Consciousness Indecision

– or – My Neural State isn’t my Mental State. Is it?

In the immensely popular game Fallout 4, players are confronted with an ethical dilemma. Are the Synthetic humans… Human?
Can something created vice conceived be truly alive? Intelligent?? Conscious??? Should it be granted human rights? Or, by sheer virtue of their status as creations, can they never truly be alive?

“I think, I think I am. Therefore, I am, I think.” – ‘In the Beginning’, the Moody Blues

I think I enjoy the reading and researching aspects of the creative process almost as much as the writing. My current WIPs center around artificial intelligence, AIs. I refer to them as ArCons, artificial consciousness’s. That subtle distinction involves a can of worms labelled “Hard Problem.” We’ll open it later. Why AIs?

I’ve always been intrigued by and tried to stay abreast of, cognitive neuroscience news. This is an exciting time. What part of the brain does what? And how? Is the Singularity near? Is an AI already out there? Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

It has been nearly three years since the first supercomputer/program–Russian-made program Eugene Goostman–passed the Turing Test. But was it, is it really self-aware? And if it is conscious, does it necessarily then stand that it has free will? Just what is ‘free will’? What if we define it as the power to not do something, the choice to veto one impulse over another? Is ‘Free Won’t’ the same as ‘Free Will’?

Psychology? Physiology? Philosophy? Yes. Three scoops, please. Easy on the toppings. And please, keep a glass of water handy. I feel some major brain-freeze coming on.

Today’s mind-map is more like Bianco’s early world map and a lot less like Visscher‘s more familiar outlines.

Current research into brain areas, functions, is still very much at the developmental stage. We can identify specific activity but can’t say with certainty that they have a causal role in consciousness. We don’t know all of the specific areas, conscious-level processing, and computational roles associated with those areas. But new theories are challenging old assumptions, and new technologies are giving us detailed glimpses of the human mind at work.

Does consciousness even exist? And if so, why? Is it a survival feature, or some vestigial adaptation on the slow road to extinction? Quantum biology and other theories suggest that not only does consciousness exist, it may be a fundamental part of reality. So. For now and for the foreseeable future–barring a sudden Singularity–we still have a Ghost in the Machine.

At least part of me worries that we are rushing to create this something we call Artificial Intelligence when we cannot even define, in concrete terms, what that is. Stephen Hawking wrote “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” Elon Musk has warned that AI is “our biggest existential threat.”

My own views are somewhat prejudiced by a love of Frank Herbert’s ‘Destination Void’. I can’t help but think that when we finally create the first truly intelligent, conscious artificial entity–or it creates itself–the question won’t be whether or not it is truly conscious. The question it will be asking is:

Are we?

Curiosity peaked?

Try the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy


V.S. Ramachandran’s The Tell-Tale Brain