Can a lightbulb be conscious?

2old4this

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#1
Here's another off the wall idea. Can you spot the flaw in this classic reductionist argument?

Consider the human brain. It is conscious. But each neuron doesn't know what it is. Each neuron is not individually conscious. Concsiousness is an emergent property arising from the pattern of electrical activity across billions of neurons.

Imagine I were able to map each and every neuronal connection, and that I could measure precisely when each individual neuron fired.

If I choose to measure time at sufficiently short intervals, I would see that neuron 1 fired first, then neuron 2 and so on, right up to neuron ten billion (or whetever). It might be that the interval between some successive firings was only a nonsecond, or even a picosecond. But one is always be able to chop the interval up such that the firing could be seen to be at different times.

Now consider one particular neuron. It doesn't know or care whether it is connected to the others. The connections merely serve to relay messages so that it knows when to switch "on" and can tell its neighbours when to switch on too. So I might decide to replace that neuron with a light bulb which I simply switch on or off at the right moment.

In fact, I decide to do that with every neuron. I replace them all by lightbulbs, switching on and off at just the right moment.

Now I've got this vast complex three-dimensional array of mutually disconnected lightbulbs, all going on and off in exactly the same pattern as the original brain. Logically, it is as conscious as the organic brain was.

But notice how they are all now disconnected. In fact they don't even know where they are spatially in relation to each other. So it suddenly strikes me that rather than have them stacked up in this complicated manner, I could simply place them all in a line - so long as they all continue to fire at the allotted moments.

So now we have a very long line of light bulbs, flashing on an off. It too is surely as conscious as the original brain.

Now another thought strikes me. The first bulb and the second bulb do not have any individual sense of identity. Their only meaning arises from the point of time at which they are switched on or off. So why not just get the first bulb to fire once for itself and then a second time for the second bulb.

So I arrange this. And throw away the second bulb. I now do the same with the third bulb. Ultimately, I throw away all the bulbs except bulb1 - which is now flashing on and off more frantically than ever.

Lo, the world's first conscious lightbulb.

2old
 
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#2
Theres more than one flaw

You are an outside entity, playing with the control of the neuron passage of communication, however a neuron does not simply connect to one other neuron before and one after, each one has a (unknown ) number of connections to others, which form the lattice

Substituting one or more for lightbulbs simply reduces the number of lattice connections

Reducing to one by discarding similarly reduces the conscious effect - remember Hal and his brain cards ?

Additionally each neuron fires based on a number of different inputs, some 'lit' some not, and each neuron is programmed to give a desired output based on its programming (and therefore its existence through evolution of the brain in conjunction with the timing of its formation whilst the sentient being is alive).

Thirdly, an outside entity, by playing with the neuron chain directly, rather than by its observation and presence by the being through the usual senses, synapses and into the neuron lattice, is not going to be able to find or replace the neurons that are at the foundation for the first thought necessary to get the passage of information started, and therefore will be unable to determine the point at which the trian of thought commenced, thereby replacing or discarding these without knowlege of what the neurons are actually communicating

All the entity will see is a lot of activity, but not a lot of logic as to its reasoning (and then there are women)
 
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#3
and I doubt neurons come with a bayonet fitting
 
wolsty

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#4
Back to the problem of 'What is consciousness?' Can it be replicated by an algorithm - ie a program for switching connections on and off? If so, Artificial Intelligence - ie the lightbulbs (with screw or bayonet fitting) is a possibility. If, however, an organic brain operates in a manner which cannot be replicated by serial or parallel processing in an electronic black box, then we have to look elsewhere for an answer.

Presumably, the conscious lightbulb would be capable of faith. Perhaps this is the definitive test.

I'm off to re-read Roger Penrose's Empereror's New Mind'.

:confused :confused :confused
 
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#5
CH - my premise is that consciousness is arising in the "pattern" of neuronal firing, not in the mechanisms (neuronal connections) that facilitate that firing. So yes, I have reduced the complexity of the lattice connections (in fact I've removed it altogether) but not of the pattern of activity - and hence the consciousness should remain.
You may disagree with my premise. You may propose, for example, that it is precisely in the channels/connections between neurons that consciousness arises, the neurons being the mere facilitators of that. In that case, I would apply the same reductionist argument but replace the connections by lightbulbs (or maybe flourescent tubes) rather than the neurons. It would amount to the same thing.

On your second point, the fact that each neuron has multiple connections to others and that the firing of any given neuron may depend on muliple inputs from multiple other neurons, does not change the result. The result is that the neuron fires at a particular instant in time. My replacement lightbulb simply needs to fire at that same instant. The complexity of interactions that led to that event is not relevant, only the event itself.

Your third point is more a practical consideration than a theoretical one. I agree that it would be (with current knoweldge and technology) impossible to map the activity of a brain so precisely, and non-invasively. But for the purposes of this thought experiment we can imagine that some future technology would permit this. And bear in mind that the outside entity doing the swapping of neurons for lightbulbs does not need to know what thought process the neuron was engaged in in ordetr to do the swap. It simply needs to know at precisely what instant in time the neuron fired - not why.

