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Jiro comments on GAZP vs. GLUT - Less Wrong

33 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 07 April 2008 01:51AM

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Comment author: Jiro 23 March 2015 03:31:41AM *  0 points [-]

Are you arguing that you don't know if you are conscious because you can't be sure that the consciousness you experience and observe matches the consciousness other people claim to experience and observe?

Sort of, but not quite.

In the case of "red", I can't be sure that someone's mental sensation when seeing red is the same as my mental sensation when seeing red. They're private, after all. But I can at least be fairly sure that these sensations, however different they may be privately, still point to the same set of things. They are operationally the same. Since my perceptions of red correlate with the other person's perceptions of red, it makes sense to conclude (with less than perfect certainty) that red objects have something in common with each other--that is, that redness is a natural category.

But I can't apply this to consciousness. There are no consciousnesses that we can both see--we can each see at most one, and we can never see the same one that the other can. So the factor that leads me to conclude that redness is a natural category is absent for consciousness.

Different cultures seem to have independently come up with similar sounding ideas about consciousness

Have they? Different cultures have come up with similar sounding ideas on how to conclude that something has consciousness, but they (or their members) cannot ever make direct observations of two consciousnesses and say that they observe similarities between them. So the example of different cultures agreeing only lets us be pretty sure that "consciousness-labelled-observed-behavior" is a real thing, but not that one person's direct observation of their own consciousness is the same as another person's direct observation.

Comment author: MarsColony_in10years 25 March 2015 04:52:03AM *  0 points [-]

Ah, so you were talking about the possible mismatch between our perceptions of the redness of red. I could try to guess at a technical answer, since it would be highly immoral to experiment with actual people. I'm not sure it would make any difference to the consciousness argument, though.

It sounds like you do experience some sort of sensation of existing, but that you don't talk about this sensation with words like "consciousness", or anything else, because you can't draw a logical link between different people's consciousnesses to show that they are the same thing.

But I'm not talking about formal logic. I'd agree with you that given what we know, we can't deduce that everyone is talking about the same "consciousness". However, we have tools in our bag besides just formal logic. One such tool is Bayes' theorem. Do you really prescribe less than a 50% probability to the hypothesis that our ideas of "consciousness" are similar, rather than entirely random things? Maybe it isn't above a 95% certainty, or 99.9%, or whatever arbitrary threshold you would choose before you can safely say that you "know" something.

Personally, I would assign a low probability to the idea that our consciousnesses are identical, but a quite high probability to the idea that they are at least similar in nature. People seem to talk about consciousness in much different ways than they talk about potatoes or space-time. There are enough differences in the rest of our brains that I would be surprised if consciousnesses were identical, but there are still patterns that are similar between most human brains. It strikes me as an unsolved but bounded question, rather than an unknowable one.