Consciousness

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Tuesday 7 April — New Scientist Live: Consciousness and the Extended Mind

For those who happen to be in Edinburgh and are interested in consciousness. Or, like, it’s spring break and you’re spending some days down south. You might want to check out the Edinburgh International Science Festival

— in particular the debate on Consciousness and the Extended Mind, with some absolute hot shots there!

“It’s one of the biggest questions of our existence. What is consciousness? Millennia after Aristotle and Hippocrates wrestled with the concept of the mind and self-awareness, neuroscientists, roboticists and psychologists are starting to pin down answers. Join a panel of experts for an evening of lively debate on what we know about the workings of our brains and how our minds extend into our bodies and the world around us – through walking sticks, prostheses, body swaps and machine melds. Philosopher Andy Clark from the University of Edinburgh will be your guide. Artificial intelligence pioneer Margaret Boden of the University of Sussex and neuroscientists Patrick Haggard and Micah Allen from University College London will join him to discuss what we can learn about ourselves from creating artificial consciousness and whether revealing the brain’s inner workings will solve the hard problem of consciousness – how a kilogram or so of nerve cells conjures up the seamless kaleidoscope of sensations, thoughts and emotions that occupy our every waking moment.”

Speakers’ websites:

Micah Allen is also an avid blogger and universal spreader of information on neuroscience and consciousness, so check him out at neuroscience.com, or his Twitter-account.

Consciousness in popular culture

Following up on last week’s Q&A, here’s some info:

We talked about some of the following:
Stanisław Lem’s book Solaris (and others), which discusses the impossibility to infer consciousness from behaviour from an entirely different life form. It was made into a film thrice, the two best-known ones being the 1972 version by the definitive intellectual’s filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, and once in 2002 Steven Soderbergh one starring George Clooney (it is, in fact, the infamous Clooney nude buttocks film, although it is not certain whether they belong to him or a stand-in). Though Tarkovsky is always brilliant, in both cases I recommend the book. (Still, if you’ve never seen a Tarkovsky film, you have developed eyes for nothing.)

I’d also like to point out Ex Machina, a film recently out about AI, which was recently reviewed for the New Scientist by Anil Seth, director of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science (University of Sussex — by the way if anyone want’s to do a PhD with him starting 2015, deadline is 23 March).

In terms of altered states of consciousness, a person who has done a lot on out-of-body experiences (and on bodily consciousness and experience of prosthetics) is Olaf Blanke. People who have done interesting stuff on dreaming are Sophie Schwartz and Antti Revonsuo; for the function of dreams/sleep see also Philippe Peigneux. But many more do research on that.

Do Computers Have To Be Conscious To Think? (Mapping Great Debates)

As there are quite a number of computer scientists in the course, let’s try and make this click. 15 years ago, a company called MacroVU decided to create posters mapping great debates related to the question “Can Computers Think?”, the main link to which you can find at http://affect-reason-utility.com/ai/ai.html — totally clickable!

One of the more interesting sub-questions was “Do computers have to be conscious to think?”, the link to which is here http://affect-reason-utility.com/ai/CCTMap6.html – if you click either on portions of the map or on the links below it, you’ll be able to navigate the entire reasoning of the subsections, the direct links to which are below (you can click the resulting images as well, to get deeper into the debate):

Now, you won’t get the most recent status of the debates of course (a lot changes in 15 years), but you will get some of the basic (philosophical) arguments linking consciousness with AI. So if you’re familiar with some foundational issues in AI but not with consciousness, this may be an angle. Also interesting for non-computer scientists of course, as it contains some of the issues at the very core of consciousness studies.

This is an interactive version of some of the posters, with the consciousness one somewhat represented here.