the PC, quite the opposite is true. You could run a virtual machine on Windows, which ran MAC OS, which itself ran a virtual machine running the same Windows. It would be slower, but it's at least possible in theory if you have enough RAM.
Call proposition A = "consciousnes can't work without a brain".
If as you say, that "A" is reasonable as long as 'A has not been demontrated, then A is the most reasonable conclusion. 'A is a provable, testable claim, so it's worth the benefit of the doubt. A claim like "our universe is an electron in another massive universe" is untestable and not worth consideration. But 'A is testible, and falsifiable so it IS worth consideration. One such test is the original Turing Test - to see if a judge can discriminate between a human and a computer when communicating to both through only a text box.
I hope to trap you by using the reasoning in the previous paragraph. Since you are right that "the recipe will be figured out soon enough" is a statement of opinion. But since 'A is falsifiable, and you agree that it has not been falsified yet, isn't it also an opinion that 'A is false? The summary here is that if either of us try to simply state the resolution, or the negation of the resolution, it is a statement of opinion. You are no more justified to say:
we have no good reason to believe something is the case until it is demonstrated that it is the case.
Than I am justified to say:
the formula will be figured out eventually
I've heard of the recent "Eugene Gootsman" who supposedly passed the Turing Test. This isn't the first claim, and it's more of a cheat because any stupidity displayed by the AI could be disguised as "the 13 year old kid was just stupid and didn't know what to say" (I'm running out of time so I won't get into that too much).
I think that if a machine convinces you it is a human, it would have to have consciousness. If you claim it does not, then why not take it a step further and claim that every human that you meet in the street that walks and talks like a human, is just a machine? How do you know that a hypothetical machine that has responds as if it were human does NOT have consciousness, but you know that humans who respond as if they were well.. human.. DO have consciousness?
Firstly, I disagree with the contention that firing neurones are equal in function to the logical operations of a computer. While it is a comfortable analogy and a useful model to convey the general principles of neuroscience, it is simply too reductionist to be used as the basis of serious inquiry. The path of neurotransmitter across synapses, the growth, regrowth and shedding of neurones and the dense biomechanical arrayed cortices and lobes is far too complex to lump with AND/OR/NOT statements.
Therefore, I reject your first proposition that the brain emulates machine, and that such an emulation is reciprocal.
Secondly, your logical trap was almost successful, except for the fault in your assertion that I must hold one of two positions. There are in fact three, and I hold the third.
Your fallacy here is called 'false dichotomy', or more relevantly, 'fallacy of the excluded middle'. The position I hold which you quoted, "we have no good reason to believe something is the case until it has demonstrated to be the case", is not a 'NOT' statement. This same fallacy is observed by those who don't understand the position of atheism. There is belief for, non-belief and belief against. I am not asserting that it is impossible and will never happen, because of course that is not demonstrable and would carry a significant burden of proof. I am instead assuming the default position; rejection of claims until substantiated by reasonable justification and evidence, of which there is none for a mind absent brain. Therefore, I am in fact justified in my claim, as it is not an opinion but the only reasonable position.
Absolutely correct. In my introduction of Eugene I made the point that it was controversial. Not only were there questions about the validity of the testers but as it happens Eugene doesn't employ a mutating/learning algorithm.
I don't feel that this is significantly important to our debate other than to illustrate the difficulty in agreeing upon a clear definition. Should you bring this back up in your round I'll be happy to continue this contention but I don't think it serves either of our purposes particularly well and am happy to move on should you agree.
Is this really the case? Let me ask you a question. If I convince a person that I'm a police officer, but I'm not a police officer, do I become a police officer? If I trick a girl into thinking I'm good looking by means of silver-tongued seduction and doctored photos on the Interwebs, does that make me attractive? A piece of software, returning scripted responses for a given input, is the same as any other program but has been designed to give the illusion of consciousness. This does not satisfy our agreed upon definition, and in fact specifically refutes it.
As for your final question, this resolution is not one about solipsism! Of course I can't prove that other people are conscious or even exist, but given the propensity of the evidence and the fact that it doesn't make a difference, I choose to believe that. Haha!
The nervous system seems to transmit numerical data by a nearly periodic pulse train . Weaker stimulus results in a lower frequency, so it seems intensities aretranslated into frequencies, like a frequency modulation function. Under these conditions, only a few digits of precision are possible, but it's more reliable than a computer (where a single bit error could completely mess everything up). The message system used in the nervous system is a statistical one, where in a computer it is an exact one. This information comes from Von Neumann .
So our computers are not like our nervous systems, or at least not built in the same way. Eventually we will reverse engineer the brain, according to futurologists like Ray Kurzweil. By then, we may come up with better architectures to run computer programs, which may open up possibilities for making progressively more human-like AI. There is no doubt that we are creating better and better AI, which will teach us more about consciousness. If an AI ever does pass the Turing Test, we can ask it "how do you feel" and get a good response. Which is the kind of thing we ask people now to see if they are conscious.
You aren't falling for a fallible argument, so I suppose it was an attempt in vain. Either the hypothesis "consciousnes can't work without a brain", or the negation of that hypothesis has to be true, but "consciousnes can't work without a brain" is the scientific statement that's accepted now. Until we have evidence of anything else, it's all we are sure of. However, the predictions of Ray Kurzweil (many of which come true) are based on more than just hypothesis.
