We are not conscious

Consciousness, at its simplest, is “sentience or awareness of internal or external existence”.

I’ve been thinking about the Singularity, the rise of the Machines, of AGI (artificial general intelligence) and how all of this may or may not give rise to AC – Artificial Consciousness.

We are not conscious. By that, I mean that this elevated concept of “Self” that we attribute only to ourselves—is a tautological illusion. It’s a transcendence we perpetrate as an ideal we set as an intelligence bar only we, so far, have attained.

Now, we can forever debate what consciousness is. No true definition has emerged from the age-old philosophical grindstone. But that won’t stop me from stepping up and out of the discussion and providing an armchair scientific analysis of the concept.

We think we’re conscious. OK, let’s go with that for now.

What if we take our brains, the source of our so-called consciousness, (we’ll include all the input senses and feedback loops connected to it), and cut our processing power in half. All the neurons, the tactile, aural, visual, all the sensory inputs and billions of neural connections — whack! Take just half.

Do you think the resulting entity would still be conscious? Who knows… Maybe, right? Okay, then let’s cut it in half again. And again.

Now we have an entity one-eighth of the mental capability of a human. Is that creature conscious? Let’s say they have the cognitive and sensory capacity of a salamander. Conscious? Some will still say, who knows? Well, for the sake of argument, let’s say Newt is incapable of the notion of “Self”. If they look in a mirror they won’t see themselves, a, you know, “Hey, don’t I look gooooood!” moment.

All we did to get to Newt, and his unconsciousness, was to regress our own capability backwards. If we progress in the opposite direction, doubling Newt’s brain and sensory power, we arrive at humanity’s ability level. And we’re to believe that once we get “here,” we’ve magically attained consciousness?

Maybe, consciousness is simply a capacity concept. What we think of as being self-aware is merely our vastly more complex and proficient ability to observe and analyze ourselves and our surroundings. Processing power. A numbers game.

We “think” we’re conscious, but maybe what we really are is being excellent at consuming data, examining that data and inferring outcome from that data, that is, following sequences of events to some conclusion. I think therefore I am.

