Thermostat Feels Cold

On the everything list there was a discussion, where Stathis Papaioannou has mentioned that “the thermostat feels cold” (the discussion is long, the first message relevant is #350 with a subject bruno list):

Below there are a few quotes that shows the context and then my answer. More at the link above.

Bruno Marchal (15.08.2011 19:18): “I don’t think we can demonstrate technically that anything is conscious. If someone did this for anything, he would have solve the mind body problem.

It is generally accepted that we cannot prove our own consciousness (we can know our own, here and now, but we cannot provide a proof for that). It is accepted that we cannot prove that something is conscious.”

Evgenii Rudnyi (15.08.2011 19:53): “Well, let me quote Jeffery A. Gray, Consciousness: Creeping up on the Hard Problem:

p. 18. “Philosophers sometimes endow conscious experience with an inviolable privacy, rendering it incapable of meeting the scientific requirement for replicability of empirical observations. Nothing could be further from the truth, as attested by the reliability of visual illusions, among many other phenomena.”

p. 135. “These experiments demonstrate yet again, by the way, that the ‘privacy’ of conscious experience offers no barrier to good science. Synaesthetes claim a form of experience that is, from the point of view of most people, idiosyncratic in the extreme. Yet it can be successfully brought into the laboratory.”

He seems to disagree with you. Hence, as I have said, your meaning of “conscious” seems to be different from his meaning.

Stathis Papaioannou (16.08.2011 02:28): “But the scientists could be studying zombies. There is no way of knowing. What we can know is that IF the original brain is conscious and is modified with a functional analogue THEN the modified brain will also be conscious.”

Evgenii Rudnyi (16.08.2011 20:04): “There are many things that we cannot exclude, for example solipsism. Does this mean that we should not do science?”

Stathis Papaioannou (17.08.2011 03:42): “I’m not saying we shouldn’t do science, just that we can’t be sure that something which behaves as if it’s conscious is actually conscious. A thermostat may have a primitive consciousness or it might not; I don’t know.”

Evgenii Rudnyi (17.08.2011 19:53): “I do not get your point. For example please develop a theory that will ascribe a thermostat a primitive consciousness.

I was talking about scientific experiments described in the book of Jeffrey Gray. I agree that each experiment is based on assumption. Yet, if we talk about science, the please make a scientific critique of these experiments. Then it would be easier to follow you.”

Stathis Papaioannou (19.08.2011 05:12): “It’s simply a fact that we can’t deduce consciousness from behaviour. We can do experiments on consciousness assuming that when people say “I experience this” they are telling the truth, but the essentially private nature of consciousness means that it can’t be proved. The thermostat is a good example: if I hypothesise that it is conscious, I can do experiments where it is observed to push the temperature up and I claim “the thermostat feels cold”. Can you think of any experiment that will help me decide if the thermostat does or does not feel cold? If you can, then you have a scientific test for consciousness. we can apply it to computers, animals, thermostats and any alien beings we encounter.”

Evgenii Rudnyi (19.08.2011 20:51): “If we cannot research consciousness, then I am not sure if I understand, what this discussion is about. After all, tastes differ.

In my view, any experiment is based on some assumptions (a world view). To this end, it would be nice to understand what a world view would be necessary to state that “the thermostat feels cold”. I guess it is certainly possible to introduce new definitions under which such a statement would make sense. Yet, someone must first do it.

Let me give one example. Dick and Natalie are writing a book “Embryogenesis explained” and in in the first chapter they use an expression “bacteria can perceive”. To understand the meaning of such a statement I have chosen a ballcock

It might be also a good example to ask if a toilette with a ballcock has consciousness or not, I believe that even a nice example as a thermostat. Yet, if we are back to the discussion about “bacteria can perceive”, then the answer was that yes, perceive was considered at the level of an automatic door. In the sense that an automatic door also perceives. Then I have nothing against, it is matter of a definition.

If we however consider research on consciousness, then it looks as follows. I have conscious experience. Then for example I observe that I experience visual illusions. Then I try it with other people. The report that they have the same illusions. In parallel measurement of the brain activity shows that the same illusion causes the activity of the same areas in the brain. Under mild assumptions, it infers that other people also have conscious experience. This could be even extended to monkey.

As I have said, any experiment is based on some assumptions that in the case above for example exclude zombies. Yet, a zombie is just an argument ab absurdum and in my view it does not make much sense to consider it literally. I would agree that it is impossible to prove it now, as we do not have a theory of consciousness yet. Yet again, it would be nice to look at a world view that allows the existence of zombies literally.

It seems that at present there is only one candidate for a zombie – Dennet, who defending his theory seems to refuse his own consciousness (I do not remember now where I have seen this nice statement, it could be that in the Gray’s book but I am not sure). ”

Stathis Papaioannou (22.08.2011 09:14): “Maybe the ballcock, automatic door and thermostat have feelings like you and I do when we experience cold, pain and so on. Sure, they don’t have high level information processing but how do you know that prevents them having such experiences? There is no test you can do, since qualia are necessarily private.”

Evgenii Rudnyi (22.08.2011 12:41): “I would agree that we cannot exclude it. After all if we take qualia ontologically, then it is hard to escape panpsychism. Let me quote Gray in this respect (he was not aware of Bruno’s theory):

p. 321. “Alternatively, no such new arrangement of the existing laws of physics and chemistry will turn out to be possible. The fundamental laws of physics themselves will need supplementation. It is difficult to see how new fundamental laws could come into play only during biological evolution, or they would not be fundamental. So it is probably inevitable that any theory which seeks to account for consciousness in terms of fundamental physical processes will involve ‘panpsychism’. That is to say, it will be a theory in which the elements of conscious experience are to be found pretty well in everything, animate or inanimate, large or small. TO most people this prospect will seem even less palatable that that of consciousness in computers or brain slices. But the state of our ignorance in this daunting field is so profound that we should rule out nothing a priori on the grounds absurdity alone. Bear in mind the absurdity of quantum mechanics!”

The question is here than to develop some theory, that is, to add some new governing equations for qualia in comp, for example that in some processes far from equilibrium good qualia will be maximized.

To this respect, I like a quote from Strugatskii (Monday Begins on Saturday):

“People are only an intermediate chain required by the Nature to achieve the crown of creation, the glass of brandy with a lemon slice.”

Well, from the qualia viewpoint, people are also necessary to enjoy that creation but it well might be that required qualia could be produced even without people. It would be a pity but who knows.”