[ExI] The alleged existence of consciousness

Stathis Papaioannou stathisp at gmail.com
Fri Feb 19 15:48:32 UTC 2010

On 19 February 2010 09:39, Gordon Swobe <gts_2000 at yahoo.com> wrote:
> --- On Tue, 2/16/10, Stathis Papaioannou <stathisp at gmail.com> wrote:
>>> Seems to me consciousness amounts to just another
>>> biological process like digestion...
>> But digestion is nothing over and above the chemical breakdown of food
>> in the gut. Similarly, consciousness is nothing over and above the
>> enacting of intelligent behaviour.
> I think we can and will one day create unconscious robots that *act* like they have consciousness. We already have some unconscious robots that act conscious for certain tasks. Do you really disagree with this?

The robots we have are probably on a par with animals with very simple
nervous systems.

> In any case I want to take a moment to address your claim that "consciousness is a necessary by-product of intelligence".
> I notice first that the claim needs some disambiguation. I don't believe evolution scientists use that vocabulary. Generally they classify traits as either adaptive or non-adaptive.
> Adaptive traits increase the probability that the host's genes will propagate. Eyesight serves as a good example of an adaptive trait.
> Non-adaptive traits do not increase the probability that the host's genes will propagate. The red color of human blood serves as a good example of a non-adaptive trait. Blood looks red because hemoglobin contains iron, and hemoglobin carries precious oxygen to the cells. The redness of blood appears only as a "byproduct" of something else that has adaptive value.
> Now then should we consider consciousness an adaptive trait or a non-adaptive trait? I think it clearly qualifies as an adaptive trait, and I think you will agree. Conscious awareness enhances intelligence and gives the organism more flexibility in dealing with multiple stimuli simultaneously.
> As evidence of this we need only look at nature: conscious organisms like humans exhibit more complex and intelligent behaviors than do unconscious organisms like plants and microbes.

Philosophical zombies by definition exhibit the same complex behaviour
as conscious beings. If nature could have produced zombies then why
aren't we zombies? It can't be that zombies take more effort to make,
since if the patterns of neuronal firing are reproduced in a different
substrate that would reproduce the behaviour but, you claim, not
necessarily the consciousness. So the brain could have evolved
similarly to the way it actually did, but without the added
complication of consciousness. It is difficult to imagine that
something as elaborate and non-adaptive as consciousness could have
evolved if there were so many other pathways to the same end without
consciousness. The best explanation is that the brain we happen to
have ended up with is not specially blessed, and any other brain based
on similar patterns resulting in similar behaviour would have also had
a similar consciousness.

Stathis Papaioannou

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