Why I Don’t Believe in Consciousness
and what AI seems to be revealing about it
I’ve lost friends over this because a denial of consciousness undermines a final refuge of the arrogance of selfhood: universal consciousness. But even most normal people are strongly insistent that consciousness is a real thing, a special thing, and that they possess it. The problem I have is that there’s not only no evidence for it, but what people seem to be referring to as consciousness is explainable as an effect no more unusual, no less materialistically explainable, than water flowing downhill.
Now I’m not going to get too far into the metaphysics of non-separation. At least initially, I’m not going to try to explain that, on one level, consciousness, being an aspect of the illusion of a subject/object separation of the wholeness, is itself illusory. That either gets revealed or not, and there’s no way to cause that revelation. If that has been revealed then you’ll just be inwardly nodding your head right now. If not, it would be impossible to ever persuade you. No, for as much of this article as possible I’m going to stay “scientific” on you and remain in the realm of logic.
Since I’m an engineer working in the field of what is now being called “artificial intelligence,” and since I’ve also trained as a psychologist, I’ve been particularly fascinated with the idea of not only understanding consciousness, but with creating is “artificially.” When it does eventually appear, I doubt that what we may choose to acknowledge as machine consciousness will be any more or less artificial than what us meat machines exhibit.
Without going all the way back to amoeba and highlighting the simple intelligence of those single-cellular machines, I can start with something like a slug and suggest that Facebook¹, with its facial recognition software, is more intelligent, though some would argue less moral. While a slug can move away from danger and towards food, very much like any other organism, Facebook’s machine intelligence can recognize, and tag, billions of faces. The slug’s apparent goal is to survive and so is Facebook’s; both entities utilize intelligence in the service of that goal. Facebook is clearly a more complicated and sophisticated organism than a slug, even when its intelligence is a coordinated composition of…