Thoughts on the Nature of Life and Conciousness

Quite frankly life confuses me. Saying that life is just a biological machine seems lacking somehow. What is consciousness then? A complex set of chemical reactions can explain how stimuli can lead to a certain action or output, but it doesn’t explain in any satisfactory way why there is something aware of this stimuli and acting on it. Sure, you could make a super complex machine, but there is no reason to believe that such a machine would be any more than something generating outputs through complex mathematical equations. There is no reason to believe that such a machine would be aware of the process going on inside it.
It’s impossible to detect or measure, but any living person will know that there is something more than can be explained by mere circuitry. RenĂ© Descartes once said, “I think therefore I am”, but it’s more than that. It’s the fact that we are aware of the fact that we are thinking that allows us to know we exist. The very fact that I am aware that I am thinking these questions proves that some sort of consciousness exists. The problem with the argument that AI could eventually be the same as a thinking human is that given that there is no proven biological basis for this consciousness there is no reason to think that any amount of endlessly complicated circuitry could create a conscious being. There simply isn’t a clear logical link between complicated neuron circuitry and consciousness.
At the end of the day, I simply don’t think that the evidence for the claim that humans are simple machines made out of proteins is strong enough. There are just too many unanswered questions. Too many holes in the logic. It’s a theory with too many missing parts to make a solid claim. Given the current evidence, it’s not something I can just easily accept.
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4 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Nature of Life and Conciousness

  • October 12, 2017 at 8:43 am

    Interesting, although this post is straying into pure Philosophy there are some TOK issues I will try to return to. First of all, the issue you are addressing is known as the ‘Hard Problem of Consciousness”. (Daniel Dennett has a few youtube or ted talks available to watch)

    You may want to look at the arguments developed in the thought experiment “Mary’s room”. This asserts that any individual given all the information about experiencing colour (or even the neural stimulation that would simulate colour) would still be in awe of colour when they first experience it. This extra, intangible quality of reality is called qualia.

    I think part of the muddle thinking about consciousness is inherited from our thinking about a soul. The lack of physical evidence for a soul undermined Christianity (amongst other things). Recently philosophers and neuropsychologist have looked for the location of consciousness (or at least its neural correlates). However, they may be misunderstanding the problem. Lets say somebody visits UWC. They are shown classroom, facilities, sports pitches etc. Afterwards they ask, “..where was UWC?”. You explain it was the whole thing but not a particular thing.

    Now TOK. The issue of A.I. is challenging our understanding of what it means to be human. The psychologist BF Skinner once said “The real question is not whether machines think but whether men do. ” Is mankind’s brilliance actually its irrationality? Is ethical sense dependent on our sense of being immortal and fragile?

    There are other issues I would like to cover but only if you are interested in pursuing this further.

    • October 12, 2017 at 8:55 am

      “There are other issues I would like to cover but only if you are interested in pursuing this further.”
      Please do. I am interested.

      Thank you for replying

  • October 13, 2017 at 2:27 am

    Thanks for this post. It was a very interesting read.

    This is where science meets TOK meets philosophy. Really, all these subjects are intertwined and there are so many connections.

    Perhaps, we need to find a happy state where we are ok with the term ‘life’ being defined differently depending on which realm you are studying/explaining. For me, life is simply a replicating genome coupled with a replicating vesicle (effectively the container that holds the DNA). However, this might be different for someone who believes consciousness is the essence of life. If you believe this however, is a plant alive?

    Are the terms ‘life’ and ‘consciousness’ two separate things? Should they be treated differently? Bacteria and plants are ‘alive’ but are they conscious? I would say no. I like Paul’s comment about ‘missing the point’. Perhaps we can’t find a scientific home of consciousness and instead should revel in the fact that it exists and be happy for that.

    Really interesting, thought-provoking post.


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