Given this theory—that what we call consciousness is merely a critical amount of processing horsepower—we can expect that once an artificial general intellect acquires the threshold of an equivalent amount of cognitive and self-referential feedback processing, that it, too, will be just as “conscious,” as us, that is, not at all.

~~~

The corollary to this thesis would be: what of the artificial entity that is twice, ten times or a thousand times more cognitively capable than us humans? Would that entity truly have attained “consciousness”? Or, is this special concept we’ve awarded ourselves really just a numbers game, no matter how great the count?

Are you serious?

Seriously. Are you serious?

Why?

The world is a fucked up, nonsensical, phantasmagorical maelstrom of crazy shit.

That comes to an end.

Kaput!

Everyone and everything.

Undone.

YOU—You can’t do anything to stop the psychotic blender-on-high of sentiments and desires and pointless, petty spite all grinding, mincing and pulverizing ALL OF US—together in one massive gooey barrel of yuck. Can you? No!

So, why be serious? Seriously.

Imagination = Empathy

Humans are the only (to our knowledge) beings capable of intentionally imagining a fictitious or fabricated reality.

• Imagine you’re in a desert. There’s nothing but greasewood brush, tussocks of bramble and strange looking cactus, bulbous nodes dangling off platter sized palms like testicles on a dying mule. Overhead, buzzards like drones circle your desiccated shape, a shape barely wide enough to cast a shadow. You step aside an unsuspecting boulder to have your calf bit and pumped full of rattlesnake venom. No warning. No baby-rattle susurration before the strike. The agony hits like a hot brand. You stumble and fall, your breath squeezed from your chest. A sensation like molten mercury seeps up your leg. The beast bites and slithers off, content in the knowledge that, though you won’t be its next meal, you will most definitely feed a fellow high desert compatriot.•

OK. Did you go there? Did you read along and imagine your/their plight? If so, then it was your imagination that provided the empathy you felt for this unfortunate soul lost in the desert.

Empathy is your imagination placing you in the situation of another.

Empathy is you commiserating with, through the virtual world of your mind’s pictorial capability, another being, human or otherwise.

You can imagine, therefore you can feel another’s suffering—virtually at least.

It is due to our expansive, our far-too-large-for-our-own-good brains that we have been cursed with the ability to empathize with another creature. We can imagine their pain. Their suffering. Their soul crushing loss or failure, or shame. Our imagination gives us this ability.

Altruism is our ability to share, often to our own detriment, our personal safety, wealth and prosperity. Why would we ever do this? Dogs don’t do this. Dolphins, chimps, corvids—species with advanced intelligence, even consciousness don’t do this. Only humans go out of their way to ensure another’s survival. Why?

Because we can imagine how it feels to be that other being.

Our imagination is the source of our empathy.

Dear Mudge, Monkey Face

MonkeyFacedEel
Monkey-faced eel – not really an eel, but tasty.

OK, Mudge, you claim ambivalence rather than kindness. But at least you’re a polite ambivalent. (And didn’t you recently claim kindness as a goal? Which you retracted, yes, but I think the label stuck.)

As to making a worthwhile point—on any topic—all opinions matter equally, which is, as we’ve determined, not at all. Yours, piled high and reeking, would at least provide philosophic nutrition to worms, weevils and woodlice.

You posted a set of nice lyrics; hard to imagine they weren’t part of some sonnet or modern Shakespearean knockoff. I would point out that simply by acknowledging your appreciation of such a touching piece, you expose a human side that, although you state such sentiment has bled away, I think not.

Our recent conclusion that intelligence correlates with misery garnered numerous counter arguments. Here’s my rebuttal: Although the tally of those miserable on either side of the IQ curve may be equal, the quality and variation of misery on the high side and, were the weight of grief totaled (intensity + complexity + recurrence), our side would tip the scale. (If that’s not a Pyrrhic victory I don’t know what is.)

On the subject of writing about the philosophy of existence, upon reflection I’d say my personal intent is therapy. Vaporous thought is one thing, but persisting one’s ruminations, for me, allows logic to overlay the mystical. I gain perspective this way. Not to mention that rereading such pontifications, later in life, often provides a chuckle or two.

Writing fiction used to be me dreaming on paper. These days, given my blooming narrative enlightenment, attempting to create something of beauty is now my goal. Although also therapeutic, writing is a challenge and when executed well, proof that my faculties are still somewhat intact. In highlight, there’s nothing like being in the *flow*, the slipstream—time fades away, I exist only in the moment, the story. That feeling comes all to rare, but when it does, it’s euphoric. You should try it sometime (grin).

I’ve convinced my “writing class” that they need to deliver 1000 narrative words by the 4th of February. One has complied and I’ve already waded into that one, red pen slashing.  As I edit, I’m reminded of my own neophyte writing those years ago.

