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Evolutionary advantage of consciousness?

GeneToy
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11/28/2014 10:55:23 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
What is the evolutionary advantage of consciousness?

As an evolutionist I accept that EVERY aspect of an organism exists because it contributes to that gene's propagation. Feelings and consciousness included.

But I have trouble with this. I can imagine a very advanced computer of the future evaluating many info inputs and initiating the best response. All this without consciousness. So what exactly is it that consciousness adds?

A plant, without consciousness I assume, turns toward the sun. Light hits a molecule and changes it shape. No middle man needed.

Similarly, I touch my hand to a hot iron and an immediate reflex pulls my hand away. Again, no middle man. But then, I look and my hand, the iron, my environment and decide on a course of action. And I am conscious of this process.

I do many things without conscious involvement. Heart beats, food is digested, etc. Breathing does not require consciousness but I can consciously change my breathing.

I have a vague idea of consciousness aiding in evaluation and decision making. But then again I can imagine a very advanced computer doing the same without consciousness?

I know this leaves huge opening for non-evolutionists but I'm not interested in that debate here.

This problem has been eating at me for a long time. I'm very interested to hear others' thoughts on this.
Thank you
AsianGenius
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11/29/2014 12:18:52 AM
Posted: 2 years ago
I have always wondered this too. By consciousness if you mean 1st person perspective then we are on the same topic. I personally believe animals and all other organisms that are not human do not have consciousness or 1st person perspective. An animal can do all it does just through it's brain chemically reacting. It sees fire, means some specific wavelengths hits the eye and is translated into chemical signals in the brain resulting in chemical reactions in mobile joints with the end result of the animal running away. In fact if a human were devoid of consciousness or 1st person perspective, the human would probably do the exact same thing he or she would do otherwise. Organisms are simply successful chemicals compounds. Some time ago I believe there were many random chemical compounds on this earth. However some unlike others had structures that allowed the chemical to replicate. Sometimes when the chemical replicated it wasn't perfect and some copies were better than others when it came to continuing to replicate. Those more successful chemicals became organisms you know of today through a continued evolution process. But just manipulating chemicals can only manipulate chemical reactions, and it can never give a first person perspective or consciousness. Just looking at a periodic table, do you think some electrons orbiting protons and neutrons could give a first person perspective or consciousness? No because our 1st person perspective/consciousness is not something that can be constructed from the periodic table of elements. I agree with you that robots don't need consciousness to survive. In fact robots, dogs, bacteria, etc are all the same performing certain behaviors out of chemical reactions. the only difference being one is organic the others aren't. Another point is after the Big Bang there were many celestial bodies. Some were more successful than others at existing and replicating. Take stars for example, they are created from other stars, eventually die off and form new stars. Some other unstable celestial body however could not sustain itself or replicated and died out. Therefore stars are just as much alive as the organisms on the Earth and those other unsuccessful celestial bodies are like extinct animals all working under the same mechanism of selection. But i'm sure everyone universally agrees stars don't have consciousness so why should animals? Well they shouldn't! Stars certainly didn't need consciousness to be successful in their own 'evolution'.

When I was a kid I had a paranoia that I was the only thing in the universe that had a consciousness or 1st person perspective but eventually I began to think if that was true there had to be a reason why other people don't have this consciousness. I couldn't think of a reason so I accepted all human have consciousness.

Now my theory of this consciousness mystery with it only being present in humans and not other things is perhaps a deity instilled it in humans, consciousness is another plane, or some advanced scientific phenomena can create 1st person perspective that we don't know yet. I'm not necessarily saying it's proof that the Christian/Islam/Jewish god this and thus exists.
GeneToy
Posts: 9
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11/29/2014 10:12:20 AM
Posted: 2 years ago
Thank you AsianGenius for this wonderful, thoughtful reply. You cover a lot of ground so I have many questions that may take some time for me to formulate.

But I can start with what seems to be your central point:

"I personally believe animals and all other organisms that are not human do not have consciousness or 1st person perspective."

