ChatGPT (or any Artificial Intelligence) lacks consciousness of what it is doing and hence cannot be said to have the “free will” or “subjective impulses” to determine what direction its “thoughts” will take. (See critical comments on an earlier ChatGPT post).
A nagging question persists in the back of my mind, however. Do even humans have “free will” to guide the directions of their thoughts and conclusions? Every time I read a relatively recent work on human consciousness (e.g. Greenfield, Churchland) I am left with the disturbing notion that there may be a possibility that our consciousness of ourselves and what we are doing is an illusion. Although my inner gut resists that idea I do know that my inner gut does not have an infallible record of guiding me in the way of Truth. Ditto for my notion of “common sense”.
So it was with much appreciation and interest that I read posts on a new blog, Black Box Site, especially the second item, The Color of Your Consciousness or, Getting in Front of a Mob and Calling it a Parade. The author, Blackmun, has been keeping abreast of many more publications on consciousness than I have so it was an immense pleasure to read his survey of some research findings. His overview draws upon…
- Aitchison, Laurence, and Máté Lengyel. “With or without You: Predictive Coding and Bayesian Inference in the Brain.” Current Opinion in Neurobiology 46 (October 2017): 219–27. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.conb.2017.08.010.
- Dehaene, Stanislas. Consciousness and the Brain: Deciphering How the Brain Codes Our Thoughts. 2014.
- Nørretranders, Tor. The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size. 1998.
- Sacks, Oliver. An Anthropologist on Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales. 1995.
- ———. Awakenings. 1987.
- ———. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat: And Other Clinical Tales. 1985.
- Schurger, Aaron, Jacobo Sitt, and Stanislas Dehaene. “An Accumulator Model for Spontaneous Neural Activity Prior to Self-Initiated Movement.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 109 (August 6, 2012): E2904-13. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1210467109.
- Wegner, Daniel M. The Illusion of Conscious Will. 2018, 2002
- Wilson, Timothy D. Strangers to Ourselves. 2004.
Some concluding gems:
CARTESIAN, adj. Relating to Descartes, a famous philosopher, author of the celebrated dictum, Cogito ergo sum – whereby he was pleased to suppose he demonstrated the reality of human existence. The dictum might be improved, however, thus: Cogito cogito ergo cogito sum – “I think that I think, therefore I think that I am;” as close an approach to certainty as any philosopher has yet made. (The Devil’s Dictionary of Ambrose Bierce)
. . . .
And as Isaac Bashevis Singer liked to quip: “We must believe in free will. We have no choice.”
. . . .
. . . exactly what am I?
A rational maximizer? A child of God? A lizard that thinks it knows what it’s doing?
Does the main difference between our thinking and that of AI come down to AI having fewer hidden biases and parameters than the human brain?
It’s a fearful notion. That lizard would have no option but to resist it.
H/T Patricia Churchland: In the The Washington Post Christof Koch writes Five Myths About Consciousness
- Myth No. 1 — Humans have a unique brain.
You probably know the latest understanding on that one.
- Myth No. 2 — Science will never understand consciousness.
Never say never.
- Myth No. 3 — Dreams contain hidden clues about our secret desires.
I’ve caught up on the “facts” about dreams. Was I one of the last to do so?
- Myth No. 4 — We are susceptible to subliminal messages.
I hadn’t caught up with that one. That was interesting, and reassuring. It also explained why I haven’t heard anything about subliminal messages for decades.
- Myth No. 5 — Near-death ‘visions’ are evidence of life after death.
I suspect most readers are aware of the science behind those “visions”.
So is consciousness like space, time, mass, an irreducible fundamental element of the universe? If so, should we be trying to discover the laws by which it operates and integrates with the rest of reality since it is a fundamental element that cannot be explained in terms of more complex parts?
Or does everything that exists, even down to photons, contain the property of consciousness to some degree? Are higher degrees of consciousness the product of higher amounts of information inputs and processing? If so, what are the ethical questions arising?
Or is it all an illusion?
Interesting questions — I was alerted to them by the following article on abc.net.au
Philosopher David Chalmers on consciousness, the hard problem and the nature of reality
A little followup told me I am in fact quite late to this party.
Anyone who can bring me up to speed with any further developments in this field please do so. (I am referring to serious scholarly research — not wacko new age or spiritual type theories.) I see also David Chalmers has a page linking to his articles. Yet more reading (sigh)!
Until its proved otherwise, why not assume that consciousness does not play a significant role in human behavior? Although the idea might seem radical at first, it is actually the conservative position, the one that makes the fewest assumptions. The null position is an antidote to philosophers’ disease — the inappropriate attribution of rational, conscious control over processes that may be irrational and unconscious. The argument is not that we lack consciousness but that we overestimate the conscious control of behavior. — Robert R. Provine, p. 147 in What We Believe But Cannot Prove: Today’s Leading Thinkers On Science in the Age of Uncertainty, 2006.
Robert R. Provine is a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He is the author of Laughter: A Scientific Investigation. And I am sharing his little spiel in the book What We Believe But Cannot Prove because he expresses an idea that I have toyed with ever since I learned of those experiments testing half-brain functions that show that people really do quite sincerely and unknowingly fabricate false reasons for why thy make certain decisions. But needless to say, I’m sure, not a few people are quite disturbed whenever I even raise the possibility. So I have learned to keep my suspicions closer to my chest but here in this post I bare all with the encouragement of a leading thinker under the title “things we believe but cannot prove.”
We are misled by an inner voice that generates a reasonable but often fallacious narrative and explanation of our actions. That the beam of conscious awareness illuminating our actions is on only part of the time further complicates our task. Since we are not conscious of our state of unconsciousness, we vastly overestimate the amount of time that we are aware of our actions, whatever their cause.
Robert Provine’s thoughts about unconscious control, unlike my amateur cogitations, were shaped by his field studies of “the primitive play-vocalization of laughter.” He found that when he asked people why they laughed in certain situations the answers they gave, he could demonstrate through careful observations, were wrong. They merely concocted rationalizations for their behaviour. Continue reading “Day by day with eyes wide shut (What if our conscious reasoning is an afterthought?)”
It’s in the various news sites, but I like to get as close to the source as possible to see what it says: Here’s the link to The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists website and its own news release.