The response that follows from the observation that neurons are not a simple as the fundamental logic gates, is that fundamental logic gates can be used to represent any number to any arbitrary amount of precision. Thus simple logic gates can model analogue processes and digital processes to any level that they may be found in the brain (for example if a 1 mV difference in a neural pulse is significant, then for a range of 50 mV we would need 6 bits. Bits can be added as more precision is needed, to arbitrary precision).
Suppose it is more than just analog and digital processes that we need to enable in our hypothetical brain machine. We might need to model quantum mechanical processes. The electron can be in 2 places in once [source], and this may not be straightforward to replicate. Google has built a quantum computer called the D-Wave, and we do understand the idea of "qubits"
With the metaphor, pretending to be an attractive person on the internet - attractiveness is a judgement imposed by the observer, not an innate quality in the observered. Depending on how philosophical you want to get, the idea of a job such as a policeman is a human assigned trait, not necessarily a measurable quantity. All titles and jobs and names are really just arbitrary assignments we give to people.
Unless you experience the consciousness that a machine experiences, or you experience the consciousness another human experiences, you will have to settle that both are an illusion of consciousness. With the steady increase in computing power and AI power, it's only a matter of time before we can't tell the difference between a machine talking to us and a human talking to us.
I'm really sorry champ, I'm going to be a bit busy for the rest of the day and I don't think I'll get much more time to write so I can't wait any longer. As per the comments section, if you post them while I'm writing this, I'll definitely take a look at them.
To condense a long argument, essentially what you're talking about is the physical conditions to which brains adhere (i.e. neurons and action potentials versus bits, plus statistical vs. exact processing). You argue that futurists like Kurzweil predict that we will be able to reverse-engineer the brain (which is currently being worked on). You then discussed the architectural constraints of and that the hope is to one day acquire sufficient technological advancement so as to be able to build an conscious computer. You then readdressed the Turing Test.
Firstly, the old metaphor of the computer-brain model is, in fact, going out of favour. There are several problems with the model which include: the brain uses content-addressable memory, facilitated by spreading-activation, not polling precise memory addresses(1). I contend that this will be almost impossible to replicate in a computer, and if it can, this will still only model consciousness. In the same article, the author addresses the contention that synapses are similar to logic gates. He argues that there are moderating factors, like distance to dendrites and and the presence of a variety of chemicals in the synaptic cleft. Essentially, neurons fire electrochemically, not just electrically(1)[see point #7].
Secondly, asking a machine "how do you fell?" will return the same result as any other question posed to a computer with a preset answer. This cannot be used to determine the consciousness of an inanimate object. I can write the same type of thing in QBasic, that doesn't mean that Basic is conscious.
Thirdly, it is an appeal to authority to say "Ray Kurzweil predicted it, so therefore it is true". While having previously made accurate, independently demonstrable and specific predictions in the past may be a good reason to agree to consider the evidence provided by the person, it does not make them infallible. Linus Pauling, two-time Nobel Prize Laureate and a founder of quantum chemistry and molecular biology, began claiming that vitamin c could cure colds and cancer. This is where the commonly misheld belief that vitamin c is good for you when you're sick comes from. The medical establishment analysed this and concluded it was quackery(2). This does not discredit his initial work but it does serve to illustrate the fallibility of 'authorities'.
The analogy with attractiveness and the police officer was obviously facetious and and not supposed to be an inerrant model of truth-prediction. However, I actually still think my model is valid, because whether or not I am a policeman is determined not so much by social proclamation, but a very specific set of criteria. My occupation is not determined by whether other people think I am a something or not. Also, I reject that the assignment of 'titles and jobs' is arbitrary. We have those titles and jobs for a reason; they distinguish between individuals.
You've again come back to the solipsism thing. I don't have to experience another person's consciousness to know that they are conscious. I do not have to experience Russia to know that it's often freaking cold there.
Further, I assert that if your argument is correct that,"[u]nless you experience the consciousness that a machine experiences, or you experience the consciousness another human experiences, you will have to settle that both are an illusion of consciousness" then you will have no way of assessing that the computer is conscious, and are therefore incorrect in making the assertion that "Consciousness can exist without a human brain". Not necessarily because it isn't the case, but because by your own admission you could never know it to be the case.
This debate has been interesting. We have heard the argument that AI and artificial brains are being constructed, which could one day give us the key to understanding consciousness. I assert that just because you have built a brain that is mechanically and/or biologically similar to or the same as a human brain, this is no grounds for assumption of its consciousness. All the evidence that we have suggests that minds are molded over years through learning and rearing as children, through developmental phases and physical growth in brain tissue as new experiences and skills arise. Perhaps I'm wrong, and one day we'll see a conscious computer...but we have no good reason to think this is the case, and so the assertion that "Consciousness CAN exist without a brain" is unjustifiable, and false.
(1) 10 Important Differences Between Brains and Computers, Chris Chatham, accessible at: [http://scienceblogs.com...] point #2
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Vote Placed by phantom 2 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: Interesting debate guys! Con says, "We have no good reason to believe something is the case until it is demonstrated that it is the case." I agree with this and think Pro's case amounted to allot of speculation. Con agrees that conscious could be created by humans, he's just taking the neutral position that this could be the case but there's no sufficient evidence to say this will probably be the case. We know neither what consciousness is, nor how it works, so we can't say it doesn't need a brain to exist. AI is similar to brains but that doesn't mean AI will have consciousness as we don't know exactly how consciousness is brought about. It doesn't particularly matter if we couldn't tell if a human or an AI is talking to us. Humans are capable of being decieved and advanced computers could plausibly deceive us. It doesn't mean they're conscious.
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