You make a great description of how evolution works up to this point but then appear to abandon science. I am interested in your thinking when you separate humans and non-humans on this point. What makes you "believe" that evolution science does not apply consciousness?

Thanks
Ramshutu
Posts: 4,063
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11/29/2014 11:48:24 AM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 11/28/2014 10:55:23 PM, GeneToy wrote:
What is the evolutionary advantage of consciousness?

As an evolutionist I accept that EVERY aspect of an organism exists because it contributes to that gene's propagation. Feelings and consciousness included.

Not necessarily, but I won't argue!

But I have trouble with this. I can imagine a very advanced computer of the future evaluating many info inputs and initiating the best response. All this without consciousness. So what exactly is it that consciousness adds?

A plant, without consciousness I assume, turns toward the sun. Light hits a molecule and changes it shape. No middle man needed.

Similarly, I touch my hand to a hot iron and an immediate reflex pulls my hand away. Again, no middle man. But then, I look and my hand, the iron, my environment and decide on a course of action. And I am conscious of this process.

I do many things without conscious involvement. Heart beats, food is digested, etc. Breathing does not require consciousness but I can consciously change my breathing.

I have a vague idea of consciousness aiding in evaluation and decision making. But then again I can imagine a very advanced computer doing the same without consciousness?

I know this leaves huge opening for non-evolutionists but I'm not interested in that debate here.

This problem has been eating at me for a long time. I'm very interested to hear others' thoughts on this.
Thank you

The more important question is not whether conciousness has a purpose, but asking yourself what IS conciousness.

Decision making in terms of what conciousness provides is a detailed interpretation of your position within your environment, the position of other actors, and being able to judge and understand the consequences of your and other actions, and determining the best course of actions based on a number of complex parameters.

It is more than possible that the ability to do that IS what conciousness is. If that is not what conciousness is, then it is possible we have no objective way of measuring what conciousness is.

The trick is to ask if you did have a computer complex enough to completely mimic the actions and interactions of a human being, how would you be able to tell whether it has conciousness or not?
Burzmali
Posts: 1,310
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11/29/2014 1:33:26 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
I don't know if this is exactly a part of consciousness or not, but the human brain can do a lot of "big picture" evaluations that a computer can't. One classic example is understanding a looping scenario and determining if the loop will ever exit. A computer can determine if a simple loop will exit, but a complex loop with dozens of stages can only be determined to be finite by a human. That type of actual problem solving definitely confers an advantage with regard to avoiding predators, finding food, and taking shelter from the environment.
mortsdor
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11/29/2014 3:05:34 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 11/28/2014 10:55:23 PM, GeneToy wrote:
What is the evolutionary advantage of consciousness?

If you mean what's the point of having ideas of how the world is, outside of Rote reactions to stimuli... then that's obvious...

lets you consider what relevant 'stimui' are likely to occur if you pursue a certain coarse of action...

Lets you get a picture/understanding of how the world is, and base your actions on that broader picture rather than Immediate stimuli.

- - -

If you're talking about Self-consciousnes... like being aware that you are a thinking thing... that is, having Yourself, as a subject of your own thought...

well that's useful socially... If you are considering what Others think.... you may have to consider what they think You're thinking... :P
GeneToy
Posts: 9
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11/29/2014 4:13:46 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
".... but the human brain can do a lot of "big picture" evaluations that a computer can't. .... but a complex loop with dozens of stages can only be determined to be finite by a human."


So although, theoretically, a very powerful digital computer could solve very complex problems, that computer does not exist.

And, (dawn breaking on marble rock here maybe?) organic organisms have the same problem. They don't have a powerful enough computer. Our neuro systems, as complicated as they are, do not have the processing power to account for every contingency in a changing environment. (Genes have a limited set of materials to work with).

So the solution has been to introduce this middle man, ie consciousness, to work around that limitation. Pain and pleasure are applied until the organism's situation has improved.

