Very interesting alternative refactored to LeibnizianDefinitionOfConsciousness
I think the problem of defining consciousness is based on the same problem you have in defining Nature (DefinitionOfNatural
The modern science world-view believes in the possibility of
extrapolating the system of physical fundamentals to more complex
systems of biology, psychology and in the end social-systems. It is
called the unification of science.
In everyday life, you normally do not use the fundamental system; it is
always a system of reduced complexity. In these systems, things and
processes are not fundamental. But in this modern world-view, you can
theoretically analyse such things and process down to the fundamental
principles. Starting with a definition of consciousness that fits in a
psychological system, you lose somewhere on your way down the meaning of
the word. There is no sense in using consciousness for any fundamental
system. The Question is where to stop. Where happens something
qualitatively new on the way up to more complexity, that gives the right
to use a new word?
I think it happens when you have to build processes that depend on the
knowing that interaction with an environment has consequences in the
future, called decisions. Of course, you always can destroy them through
analysis. You cannot go deeper to understand consciousness; you would
simply lose it. And I do not think you have to go higher in complexity
to understand consciousness in the common way.
My try at a definition is: A system which makes decisions is a conscious system.
Why can only a system be conscious? Why not a process? Can't the
wind stirring the leaves this way or that make a decision? And what is a
decision? Is a flipped coin conscious? Or if I can't make my mind up
about what to do, have I suddenly lost consciousness?
A conscious process would make no sense. Your example implicates a
world-view where the wind is a system, so it does not fit. Decisions are
"processes that depend on the knowing that interaction with an environment has consequences in the future"
, so a flipped coin is not conscious. The definition does not
say that a conscious system has to make always
decisions. -- CarstenKreyser
I am very sorry, you are right with your first question. I made a mistake with the meaning of words. The definition has to be: A system which makes decisions has consciousness. Processes that are based on decisions are conscious.
Sorry. -- CarstenKreyser
By that definition, this program is "conscious":
IF INPUT_VAL > 7 THEN
Maybe the given definition is misleading and there are better ones. But
in my opinion, every useful definition has to be based on a description
of the border between systems I tried to explain above. This is the
border that separates natural and not natural, consciousness and not
consciousness (systems with and without sense --> NiklasLuhmann
in ancient times as a distinction between rationality and not
rationality to separate humans from animals, we know in the present day
it is not so easy; in many cases, there are degrees of both sides of the
border. The main point of intention may have changed a little bit with
time, but the border is the still the same.
Of course, it is not a definition that helps to construct consciousness
or not natural processes; there will be hard work to do to find this
border. Maybe we will never find it exactly, but that is not a problem
In history, there was no real problem about it (only in finding the
right words), because there was a real gap of knowing at the border;
Nature-Science and Social-Science were total different. Today, we can
theoretically cross this border (of course not knowing every step in
detail) and some people do without remarking it. I think that is the
basic reason for a lot of Confusion.
For example, the constructor of an artificial consciousness would maybe
not know, because he has theoretically every process in detail in mind
and what he not knows depends only on high complexity. First the user,
who not know about the details will remark on the consciousness, because
consciousness first exists in the new system of reduced complexity. It
is not only unimportant to know how a process works in detail, it would
destroy the meaning of consciousness. In everyday life, it is
inefficient and most of the time impossible to think in such details, so
consciousness and not natural processes exist.
Definition of the term. :) Conscious behavior is that more similar to
average awake people than dead people or animals or computers etc.
A being is conscious when it can reason about its existence, instead
of merely existing. Thus plants are not, while dogs are - dogs can even
lie, which means they can make a prediction about their behavior and
the behavior of others. It all boils down to the ability to use the if concept - if I do A, X happens, otherwise Y happens; I want Y, so I should not do A, applied to a future behavior.
First things first: Are we going to define it in terms of observable
things or non-observable things? If we want the definition to be useful,
I strongly suggest defining it in terms of observable behavior. I.e. I
know X is conscious because I saw it do Y.
Definitions that revolve around unobservable things such as 'thinks' or
'feels' are going to end up in an unresolvable argument. I can almost
guarantee that one party will say "no animals (other than humans) are
conscious" and another party will say "some animals (other than humans)
are conscious". Without a definition based on observations, there will
be no way to resolve this dispute.
If we come up with a definition based on observation, we can address the
question "Are humans even conscious?" which is not possible to
thoroughly address unless the definition is based on observations.
On that note, many consider TuringTest
s to be the most useful DefinitionOfConsciousness
. Properly-conducted ones of course.
