[ExI] Do digital computers feel?

Stathis Papaioannou stathisp at gmail.com
Wed Dec 21 23:21:24 UTC 2016

> On 22 Dec. 2016, at 6:22 am, William Flynn Wallace <foozler83 at gmail.com> wrote:
> That neurons are complicated is no argument against their computability. A valid such argument would involve a claim that neurons utilise non-computable physics.
> N​ever argued that​.  But assuming that some super super computer could emulate the firings of a set of neurons is a long way from saying that the computer would experience what the person does.  Feelings are just that  - something you feel.  Emotions come from motion, moving.  The neurons do something besides just fire  - they activate hormonal networks which in turn activate muscles and other glands and so on.  Anxiety, for one, can be felt in one's arms and legs and in another person's head, another person's stomach and so on.  
> Are there going to be connected networks to emulate the endocrine system?  The muscles and sinews?  The organs of digestion?

It is generally thought that feelings occur in the central nervous system, specifically the cortex, and that peripheral nerves and hormones act by stimulating the central nervous system. When you  dream or hallucinate, you have the experience in the absence of the usual peripheral stimulus. But even if emulating the whole body rather than just the brain were needed to emulate the full range of experience that would not present an impediment: we could make robots.

> And so on and so on.  And still you have utterly no reason to think that the computer experiences human emotions.  Assuming the computer can talk, you could ask it what it feels and it has no way of knowing how to answer that.  It can only put it in human language.  Humans, on the other hand, have no idea what an electrical circuit feels when it is activated, right?  

Before John says it: you don't know whether any other humans really feel, you just deduce it from their behaviour.

> This will have to be the end of my 'contribution' to this discussion.  I don't know any more.  For more you will have to talk to a computer person.  Which I for sure am not.

Your intuition is that in order to reproduce consciousness it may not be sufficient to just reproduce the behaviour of the human brain, because consciousness might reside in the actual brain substance. This, I think, is what Brent is claiming. He further claims that one day we may be able to work out the exact correlates of experience - glutamate for red experiences for example (for illustrative purposes - it wouldn't be as simple as this). But there is an argument due to philosopher David Chalmers that assumes this common intuition to be true and shows that it leads to absurdity:

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