I still really don't get it.
Burzmali
Posts: 1,310
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11/29/2014 5:00:23 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 11/29/2014 4:13:46 PM, GeneToy wrote:
".... but the human brain can do a lot of "big picture" evaluations that a computer can't. .... but a complex loop with dozens of stages can only be determined to be finite by a human."


So although, theoretically, a very powerful digital computer could solve very complex problems, that computer does not exist.

The particular problem I talked about isn't a matter of processing power. It's a matter of programming logic not being enough to determine whether a loop is finite or not. I could write a loop that exits after the quintillionth time it is traversed, and most humans would be able to tell immediately that the loop is finite. But any program with created to detect "infinite" loops would flag it as such. There simply isn't a way to generally apply logic to loops that can identify infinite or finite sequences without applying a human-like level of judgment.

And, (dawn breaking on marble rock here maybe?) organic organisms have the same problem. They don't have a powerful enough computer. Our neuro systems, as complicated as they are, do not have the processing power to account for every contingency in a changing environment. (Genes have a limited set of materials to work with).

So the solution has been to introduce this middle man, ie consciousness, to work around that limitation. Pain and pleasure are applied until the organism's situation has improved.

I still really don't get it.

I'm not sure what you're trying to say with that. Consciousness is a middle man? Consciousness is part of our "computer." It's an emergent property of our brain's functions. And it doesn't necessarily have anything to do with pain or pleasure. It just has to do with living long enough to reproduce. A conscious organism is more likely to survive, therefore more likely to reproduce, therefore consciousness is very likely to persist in a population once it develops.
GeneToy
Posts: 9
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11/29/2014 5:03:42 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
"The more important question is not whether conciousness has a purpose, but asking yourself what IS conciousness."

Yes. This is actually the question I started with and for which I had no satisfactory answer. So I thought that knowing the function of consciousness would help me to understand what it is. And it's function has developed through natural selection. I think I know what teeth are by looking at what they do (to propagate genes).

Pretty much the same as your statement: "It is more than possible that the ability to do that

[Decision making in terms of what consciousness provides is a detailed interpretation of your position within your environment, the position of other actors, and being able to judge and understand the consequences of your and other actions, and determining the best course of actions based on a number of complex parameters.]

IS what consciousness is."


So you are say consciousness IS what it DOES? Perceiving light is consciousness. Feeling pain is consciousness. Thoughts are consciousness. So consciousness does not exist outside of these functions?
Ramshutu
Posts: 4,063
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11/29/2014 5:46:13 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 11/29/2014 5:03:42 PM, GeneToy wrote:
"The more important question is not whether conciousness has a purpose, but asking yourself what IS conciousness."

Yes. This is actually the question I started with and for which I had no satisfactory answer. So I thought that knowing the function of consciousness would help me to understand what it is. And it's function has developed through natural selection. I think I know what teeth are by looking at what they do (to propagate genes).

Pretty much the same as your statement: "It is more than possible that the ability to do that

[Decision making in terms of what consciousness provides is a detailed interpretation of your position within your environment, the position of other actors, and being able to judge and understand the consequences of your and other actions, and determining the best course of actions based on a number of complex parameters.]

IS what consciousness is."


So you are say consciousness IS what it DOES? Perceiving light is consciousness. Feeling pain is consciousness. Thoughts are consciousness. So consciousness does not exist outside of these functions?

Not totally. Let me examined the last 5 minutes, prior to writing this reply to explain. Most of it used my "conciousness".

So I was watching house on netflix, and my Xbox froze, my memory and experience told me to reset the Xbox, so I did, while it restarted I had nothing to do, and remembered that I sometimes post on here, so decided to check whether there had been a reply.

I saw that you had replied, so read it, took it in and thought about about a way of conveying what I meant. I decided to go for a cigarette while doing this and while outside, came across the thought of explaining how I came to respond to your post, and went back inside to start typing.

Now, in this process there are some things I am in control of, but many I am not. The complex decision making process involves only a handful of "concious" decisions.

