Re: Dennett: Making Conscious Robots

From: McIntosh Chris (
Date: Sun May 27 2001 - 18:41:28 BST

>Chris (prior skywriting):
>There is a problem though. If nerve endings don't feel anything and the
>brain only gets the equivalent of information signals, how could it ever
>attain any understanding of the world? Well, intelligence is a phenomenon
>of consciousness, so animals with brains that generate more consciousness
>can be more intelligent and will tend to be favoured by natural selection.
>The genes in a brain that could generate different conscious experiences
>that correspond appropriately to varied stimuli in the world would have a
>big advantage. Sufficiently advanced brains can generate unique conscious
>experiences from very similar patterns of sensory input.
>However the nature of a particular experience may be somewhat arbitrary,
>with genetic instructions only guiding brain development and the
>conscious experience that results from certain sensory inputs. Sweet foods
>for example are generally more palatable but certain acquired tastes and
>preferences may develop for arbitrary reasons.

Perhaps there is a certain range of physical states, maybe chemical, that
correspond with (cause) the range of conscious feelings (*). So a certain
physical state might account for a certain feeling of pain. Perhaps this
range is universal, so that whenever the right physical conditions arise
there will be a certain conscious experience. Personal tastes could be
explained by different brains secreting different chemicals in response
to the same stimuli. Certain core conscious experiences such a particular
emotion, or seeing a particular colour, may be directly labelled with a
symbol. Objects in the world may be labelled according to the composite
of their core qualities.

In a brain there are structures that permit some persistence of a state,
and consciousness has the chance to alter whatever caused it (and hence
alter itself). So maybe consciousness can cause physical changes that
would otherwise require more complex physical mechanisms, which
would be less likely to occur through evolution. Because of consciousness
animals with complex behaviour could evolve with a simpler physical

There is a question as to why pain tends to coincide with harmful
phenomenon. Maybe pain provides a particularly suitable mechanism
for an abrupt change of physical states. And maybe consciousness can
experiment with various ways to counter the cause of pain, by trying
various physical changes. Note that if this weren't possible and a
particular conscious experience were always to evoke the same physical
reaction then it seems there would be no "free will".

(*) but is there a physical state corresponding with the thought "the cat
is on the mat?". Maybe what I've said could apply just to core conscious
experiences eg. emotion.

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