[ExI] Consciousness as 'brute fact' and meta-skepticism

John Clark johnkclark at gmail.com
Sun Feb 9 23:31:10 UTC 2020

On Sun, Feb 9, 2020 at 12:47 PM Will Steinberg via extropy-chat <
extropy-chat at lists.extropy.org> wrote:

* > I can see someone with absolutely no behavior and assume that they are
> conscious.  I could also see someone whose brain was totally fucked up and
> glitching out and still assume they were conscious, even if there is no
> intelligence involved. *

Well sure, you are free to use any assumptions you like and most people
don't hesitate to assume all sorts if things and often don't even realize
they are using some in their deductions, but a scientist must use extreme
caution in their use and clearly state any assumptions he employed in
reaching his conclusion.

> * > If I see someone getting electrocuted they might not be making
> intelligent or even volitional behaviors but I sure as hell believe they
> are consciously experiencing pain (before they die...) *

Being sure as hell is easy but being correct is not. I freely admit I just
don't know if a person who dies by electrocution experiences pain or not.
But there have been cases of powerline workers who accidentally received
INTENSE electrical shocks but somehow survived, shocks so severe their arms
had to be amputated due to severe burns, and yet they later report they
experienced no pain and can't even remember the incident; that might give a
little weight toward the "no pain" side of the argument, although the
"report" mentioned was also a form of behavior, either noised made with the
mouth or squiggles made by the poor man's one remaining hand.

> *most of the time, I am not making any behaviors, yet I am conscious.*

For 16 hours a day you just sit and never move your hands or legs or even
your eyeballs?

> *Since you insist on talking about someone else's brain being different,
> why not talk about clones or identical twins.  By your logic then, would it
> make sense for a clone to believe another clone was conscious? *

My twin sisters have one more reason to disbelieve in solipsism than I do,
assuming of course that both of them are not zombies. But my identical twin
sisters are not really identical, as a kid I could always tell my older
sisters apart (although most people couldn't). They were different because
although their DNA recipe is identical their prenatal and postnatal
environment was not, it was very similar but not identical.

> * > But what about minute differences in the atomic dust in their
> brains?  The point is those differences do not matter *

That sounds like a reasonable working assumption to me, but I can't prove
it's true and will never be able to do so.

> *> Brains themselves are clearly associated with consciousness and I can
> test that out by whacking myself in the head hard enough to pass out.  *

The ancient Egyptians certainly didn't think the association between brains
and consciousness was as obvious as you do, they carefully preserved every
part of the Pharaoh's body EXCEPT for the brain which they just discarded
as being of no importance. X rays of mummies don't show even the hint of a
brain. The fifth century BC historian Herodotus said Egyptians "*first draw
out the parts of the brain through the nostrils with an iron hook, and then
inject in certain drugs*".

John K Clark
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