My brain is doing this, a complex number of neurons are firing and doing their thing to make those decision based on many aspects of personality, experience, knowledge, etc.

Conciousness as your calling it, may simply be that process going on. ie: what is going on in our head is simply a massive and complex decision machine; and what we perceive as reality, and what we perceive as conciousness is merely that process going on.
GeneToy
Posts: 9
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11/29/2014 6:18:31 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
" The particular problem I talked about isn't a matter of processing power. It's a matter of programming logic not being enough to determine whether a loop is finite or not. I could write a loop that exits after the quintillionth time it is traversed, and most humans would be able to tell immediately that the loop is finite. But any program with created to detect "infinite" loops would flag it as such. There simply isn't a way to generally apply logic to loops that can identify infinite or finite sequences without applying a human-like level of judgment."

Okay. Thanks for that explanation.

"It just has to do with living long enough to reproduce. A conscious organism is more likely to survive, therefore more likely to reproduce, therefore consciousness is very likely to persist in a population once it develops."

Yes I get this. It's the basic underlying principle of natural selection. So consciousnesses MUST provide reproductive advantage.

"it doesn't necessarily have anything to do with pain or pleasure."

Can't agree. Pain and pleasure (parts of consciousness) MUST have evolved because they are involved in reproductive advantage.

[I think I need a time out from sitting here hurting my brain to the point where I can't see the forest for the trees.]

All these great responses have helped and I think I am closer to answering the original question, "What is the evolutionary advantage of consciousness?"

Plants, I hypothesize, have no consciousness. Sunlight changes the shape of a molecule turning it toward the sun. No pain or pleasure involved or needed. Water and nutrients change the shape of molecules in a plants root turning the direction of growth up the water/nutrient gradient. Again no need for pain or pleasure (parts of consciousness).

Am I right to say that it all happens like a digital computer? Molecules are either one shape or the other . On or off. The same seems true in our bodies, oxygen and CO2 levels in my blood stream change the shape of molecules in my blood vessels and glands. And this occurs without our being conscious of it.

But...when I swim underwater too long there begins pain and discomfort that motivates me to get to the surface and breathe. Why the pain and discomfort? Why doesn't my body just head to the surface the way a plant turns to the sun?

It seems that pain and pleasure (consciousness) have been inserted between the stimulus and the response. This is a different type of computer.
GeneToy
Posts: 9
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11/29/2014 6:43:01 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
So you are say consciousness IS what it DOES? Perceiving light is consciousness. Feeling pain is consciousness. Thoughts are consciousness. So consciousness does not exist outside of these functions?

Not totally. Let me examined the last 5 minutes, prior to writing this reply to explain......


...Conciousness as your calling it, may simply be that process going on. ie: what is going on in our head is simply a massive and complex decision machine; and what we perceive as reality, and
what we perceive as conciousness is merely that process going on.


Seems you came right around full circle and reaffirmed that consiousness IS what it is doing.

This is a slippery problem : )
AsianGenius
Posts: 6
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11/29/2014 7:00:01 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 11/29/2014 10:12:20 AM, GeneToy wrote:
Thank you AsianGenius for this wonderful, thoughtful reply. You cover a lot of ground so I have many questions that may take some time for me to formulate.

But I can start with what seems to be your central point:

"I personally believe animals and all other organisms that are not human do not have consciousness or 1st person perspective."

You make a great description of how evolution works up to this point but then appear to abandon science. I am interested in your thinking when you separate humans and non-humans on this point. What makes you "believe" that evolution science does not apply consciousness?

Thanks

OK so to answer your question, I'm saying evolution does not create consciousness because evolution can only affect chemical/biological structure. The reason I don't use science to explain why humans have consciousness but animals, stars, and robots don't is because nothing I know of in science can cause consciousness to be created so I just made my own broad theories about why only humans have consciousness. But I hope I made it clear why i don't think evolution can ever create consciousness on its own. If you have any other questions I'll be happy to answer them :)
AsianGenius
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11/29/2014 7:01:46 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 11/29/2014 10:12:20 AM, GeneToy wrote:
Thank you AsianGenius for this wonderful, thoughtful reply. You cover a lot of ground so I have many questions that may take some time for me to formulate.

