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Are we zombies? Chalmers and Kahneman on Consciousness [video]

November 21, 2012

The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking Blog posted “Why Aren’t We Zombies? (The Science of Consciousness)” by Matthew Hutson about The Thinking Ape: The Enigma of Human Consciousness a panel discussion October 10, 2012 at The New York Academy of Sciences – full video of the discussion available at NOUR Foundation.

The panel featured: Steve Paulson, Nicholas Schiff, Daniel Kahneman, Laurie Santos, and David Chalmers

Hutson provides some “paraphrased” notes (watch the video to see what they really said):

Kahneman: I’m in the minority in that I’ve never been very interested in explaining consciousness. It’s hard to be interested in a question if you don’t even know the structure of a possible answer.

Chalmers: Right now all we can do is match brain states to behavior and to reported experience. Currently consciousness studies is a science of correlation, not explanation.

Kahneman: We’ll have robots that appear conscious before we can explain consciousness.

Chalmers: I’ll be convinced a computer is conscious when it says it’s having trouble explaining why it has subjective states.

Kahneman: I don’t think being a philosopher is an indicator of consciousness.

Kahneman: Regarding things that can be conscious, “I see no reason it has to be made of meat.”

Chalmers: Danny, if one by one we replaced your neurons with functional equivalents made of silicon, would you be conscious?

And Audience Questions:

Audience member: What are your definitions of consciousness?
Chalmers: The best we can do is to say, as Thomas Nagel does, that it is something it is like to be. We can talk about what it is like to be me, or a bat, but not this water bottle.
Santos: If the philosopher can’t define it, I’m not going to try.
Kahneman: We can’t define consciousness, only our intuitions about it.

Audience member: Is it possible to have an objective science of subjectivity?
Chalmers: Yes, you can state facts about feelings. Also, first-hand experience is important to the science of consciousness.
Kahneman: I don’t think anyone is protesting that.

Kahneman: The best response to paradoxes is to simply walk away.

Audience member: We’ve been hearing a lot about scientists. Which writers have offered the most insight into consciousness?
Chalmers: “Proust is a master phenomenologist.”
Schiff: In Helen Keller’s book Teacher, she said she did not have a self before she learned language; she was a “phantom.”
Paulson: William James is my hero.

Audience member: What is the purpose of consciousness?
Chalmers: {Still paraphrasing:] No one knows. We might as well be zombies.

Recall Zombie Proust. Consider also the connection of zombies to disabilities and Keller using the word “phantom”. Also consider reading Thomas Nagel’s essay “What Is it Like to Be a Bat?” (1974), and also the thematic similarities in David Foster Wallace’s “Consider the Lobster” (2000).

From → Academics

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