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What is Consciousness?


You would think you have consciousness, but robots do not. What criteria should we apply for judging whether a certain system has consciousness or not? I would like to suggest a criterion: whether it can waver in its selection or not.

Image by John Hain from Pixabay modified by me.

1. Hesitation enables consciousness

We often waver in deciding the menu of a meal, but never in deciding whether to secrete gastric juices from our stomachs to digest food. That’s why we are conscious of the menu of a meal, but not of secretion of gastric juices.

From this fact we can guess that insects have no consciousness, because they are governed by instinct. If there is no indeterminacy in the connection between input and output, consciousness is an unnecessary luxury. We can virtually experience the life of insects during dreamless sleep, when we lose consciousness, while the bodies continue metabolism and the brains continue reflex actions.

2. Mere uncertainty doesn’t define consciousness

The agent with no freedom for selection has no consciousness. But this does not mean that every agent whose selection is indeterminate has consciousness. Suppose that you make a robot whose decision depends on quantum uncertainty. Its action is random and unpredictable. The robot is at the mercy of contingency and does not waver of itself. Therefore, it does not have consciousness.

Indeterminacy is the state that can be otherwise than it is and the accidental agency that does not waver does not internalize this otherness. Consciousness is the differentiated self-identity that internalizes the otherness. If a robot were to compare alternatives and select the one that is the most desirable to achieve a purpose with the selecting criteria revised as a consequence of experience and learning, the robot would have consciousness.

3. Can robots have consciouness?

In order to make a robot like us, it must select not only means but also purpose by itself. It is weird to imagine a SF story that robots made by men would wonder for what purpose they existed and make up their minds to revolt against us. Fortunately, we cannot easily make a robot that can really waver, though we can make one that seems to waver.