The above argument presupposes Behaviourism. Behaviourism maintains
that "unobservables" like thinking and feeling can be reduced away,
possibly even denied existence. Behaviourism is dead among psychologists
and for very good reasons; it is quack science driven by political
ideology. The belief that humans lack thoughts and feelings has obvious
political repercussions, no matter how academic people may pretend this
belief to be.
The argument does not suppose that thinking and feeling can be "reduced"
into things which are observable (to someone other than the thinker or
feeler); it merely suggests that it is possible to define consciousness
in a way that is useful but does not make reference to thinking and
feeling. In fact, such a definition would be useful in large part
precisely because it did not make such reference. -- DanielKnapp
There are problems in the observation of emotion since humans
project their own repressed emotions onto anything they perceive of as
blank templates. Routine examples include one's pets, one's children and
any minorities one does not belong to. These problems are surmountable
without resorting to the odious doctrine that thinking beings are
On to Peter's observation. I believe that chimps are able to reason
about the consequences of their own actions and even the motivation of
their fellows. This is a necessary component of any calculated
deception. Deception is easy to observe.
What do you mean by "observable"? How can I distinguish observable from
unobservable if I don't already know what consciousness is? -- BenKovitz
Hint - before starting in on DefinitionOfObservable?, please see below.
(Actually, I don't really want to start a discussion of DefinitionOfObservable?
. It was just a rhetorical question to point out a possible StolenConceptFallacy
. -- bk)
A magpie was observed to sharply tug the fur of a sleeping cat's tail,
and immediately retire to a nearby vantage point, apparently much
Solipsism shows that is is impossible to prove
anything exists outside of oneself, so we're kinda stuck here. We will need to use induction, so what are our assumptions?
- all participants in this discussion are conscious
- all humans over the age of 6 months and not in a persistent vegetative state can be conscious
Anyone really interested in this stuff can check out the work of DavidChalmers
summed it up quite well, I thought - "Consciousness is the feedback of self-awareness"
. So without self-awareness, you don't have consciousness, and with it, you do (but they are not the same thing). -- GavinLambert
Indeed, they aren't the same thing. But saying that consciousness is
the feedback of self-awareness isn't saying anything interesting. It
doesn't say anything about the nature of consciousness. All it says is
that after people became conscious (not aware but conscious) of others,
they in turn became conscious of themselves. At best, this is a vacuous
truth since it doesn't even say anything about why people became
conscious of others at all. At worst, it's completely wrong because
awareness of other people doesn't imply consciousness of them. For
example, a psychopath is aware of others but not conscious of them. To a
psychopath, humans are just meat animals without feelings or thoughts.
In fact, it's not even certain that consciousness of others comes before
consciousness of oneself. It's
plausible but by no means proven.
So I find it difficult to understand how PiersAnthony "summed up" anything at all. -- rk
That's not what he said (he was speaking in the voice of one of his
characters, so this might not even be his personal belief); he said that
"if you think you are conscious, then you are conscious. That's what
consciousness is, the feedback of self-awareness." I don't see how you
made the leap from "self-awareness" to "awareness of others". The
statement says nothing about the actual or perceived consciousness of
other people, only of the one doing the thinking. So by this definition,
I know that I am conscious, but I'd have to ask anyone else before I
could be sure that they were. (If they weren't, they wouldn't understand
the question.) -- GavinLambert
I didn't know what he (or you) meant by 'feedback' in "feedback of
self-awareness" so I was giving you the benefit of the doubt.
Unfortunately, that only got you as far as "It's either trivially true
or wrong". Now that you tell me 'feedback' in that context refers to "I
think I'm conscious therefore I am conscious" then it's trivial, vacuous
and utterly miserably wrong.
It is not true that consciousness is the quality of
claiming to be conscious nor even that everyone has sufficient
understanding of it to answer basic questions about it. To claim so (or
in his claims) is to deny the excellent work which philosophers have
done on cognition and consciousness over the years. The equivalent in
physics would be to claim that nothing about quantum mechanics is worth
learning. If you don't know anything about a field then it's okay to say
stupid things about it (to an extent). But to then trivialize the
entire academic field because you want to justify yourself, that's
showing great disrespect to many people and to the entire intellectual
endeavour. -- rk
Sheesh, don't get so upset. I know I'm not even a dabbler in the field, let alone an expert, and I doubt PiersAnthony
is either. I was merely stating something that appeared in one of his
(fiction) books, and how my interpretation of it made a certain amount
of sense (and was easily understood by lay people). In no way was I
trying to disrespect or trivialize anyone else's opinion or research. --
Sorry for misunderstanding. Feel free to remove my rant. -- rk
I think I can simplify the definition from the top to:
A being is conscious when it acts anaturally.
If I use the DefinitionOfNatural
. -- GunnarZarncke
Even if you used the questionable DefinitionOfNatural, the above statement is false.
