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machine brains

Michael Edelman mje at mich.com
Thu Feb 11 08:44:58 EST 1999

Jim Balter wrote:

> ...Since there are radical differences in behavior, there surely is
> a significant difference in brain structure....

I don't think you have any particular justification for making this assertion. Two
identical computers can run different software. My PC is the same machine whether
I'm running spreadsheets or "Doom".

> And in fact there are
> major gross physiological differences, let alone functional differences
> at levels for which we simply have no model at this point.

Could you elaborate on this point? I'm not sure what you're referring to.

> Some dualists ("the soul crowd") are quite willing to "dish out"
> consciousness to all primates, and some aren't.  Ditto for
> non-dualists.  This really has little to do with whether people
> believe in souls or other fantasies, but rather with what people
> mean by "consciousness" and what their criteria are for ascribing
> consciousness.

That kind of hard-edged dualism runs into problems if you equate "soul" with
conciousness. Apes and many other animals obviously have self-awareness, can plan
and so forth, but if you start calling that a soul you have to deal with
metaphysical problems that can't be addressed by science.

> The general error is to assume that there is some
> Plato- or God- given meaning to the word "consciousness", and thus
> there is fact of the matter as to whether something is conscious or
> not.  But there are only the meanings we each have, which are
> vague and conflicting.

That's the kind of radical skepticism that can lead you into a corner where no
science is possible . We generally start out in psychology (and science in
general) by assuming that there does exist a real external reality, and that it is
the same for all observers, even if we can't ascertain that everyone's
phenomenological experiences are identical. We still assume that you have an
internal mental dialogue just as I do, and that this is one aspect of

There's a set of properties that are associated with conciousness, and while not
every cognitive researcher accepts avery one, there's plenty of overlap. In
general, I think there's agreement that conciousness has to include self-awareness
first and formost- that a concious organism perceives itself as distinct from its
environment. Second is that it can plan- it can construct an internal model, a
counterfactual universe, to experiment in.

> It is only after criteria have been agreed upon
> as to where and when an attribute applies, that there can be a fact of
> the
> matter as to what does or does not possess the attribute.

I think we're well beyond that point. Stan Franklin's book "Artifical Minds" has a
couple of chapters  in which he outlines the characteristics of a concious entity,
as does Bernard Baars in "A Cognitive Theory of Consciousness"

> Many people are virtually certain that they know what consciousness
> is, even though they may not be able to articulate the criteria,
> or justify their criteria, or reach agreement with others.

See above.

Michael Edelman     http://www.mich.com/~mje

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