But I can start with what seems to be your central point:

"I personally believe animals and all other organisms that are not human do not have consciousness or 1st person perspective."

You make a great description of how evolution works up to this point but then appear to abandon science. I am interested in your thinking when you separate humans and non-humans on this point. What makes you "believe" that evolution science does not apply consciousness?

Thanks:

OK so to answer your question, I'm saying evolution does not create consciousness because evolution can only affect chemical/biological structure. The reason I don't use science to explain why humans have consciousness but animals, stars, and robots don't is because nothing I know of in science can cause consciousness to be created so I just made my own broad theories about why only humans have consciousness. But I hope I made it clear why i don't think evolution can ever create consciousness on its own. If you have any other questions I'll be happy to answer them :)
Ramshutu
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11/29/2014 7:04:42 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 11/29/2014 6:43:01 PM, GeneToy wrote:
So you are say consciousness IS what it DOES? Perceiving light is consciousness. Feeling pain is consciousness. Thoughts are consciousness. So consciousness does not exist outside of these functions?

Not totally. Let me examined the last 5 minutes, prior to writing this reply to explain......


...Conciousness as your calling it, may simply be that process going on. ie: what is going on in our head is simply a massive and complex decision machine; and what we perceive as reality, and
what we perceive as conciousness is merely that process going on.


Seems you came right around full circle and reaffirmed that consiousness IS what it is doing.

This is a slippery problem : )

You're right, actually. I misread your reply.

I guess what I'm saying is this:

Let's say we create a computer that fully emulates, exactly, a human being in all it's complexity.

How could you tell whether it was concious or not?

If not, and the what made the computer appear "concious" was simply the way it made decisions on instantaneous and continuous input data, how can you tell that what we experience as conciousness isn't exactly the same thing,
AsianGenius
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11/29/2014 7:15:55 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
I sincerely apologize for the accidental duplicate post. I would remove it if I could. I'd like to however point out that thought and action can happen without a consciousness. If pain signals went to the brain, caused some chemical reactions which caused other chemical reactions, then you have movement. No consciousness needed. Same with decision making, if you look at the science of it, it once again is just different chemicals in the brain moving around and reacting. Those reactions could become memory and/or action and once again no 1st person perspective needed. In fact all critical thinking could be caused by chemical reactions solely and not need a consciousness to do any of the complex things it can do. For this reason if a robot could develop higher level critical thinking beyond that of humans, this is no indication that it has first person perspective of the world. I think consciousness is something that's attached to your body so think you can experience what happens to your chemical/biological structure, your body, from a 1st person perspective. Decision making I believe remains as something chemicals in your brain do and not something your consciousness does. When a thought goes through your mind you are simply through a 1st person perspective, experiencing your body creating a thought through chemicals in the brain.
GeneToy
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11/30/2014 7:22:13 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
I guess what I'm saying is this:

Let's say we create a computer that fully emulates, exactly, a human being in all it's complexity.

How could you tell whether it was concious or not?

Well I guess the important word here is "emulate." If I understand you, we build a robot that looks and behaves just like a human. But inside it's a digital computer, not organs, blood vessels, brain, etc.

Is it conscious the way humans are conscious? Does it feel sensory inputs? Does it feel pain as it emulates a wincing, painful facial expression? Does it feel guilt as it is emulating a guilty facial expression?

Seems evident to me that the answer is no. It is not conscious the way humans are conscious. I think we know this because we know every component, it's purpose, and how it works to fulfill that purpose. We did not put in the ability to feel pain. We don't know how to do that.
GeneToy
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11/30/2014 8:47:11 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
" OK so to answer your question, I'm saying evolution does not create consciousness because evolution can only affect chemical/biological structure. The reason I don't use science to explain why humans have consciousness but animals, stars, and robots don't is because nothing I know of in science can cause consciousness to be created"

Thanks for your response.