Why are you redefining common words?
Sorry, I didn't intend to redefine. I just put forward an idea. I do not
have a better definition and my initial proposal seems to capture at
least some aspects of the word. I have to admit that I overuse this
As to your point, I don't understand why the statement (with my
"definition") is false. It matches exactly the part from above where it
says "A being is conscious when [...] the ability to use the if concept
[...] applied to a future behavior."
Because you've omitted the word "ability". So, to restate it: "A being is conscious when it can act intentionally."
Oh, I see you use intentionally
instead of anatural
in "my" definition. Do we agree, that this definition of consciousness is better (shorter and sharper) than the one on top?
Shorter? Certainly. Better? I don't know, it is different. Sharper? Well, what is an intention?
What ever the definition of natural will be, I think there is a deep
correlation between acting conscious and acting not natural in common
understanding. So in my opinion it is the right way to search for a
definition that contains "natural". -- CarstenKreyser
To have the ability to do something is not enough. If a system never
uses this ability, it is equal to not having it. The definition says
nothing about how often it is used. A not used variable and a not
existing variable is good example for DifferenceThatMakesNoDifference
. -- CarstenKreyser
How can this be considered in any way definitional without even making use of the term "epiphenomenal"?!
It can't. :) Certainly, the idea of consciousness as intentionality is wrong.
This page urgently needs to be refactored if these kinds of naive comments can be made.
See also: general comments on methodology refactored to StandardDefinitions
Interesting points are: why evolution makes creatures conscious and how
often is it used. In order to survive, we have to act mostly as robots,
but it seems that consciousness give us the ability to reprogram
ourselves - within some margins of course (I'd like to be superman, but
...). For a given individual, the margins and the frequency of that
reprogrammation are dependent on a lot of factors (genetic, social).
With enough chaotic behaviour and a little bit of luck, some interesting
properties emerge, like wiki. ;O)
From m-w.com (Merriam-Webster):
1 a : the quality or state of being aware especially of something within oneself
I point this out because most of these other definitions appear to be
definitions not of consciousness, but of recall or cognition or the
ability to be self-referential. I've seen many really smart philosophers
fall into this trap as well, and I can't imagine why, except that "I
think, therefore I am" is the (incredibly appealing) root of most
Western philosophy. But it doesn't pass my experience in meditating: I
do not need to think to be aware, I can simply be aware without
But it begs the curious question: why do so many people seem to think consciousness and reason are entangled?
Isn't consciousness a process in itself? In that we find multiple
subsystems of, for example, the human body and mind operating together
in order to realize the concept of consciousness. As such, consciousness
is the sum of all system interaction, i.e., the processes that finally
may lead to a conclusion about the awareness of the surrounding or the
self. By that, we find that animals are conscious beings. Consciousness,
however, does not necessarily require reason or reasoning, or
rationality, and we find that even unreasonable man and unrational man
Must correct myself here, as classification of reasonability is
actually very subjective. Even unreasonable men do recognize themselves
as for being reasonable.
Must correct myself once more: consciousness does require reasoning about self-state.
Wouldn't this make the definition of consciousness easier, less ambiguous and free of any political or otherwise intent?
Consciousness is the sum of all processes that lead to recognition of
either the self or the external selves. External selves are internalized
representations of those external selves, as such consciousness is a
mediation of the external to the intermediate representation within
oneself. And even the self from which we can say that is internal to
oneself, is being mediate as to finally reach a state of self-awareness
and by that consciousness of the self. Consciousness is a process in
itself. A process that evolves over time, a process that at some time
finds more or less stable states, so-called perception states and
awareness states, resulting from interim observation states.
Rationale: This would even make stones a conscious system, in that
stones reflect outer selves, i.e., energy patterns that flow through
them, and they also internalize such external states, i.e., they heat up
and also may split up during that process of internalization of the
external self. By that, its own perception state and awareness state as
part of its consciousness would require it to split up in response to
the external influence. And consciousness is all about that, at least in
my opinion. Prior to splitting up, the stone was in a conscious
awareness state of being solid and cold as the result of the stone
formation process. When being influenced as such that it will heat up to
a certain temperature, it changes state of its consciousness until it
either breaks up in order to increase its surface in order to more
easily transport the energy from the inside to the outside. If it heats
up even more, it will finally break up into even more pieces until it
eventually becomes liquid in response of itself being a conscious
system. As such, for consciousness alone as the sum of the processes
leading to self-formation and self-reproduction and self-preservation,
not necessarily a reasonable or rational system is required for
implementing said consciousness. Of course, during the process of
splitting up, the old state cannot be re-established. However, the same
is true for humans and other animate and inanimate systems.