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Weekly QuEST Discussion Topics and News, 21 Oct

QuEST 21 Oct 2016

It is the Goal of the QuEST group to build a conscious computer (not to be confused with a computer that only has a ‘conscious representation’ – we believe have a computer that has both an intuition (big-data) and a conscious representation is the key – the first question we have to answer is ‘what is a conscious computer?’ ‘how does it differ from current big-data computers?’ – the purpose of the discussions over the last several weeks have been to eventually generate a single slide and an elevator speech that captures the ‘what’ – this week we will hear the cap view of the ‘what’ – all discussions are hopefully going to lead to the goal = defining the ‘what’ in a simple understandable form:


They all center around the cap assumption:  certain types of complex systems are conscious, and what type of consciousness (what it is like for that system to have an experience) they have depends exactly on the complexity of the systems

consciousness is the experiencing of qualia, ** the use of ‘experience’ here has to be considered carefully – qualia are what is attended to in the working memory – that attention to those aspects of the representation is what we term the ‘experience’ – consciousness is nothing but that – the generation of the working memory representation, with that representation having key characteristics (tenets – laws from our theory of consciousness), then the attention to aspects of that representation, the aspects of that representation that are being attended to while they are being attended to is what we call qualia **

  • A system must continue to experience qualia if it is to remain conscious; any periods during which no qualia are experienced are periods in which the system has lost consciousness.  ** in our world this just means when the system is no longer generating / attending to the working memory representation it is unconscious ** current ‘intelligent’ computers don’t generate a representation consistent with our laws of consciousness – thus are NOT conscious **

Chalmers:  … the best one can do … really all one can do is point to the phenomenon. [9, p. 230]  ** this is what we resort to in our presentations – we have you slap the person next to you or look at two ‘red’ squares – so we point to the experience – point to the phenomena ** but that is ok – by pointing to the phenomena all the QuEST researchers can get insight into characteristics of consciousness **

So for example here we get the listener to focus on the stimulus (getting stabbed) and then the experience – the pain – so all we can do is point to the phenomenon that is conscious experience – and the goal is to evoke in the listener an understanding of what/how we are using the term consciousness – in this case by drawing their attention to the stimulus-qualia gap **

  • But I just want to show what sort of things I’m talking about when I raise the topic of qualia, and that task doesn’t seem so onerous. ** I think the only hope we have is defining in terms of relationships to other qualia **
  • A quale is the particular way it seems to a person to see something, taste something, or get sensory input from any of his three other sensory modalities – ** or have a thought not just have the conscious experience associated with a sensing stimulus ** . Qualia are the raw feels associated with experiences; they are what make different experiences seem or feel different from one another. ** the stimulus quale gap is key – and keep in mind the stimulus can be internal – you can have a thought …. **

A quale is what it is like to undergo an experience. A quale is what gives an experience its subjective element. Qualia are thephenomenal contents of experiences. ** you are nothing more than your qualia – as you slip into some deranged state that is who you are – it is the ultimate biometric – far more than some physical characteristic – we need Quali-metrics – because it is through your thoughts you execute interactions with the world – thus what makes you turn to terrorism … **

  • QUEST CHALLENGE: NAGEL: devise a new method – an objective phenomenology not dependent on imagination or empathy (although wouldn’t capture everything – its goal would be to capture a description in part of the subjective character of experiences IN A FORM COPREHENSIBLE TO BEINGS INCAPaBLE OF HAVING THOSE EXPERIENCES (computers))
  • Come up with a means to capture the subjective character of an experience (say of critter 1) to provide to a critter (critter 2) to provide that critter (critter 2) with a better understanding of what it was like for the original critter (critter 1) to have that experience  ** the only hope you have is to find relationships that are similar between the critters – that is why language works – the goal of language is for one agent to communicate qualia hopefully evoking in the other agent a similar experience / set of qualia **
  • Be able to describe sonar to a human so they could have a better understanding of the possible subjective nature of being a bat  ** only hope we have is to relate to our sense of sound location mixed with sight to get more information about distance … **
  • Be able to describe to a person blind from birth what it is like to see
  • Intermodality approaches don’t work – ‘red is like the sound of a trumpet’
  • Should be based on structural features of perceptions (SOUNDS TO ME LIKE OUR TENETS) even though something will be left out
  • Can we relate to a blind person the ‘characteristics’ of vision along these axes and compare to a similar set of gists / links / … that the blind person uses to represent the same reality – does that provide the blind person some insight into the subjective representation of a sighted person?


All ‘conscious’ mental states involve qualia ** by definition **

  • Note that so far I have defined qualia purely in terms of sensory experience|all of the examples of qualia I have given are brought on by sense perception. However, I will eventually argue that all mental states that we would prephilosophically consider to be conscious (i.e., all of those states that are not deeply and permanently unconscious in some Freudian sense) involve qualia.
  • For instance, I claim (and will later demonstrate) that common, everyday thoughts such as \that chair is orange” or \it’s often windy in Boston” essentially involve qualia just as sense perception does. But for the sake of simplicity I now want to discuss only this thinner, perhaps less controversial notion of qualia.

Now let’s take the Cowell comments on Self:

  • Second, I will not tackle the topic of the self in any significant detail. Consciousness is often described as requiring a subject|sometimes called a \self” or \ego”|that bears conscious states.
  • While I agree that the notion of there being some entity which has or experiences conscious states is intuitively very appealing, there are a number of problems that arise with such a view.
  • To take just one example, it would seem to require that the self is independent of consciousness in some sense, and is capable of existing with no conscious states at all or perhaps even when disembodied.

This raises all sorts of questions and worries about the exact ontological status of such a self, which often lead in turn to vague and unsatisfying claims about the self being \spiritual” or \soul-like.”

The QuEST position on Self was a real turning point – it is the quale evoked when the stimulus is the agent generating the qualia – it is no more mysterious than the red you consciously experience

And if we “can make helpful observations about what consciousness is” – what are the implications of those observations to the current technology trends like virtual reality:

I recall writing  in the tenets a discussion about how we represent definitions of anything – for example in Second Look we never could capture in numbers an adequate definition of breast cancer – defining cancer in terms of feature definitions (size, opacity, texture, …) is very unappealing in the sense of the resulting requirement for gathering enough data to completely distinguish any cancer for any non-cancer in any woman –


we need a better representation or the perfect set of features or infinite data – all are impossible unless the problem is trivial which breast cancer is not – does consciousness provide a way around this issue?  Is this the answer to the why question we will have to answer?  What is it we hope to revolutionize with the building of a conscious computer?


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