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Monday, April 1, 2019

Neuroscience Readies for a Showdown Over Consciousness Ideas

Philip Ball
Quanta Magazine
Originally published March 6, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

Philosophers have debated the nature of consciousness and whether it can inhere in things other than humans for thousands of years, but in the modern era, pressing practical and moral implications make the need for answers more urgent. As artificial intelligence (AI) grows increasingly sophisticated, it might become impossible to tell whether one is dealing with a machine or a human  merely by interacting with it — the classic Turing test. But would that mean AI deserves moral consideration?

Understanding consciousness also impinges on animal rights and welfare, and on a wide range of medical and legal questions about mental impairments. A group of more than 50 leading neuroscientists, psychologists, cognitive scientists and others recently called for greater recognition of the importance of research on this difficult subject. “Theories of consciousness need to be tested rigorously and revised repeatedly amid the long process of accumulation of empirical evidence,” the authors said, adding that “myths and speculative conjectures also need to be identified as such.”

You can hardly do experiments on consciousness without having first defined it. But that’s already difficult because we use the word in several ways. Humans are conscious beings, but we can lose consciousness, for example under anesthesia. We can say we are conscious of something — a strange noise coming out of our laptop, say. But in general, the quality of consciousness refers to a capacity to experience one’s existence rather than just recording it or responding to stimuli like an automaton. Philosophers of mind often refer to this as the principle that one can meaningfully speak about what it is to be “like” a conscious being — even if we can never actually have that experience beyond ourselves.

The info is here.

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