2old
 
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#6
On the second point 2Old

The process which determines the point at which the neuron fires - or doesnt - maybe down to the algorithm or each input, giving a final 'yes or no' decision, however in the larger scale of things, not every neuron will have the same answer for the same incoming algorithm of messages, as a result of their position in the lattice and conceivably their date of birth.

There may even be neurons that have an uncertainty principle built in them, either through faulty construction, because they are past their sell by date, or even as a deliberate mechanism to allow a wider scope of thought outside Vulcan type logic within the being, an illogical gateway as it were that helps broaden the mind.
Id like to think (sic) in the greater picture, these odd neurons are exactly what makes everyone sense things slightly differently, or individuals looking at things differently when they are sensed at a different time (though this could be as a result of change of the neuron lattice decision tree after the first time). Too many of these illogical gateways in one lattice are however the stuff of paranoia and eventual madness - but not to the individual - as they would have no notion that what thoughts and decisions they make is either wrong or different to the people around them.

The combination of events within the lattice therefore is a constantly changing and the consciousness that is created and experienced by virtue of the lattice could not be created within a group of lightbulbs, letalone one.

Some laboratories working on powerful processing arrays, have spent vast amounts of time in the past two decades looking at the fuzzy logic principle to initiate a humanlike thought process, which extends beyond absolute logical answers, but as yet has not come up with a box of tricks one would class as sentient.
 
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#7
Whatever the accuracy or inaccuracy of the neuron (its logic or illogic) the fact remains that it either does or doesn't end up firing at some particular instant in time. So it can be replaced by a lightbulb that goes on at that same instant of time.

The lightbulb will be just as sane or mad as the original organic brain.

2old
 
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#8
I forgot to mention that a neuron involved in the decision making and therefore conscious participation, may not be hit once only in the processing of that decision.

The decision that neuron makes each time would be different, owing to the time difference, and quite possibly the aging process of the neuron by virtue of the activity through it. There may even be a different neuron result (if it lights or not) by the timing that the various inputs are hit by other neurons - a gate issue.

Since all neurons in one chain of thought will react differently each time they are used, the eventual decision made by the multiple lines of communication in the lattice reaching a conclusion would therefore have an element of 'maybe yes' or 'maybe no' about them.
As long as the two possible results stay sufficiently distant from each other, one can assume a decision has been made that ends the process before another is initiated. Logical and therefore wide gap results enable the being to survive and thrive, which should not be difficult for processing arrays to mimic, but narrow gap results would come into play to allow slightly different 'testing the water' logic, on decisions that are not too life threatening, but might ultimately give the being knowledge of the unknown, leading to wisdom in more subjects.

The gap described between the two results and its variation makes up the consciousness of the being, by its ability to make decisions that have an impact on it and its surroundings for the long term.
 
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#9
@CH and 2Old. You're both obsessed with the mechanism of the operation and, I think, missing an important point. I'm still struggling with the link between the firing of neurons and what we define as 'consciousness'. Is consciousness synonymous with self awareness, the ability to reason, the capacity to imagine or is it simply the ability to react to stimuli?

If consciousness results from a concatenation of events, whether they be firings of neurons, switching of lightbulbs or different voltages, then the debate is worth having.

If, on the other hand, consciousness, cannot be simulated by purely electromechanical or electrochemical means, then looking for a flaw in the reductionist argument is pointless: the whole proposal is flawed.

:rolleyes: :rolleyes:
 
2old4this

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#10
I wouldn't say that I am obsessed with the mechanism (ie with any specific mechanism) as much as with a mechanism. IE I am indeed fervently convinced that there is some physical mechanism that gives rise to consciousness. The lightbulb thesis is simply one way of exploring the limits of a reductionist argument as a means to underdstanding what such a mechanism might be.

By the way, there is a logical flaw in the lightbulb thesis, and understanding the flaw leads to a deeper appreciation of consciousness.

2old
 
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#11
Just one logical flaw in the argument ?

bit reductionist if you ask me

:D
 
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#12
And there's the rub, 2 Old. Your premise is the 'fervent' conviction that consciousness can be produced (created, emulated?) by electronic or electromechanical means. If that premise is false, then everything deduced from it is false. Proponents of Strong AI take the view that consciousness can be reproduced in a machine through the use of an appropriate algortihm. Quite what is meant by consciousness is, at best, open to debate.

I have yet to be convinced that AI will ever replace, emulate or compete with what we recognise as human consciousness (analytical thought, self-awareness, intuition etc). There is no reliable evidence for this point of view.

Unfortunately, people who share my view are often seen as religious or spiritual or mystic. In my case nothing could be further from the truth. I have no time for nebulous concepts such as the 'soul'; my scepticism derives from a suspicion that consciousness resides in the brain and no-one has yet shown that what goes on in the brain can be replicated by a suitably programmed machine. What reason do we have to believe that a digital computer is analagous to a brain?