“Boy, you sure are brutal.” My first contributor patted me on the shoulder. “But all your comments are spot on.” I’m surprised at how effortlessly I see what needs to be changed. But this is all ground-level stuff. The elevated techniques, levels two and three and beyond, that I’ve mentioned in the Writer’s Log, are much harder to communicate and learn. These core writer’s skills, when they’re missing, stick out like a blue tie at a Drumpf rally.

Time and practice. Starting out, such advice always appears short-sighted, “well, duh.” Only after actually putting in the long duration effort, and then measuring one’s progress by analyzing beginners, can one acknowledge that dogged regimen is the only way to excel—at anything. I started this writing endeavor at age 55. You, just turning a half-century, I wonder what skills you could amass were you to apply such a theory. (Is Vet-Tech still in your cards?)

Concrete ideas are always so much easier to discuss. Can you build a birdhouse from clear plexiglass? Should Lunists & Martians leverage lava tubes as habitat? Would artificial floating ocean islands, SeaSteading, be productive and useful or a waste of resources? It’s fine once in a while, but getting wrapped up in continuous existential conundrums, oy, let’s go fishing for monkey-faced eel or hunting for peyote or something, anything…

Yours,
‘Mole

Dear Mudge, Peanut butter

Dear Mudge,

You, sir, are one of the most enigmatic personalities who swims in these semi-anonymous waters. The net is nothing if not strong opinions voiced with impunity, don’t you think?

I hear your appeal to elevate the word “tribe” to mean actual, honest-to-god, tribes of native humans collected together for survival and cohesion. I hereby relinquish my use of the term for specious purposes (and I have used it frequently over the years). However, as you attempt to convince us that your curmudgeonly ways permeate your actual life, I call foul. As evidence I call forth this very repository of hypocrisy and your comments forthwith. Not even Gandhi himself could be more polite and considerate when addressing some of the just-as-strong opinions voiced here against/about our correspondence.

You sir, are a nice guy.

Regarding your supposition that intellect begets misery I would wholeheartedly agree. I’ve mentioned this very concept within these pages. I went searching and found this: https://anonymole.com/2017/06/21/how-smart-are-we/ and, in fact, if you search for “unhappy” here you’ll find a set of posts that pertain to this discussion. Basically (and I do mean that in its purest form of the word) the smarter you are the greater capacity you have for [words that reflect misery]. And happiness is about as far as you can get from intelligence.

Okay, that’s enough overt hot-linking (TomBeingTom). (Does anybody actually click embedded links? I don’t.)

On to my chosen topic of the moment: Peanut butter.

Seriously. I have this fascination for the origins of food. Where the hell did peanuts first come into culinary usage? (South America/Peru). Sesame seeds? The Fertile Crescent (where they may have been the first oil-pressed crop). Pistachios? (Afghanistan, as are hazelnuts). Turkeys, Tomatoes, Turmeric, Tilapia, Tapioca, Thyme, Turnips…

hazelnuttree
Hazelnuts / filberts grown in Oregon and Afghanistan

We don’t often consider food provenance but I do. Italians and tomatoes and polenta, Irish and potatoes, Asia and their peppers, all of it barely 500 years old, all of it “stolen” native foods. While humans have obviously been cultivating and consuming these foods for millennia, we rarely consider how recent our spice, nut, fruit and veggie basket has filled out due to globalism. The point I’m slowly getting to here is that, although we love to share food-culture across the planet and, I suspect, eventually, Terran food will be a thing (as opposed to Lunar or Martian food), we refuse to admit our global humanity; the tribe (ahem) of Homo Sapiens Sapiens.

Music, dance, art, food — all of these things tend to unite us. Although, like yourself, I don’t really give a shit about humanity as a cosmic entity, I still like to contemplate grand problems and propose grandiose solutions; they’re like puzzles, intricate quandaries that beg for analysis, elucidation and answers.

And so, in our wretched profundity, embittered by our self administered flagellation, were you to envision a day where your contempt for mankind, as compelling as it might be, is tempered by something, some occurrence, some transformation that renders humanity tolerable—what might that event be? Clearly, sagacious beings before us have gazed upon mankind and hoped someday that our species could elevate itself above its petty differences and see the universe as a frontier only we, humanity can hope to explore. Do you see such a possibility, in some future epoch? A globally shared peanut butter sandwich?

Aw, hell. Fuck that. I’m just yanking your chain. I’m trying to see how many 9+ letter words I can get into a post in remembrance of your dead blogging site.

Oh, and ZorkerBorg? Yeah, fuck him. I despise that pissant, the lucky prick that he is.

Happy dead of winter,
‘Mole

[PS: You’ll notice that if you end a post on a Fuck You tone, few people are wont to comment. I did this intentionally as I wanted to see if both yours and mine both elicited the same disgust. It appears to be the case. I wager that if we end our next correspondences with rainbows and ribbons, we’ll get a different response.]

[PPS: For Mr. Van Helsing, “The Peanut Butter and banana sandwich, or peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwich, sometimes referred to as an Elvis sandwich or simply the Elvis, consists of toasted bread slices with peanut butter, sliced or mashed banana, and sometimes bacon. Honey is seen in some variations of the sandwich.” Wikipedia]