The old mind-body problem, favorite of Trekkies and obsessive epistemologists. The question, “Can a machine be conscious?” is just a different way of attacking the problem of “what is the mind, and what is the body?” If we knew, we would know what will happen with machines. But, of course, machines can have mentality, though they do not yet, but they will. And then we will have movements for protection of vulnerable machines, machine welfare organizations, advocates for better protection of machines from abuse, jihads against machines in our midst, etc. When they start talking to us in a way that we worry about what they say, we will know we have arrived.
There is no clear line between mind and body, and we put far too much emphasis on mind as we like to think of it – the intellectual philosopher/inquirer introspecting in his study. Most of what we do requires no consciousness of this sort, and even very little thinking! Ask yourself this: If Bob loves Mary, and Mary loves Joe, does Bob love Joe? I bet you come up with the answer in a flash: are you conscious of how you did it? Can you discover through introspection how you “figured” it out. Our language convinces us we have consciousness that saturates our being, but it’s a very little piece of what we are. That “mental space” we conjure up in our skulls is just as it appears in the image of Dave and Hal, a void. And hundreds of years ago, people thought the intellect was in the liver, or someplace down there!
In our image above, we see Dave, Mr. Everyman, venturing into the nexus between mind and body in HAL. But as Leibnitz observed hundreds of years ago:
Supposing that there were a machine whose
structure produced thought, sensation, and
perception, we could conceive of it as
increased in size with the same proportions
until one was able to enter into its interior,
as he would into a mill. Now, on going into
it he would find only pieces working upon one
one another, but never would he find anything;
to explain Perception.
Now we can get to the body, the mysteries of the organism. Here we have an electron micrograph of a walking microphage,” a white blood cell probing an air sac while cleaning a human lung with pneumonia – magnified 5000 times. So, this little…thing…is moving around inside a lung, phaging away, i.e. eating. Our bodies seem to be collections pulsing systems and quite a few fellow travelers, that is, organisms or living things on a very small scale. Our bodies are NOT our own. They are as illusory as “the self.” Just a collection of “cooperating” parts, as the “self” is simply a sort-of coherent collection of ideas that has a lot of continuity from day to day. Everything dissolves into a grand ecology of togetherness, and “we” have “thoughts” about it that we say are from our “minds” that are housed in our bodies. But remove these prejudicial notions from your thinking, and you see something very different.And while we are on the topic of the mysteries…
Here is an image from the film, “WR: Mysteries of the Organism“, c. 1971. This bizarre film, partly a biography of the sainted-damned figure of Wilhem Reich, keeps popping up in my mind. Here is the heroine, who is later killed by a Soviet Olympic skating star (with his skate’s blade, of course.) Notice the frame in the image – get it, movie frame, frame? One of the strangest film experiences you can have, a weird, hilarious satire, and a biting critique of (Stalinist) government oppression.