If I hadn't spent so much time on this board, I might have been able to listen to the Reith Lectures on Radio 4, which deal with consciousness. Whether I would understand them is another matter entirely.

:rolleyes:

Oh yes! And the argument is too reductionist.
 
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#13
I did put forward the reductionist response as an answer to the 'one flaw' suggestion, not as a put down. The artificial intelligence argument I dont believe comes into the equation.

At some point there will be equipment that mimics, if not actually obtains consciousness as a human does. I dont think it will come through development of existing ideas in silicon, more likely a surprise discovery from a biological source giving rise to a new memory array that can be observed using electronic means.
 
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#14
I can't see now a human being will ever be able to fathom the inner workings of the brain in terms of it's abilty to learn and develop itself. Ok, medically they may be able to repair it physically and possibly, mentally and emotionally but could not replicate its ability to innovate. How can anyone explain how one person can write musical symphonies at the age of seven like Mozart but another couldn't play a few bars even after loads of training. Lots of seemingly 'clever' people just have the ability to learn things parrot fashion and retain what they learn. You can get a digital computer to do that.
 
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If a digital computer can only remember things parrot fashion but not put any sense into that information. then surely going down the route of trying to design something 'better' using the same technology is not as good as starting afresh. I would like to throw more money at 'hair brained' ideas than look at the products of large companies already firmly established in their money pit.

I would probably trust a small innovative company with finding 'it' than IBM/Microsoft.

Your idea of a difference in 'cleverness' (those that can write sonnets but not those that are able to remember and recall a large chunk of information at will) is strange Jimbo. Cleverness is probably not the right word for the discussion.
 
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#16
Really I was agreeing with Wolsty about analytical thought, self-awareness, intuition etc. I was using Mozart as a simple example of achievement at an age where he could not possibly have 'learned' his ability to write music. It came from within and who can explain it. If a digital computer can do that with all the beauty and feeling I would be surprised. Computers built to do even the most simple of tasks are so flawed it beggars belief.

I would probably trust a small innovative company with finding 'it' than IBM/Microsoft.
I agree with you there but, as you say or intimate, big companies have the clout and use it to block progress.
 
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#17
Big companies have the clout, but block progress only if they think more cash can be generated with present technolgy, which is usually down to vaccuous management with brown nose financial departments. The rest of the corporate team is probably OK but kept on a short leash and not listened to enough.
 
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#18
I hope no-one interpreted my comments as a put-down. They certainly weren't intended as such and I apologise unreservedly if I gave offence.

That said, CH, I think AI is exactly what the discussion is about. Whilst I agree that if a conscious machine is ever constructed, it will not be made of silicon, I have no evidence that such a development is possible. The problem at the moment is with the processes (program?) that will enable consciousness to be created.

In any case what is 'consciousness'? I'm certainly conscious by any definition, but is my cat? Is the bird singing outside the window? Was the snail it ate this morning?

I'm off to look up the Definition given by the Turing Test. BAck soon.

;) ;) ;)
 
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#19
@Wolsty -
nowhere in my arguments above did I state a belief that a computer or any other electro/mechanical device can simulate consciousness. All I stated was that I have a fervent conviction that there is a physical mechanism that gives rise to consciousness (i.e. as opposed to a non-physical mechanism).


In the lightbulb hypothesis, we artfully sidestep the issue of HOW we know at exactly which moment in time each flash has to take place. We can only know that if we have completely mapped the billions upon billions of neurons and fully modelled/understood all of their interactions. To do that, we would effectively have had to recreate (at least in some "informational" sense if not through a detailed physical model) the brain we are studying. We might recreate it as a detailed bit of knowledge in some pre-existing brain, or as a computer model, or as a physical (perhaps even organic) model. But whatever the chosen method, I believe that we would have recreated in that model the consciousness of the brain we are studying. So yes, we would be left with a lightbulb going on an off at apparently the right moments, but only because it was being directed to do so by a consciousness elsewhere.

Nevertheless we might still argue that the lightbulb is conscious. In other words, we might argue that what we have actually done is duplicate the consciousness of the original brain - it is now in both the external model and the lightbulb.

Personally I tend towards that view. That's because I prefer to think in terms of there being some kind of informational field arising from the switching of all those neurons, with consciousness emerging in that field. The alternative view would be that the informational/conscious field somehow exists as a precursor to the neuronal activity - in which case one is bound to ask where the information carrying this consciousness was coming from in the first place.

By the way, it should not be shocking or surprising to think that we may one day succeed in reproducing consciousness in a simple device. We tend to think of consciousness as being incredibly complex because the only example of it we have to study seems to arise so ineffably from that most complex of organs, the brain. But the human body did not evolve as necessarily the simplest solution to a problem - rather as just a working solution. It's quite reasonable to think that there may have been other ways of generating it that would have been far simpler.

2old
 
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#20
@ 2Old OK. I accept the distinction that consciousness is physically based, not attributable to some other (as yet undefined except by the religiously inclined) phenomenon. So what is your understanding of the condition of consciousness?

:) :)
 
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