Yes I think I get where you're coming from. Consciousness seems very mystical, and very different from physical things. When we are awake it seems like our inner reality is separate and different from physical things. So it's difficult to see how consciousness is connected to the physical world. As you say,

"...nothing I know of in science can cause consciousness to be created"

I hope I have understood you correctly because I'm going to have to disagree. I think we know a great deal about the connection between consciousness and the physical world.

When specific parts of the brain are electrically stimulated with probes, subjects have reported an array of sensory, emotional and cognitive effects. They report feelings of suffocation, burning, warmth, feeling of falling, levitation, sounds, anxiety, mirth, fear, happiness, anger, sadness, recalling memories, reliving past experiences and more. (check out "Electrical brain stimulation" in Wikipedia)

My own sister's personality changed radically after she had a stroke....ie parts of her brain died. My mothers personality and cognitive ability slowly changed from vascular dementia. Parts of her brain died as blood flow was blocked.

An array of differing cognitive abilities correspond with different brain shapes and sizes in animals.

From all this it seems evident to me that consciousness and the physical body are bound together. And, so far, I think they evolved together.
GeneToy
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11/30/2014 9:14:08 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 11/29/2014 7:15:55 PM, AsianGenius wrote:
I sincerely apologize for the accidental duplicate post. I would remove it if I could. I'd like to however point out that thought and action can happen without a consciousness. If pain signals went to the brain, caused some chemical reactions which caused other chemical reactions, then you have movement. No consciousness needed. Same with decision making, if you look at the science of it, it once again is just different chemicals in the brain moving around and reacting. Those reactions could become memory and/or action and once again no 1st person perspective needed. In fact all critical thinking could be caused by chemical reactions solely and not need a consciousness to do any of the complex things it can do. For this reason if a robot could develop higher level critical thinking beyond that of humans, this is no indication that it has first person perspective of the world.

From this it looks like we are very much on the same page.

"....no 1st person perspective needed..... not need a consciousness to do any of the complex things.....thought and action can happen without a consciousness"


So why is there consciousness? It evolved by natural selection. It must provide a reproductive advantage.

That said, we depart a bit here:
"I think consciousness is something that's attached to your body so think you can experience what happens to your chemical/biological structure, your body, from a 1st person perspective. "

Why is it attached so "you" can experience what happens....."

In fact I think not only does consciousness give "you" a "1st person perspective," it creates "you and your 1st person perspective."

Or maybe more accurately, consciousness, you, and a 1st person perspective are all the same thing. They evolved that way together.

Why?
Ramshutu
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12/1/2014 1:51:58 AM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 11/30/2014 7:22:13 PM, GeneToy wrote:
I guess what I'm saying is this:

Let's say we create a computer that fully emulates, exactly, a human being in all it's complexity.

How could you tell whether it was concious or not?

Well I guess the important word here is "emulate." If I understand you, we build a robot that looks and behaves just like a human. But inside it's a digital computer, not organs, blood vessels, brain, etc.

Is it conscious the way humans are conscious? Does it feel sensory inputs? Does it feel pain as it emulates a wincing, painful facial expression? Does it feel guilt as it is emulating a guilty facial expression?

Yes. I did say fully emulate. Not emulate some :)

Seems evident to me that the answer is no. It is not conscious the way humans are conscious. I think we know this because we know every component, it's purpose, and how it works to fulfill that purpose. We did not put in the ability to feel pain. We don't know how to do that.

My point is that we don't know what consciousness actually is. You are treating it as more than a manifestation of the processes going on in our brain when we receive data and process decisions.

If a computer could be programmed to feel and respond to pain, you can no more tell whether that pain is real to the computer than we can tell if it's real for us.

We respond to pain because of electrical signals on our brain in the same way a computer would if we programmed it that way. It hurts because of those signals. To say or assume that there is something more to our interpretation of pain than simple our brain telling us we're in pain and its bad is, to an extent, begging the question.