AI and Sentience Versus Consciousness
If we someday build robots that begin to act in a way that is indistinguishable from humans, according to everyone’s perception, despite them being mechanical and created beings (by us), will we have to grant them all the rights of a human being, such as to not be slaves?
I think it’s time we delve into this – way past time – as a society, as individuals, and as this author. It’s been dealt with countless times in fiction and movies, but not in a way that solves the philosophical issues and dilemmas, not to mention the scientific ones, at the heart of it.
There is so much confusion in evidence on this subject, not just from lay people and journalists, but from “experts” that should know better – biologists, computer scientists, academic philosophers, researchers and engineers in the AI field, and so forth – that I thought it was time to try and put an article together.
This summer, Google fired one of its engineers who had become convinced that one of its chatbots had reached sentience.
—Time, 5 Dec. 2022
When those questions [in a prompt] suggest that the answer being sought is an affirmative on sentience, then that is what the machine will produce.
—Arun Shastri, Forbes, 26 June 2022
1. A robot which would pass the Turing test is sentient according to my definition of sentience: a quality we attribute to external objects as a result of our interaction with them..
2. Compassion is a form of empathy devoid of ignorance, it is one of the many aspects of love.
– Francis Lucille
First some Definitions.
Let’s start with sentience…
What is meant by “sentience” in this article? If we use the common definitions as seen in science fiction movies, as (roughly) the ability to have feelings and emotions, it doesn’t help us much – it does not bring us closer to any understanding but only muddies the waters (and I will explain shortly). Or, if we use the dictionary [https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sentience] definition of the noun:
1: a sentient quality or state
2: feeling or sensation as distinguished from perception and thought
We again haven’t even gotten off the launch pad. First, it defines it in terms of “sentient”, so we need to define that. Then it gives the commonly interpreted meaning of “feeling or sensation as distinguished from perception and thought”, which is also not useful.
Then the definition of “sentient” , the adjective given is:
1: responsive to or conscious of sense impressions
3: finely sensitive in perception or feeling
The first definition above doesn’t help us because it’s just a variation os
And while I am loathe to redefine words – words that are commonly used – in a special way, we need to do this for the purpose of clarifying this issue. Until I think of a better word, I will use “sentient”.
Admittedly, part of the “problem”, or situation here is that in order to have a real or good understanding of this issue requires a radical re-appraisal of fundamentals, which is not easy to have, or for me to explain. But forge on we must…
Here are some good or useful definitions that will allow us to make some headway on this issue:
Sentience is phenomenal.
Consciousness is non-phenomenal.
“…the experience through which we know we are aware (what you cal the “subjective” experience), is non-phenomenal. We don’t know that we are aware because we have perceptions.
It’s precisely this discrimination that paves the way to the possibility that awareness is the way the ultimate reality experiences itself.
The epistemological argument: “…everything we know is at best, as real as the channel or agent which knows it. An illusory awareness cannot know reality. For awareness to know anything real, it has to be at least as real as whatever it knows. Since everything we know we know not *through* awareness but since everything we know is known *by* awareness, it follows that everything we know, epistemologically, is at *best* is as real as awareness”
– FL (https://youtu.be/9yKwiH01_ko)
Unfortunately, no phenomenal evidence can establish, even in principle, that awareness (C) is the ultimate reality. Does this mean that it is not? No, it is merely a reflection of the situation we find ourselves in as phenomena: akin to the avatars in a infinitely sophisticated computer game (like in The Matrix) who cannot know who or what is playing or programming the game from their position inside the game. They would somehow have to jump out of it. But we cannot get outside reality. We are It. Therefore it is up to each one of us to see this. It cannot be proven from “the outside”, from another avatar explaining it, or doing something to you, or bringing forth some evidence.
For instance, you could give the evidence of the reports of NDEs, psychedelics, or psychic phenomenon, or quantum entanglement, or quantum field collapse from doing an experiment, that supposedly proves that it’s all one reality, either by the subjective reports or by scientific equations and experiments. But there is a fatal flow in all this evidence. There will always be weak spots that collapse the supposed proof (unless one is a true believer, i.e. religious. But beliefs are not what we are interested in here). One could say for example:
– The NDEs were hallucinations created by a brain in a low-oxygen survival state. And one can find evidence for that claim.
– The psychic phenomenon are some kind of transmission from one separate entity to another, using a channel, such as the quantum field, that we don’t fully understand yet.
– Quantum entanglement certainly shows there’s something going on with phenomenon such that instantaneous “effects” occur, like the way particle spins of formerly singular particle that split off, are connected no matter how far the distance, as if time and space were unreal. And they probably are. This sis certainly an amazing scientific result t be sure, but it still shows us nothing about the awareness experiencing the scientific phenomenon, result, equations, or whatever. The same goes for the collapse of quantum waves or fields that supposedly come about as the result of observation and not just the experimental setup. That it’s the consciousness that is involved in the collapse is a mere hypothesis (and arguable): more essentially, even this, again, cannot prove anything about the nature of awareness itself: that which is (ultimately) reading these words right now.
There is no way to verify or falsify the statement that awareness is the ultimate reality. But if you can’t falsify it, and there’s no known element that tips the balance one way or another. There’s nothing that tips the balance to saying it’s not a universal reality, if you rationally examine all the evidence.
But it’s unlike the claim that “I have an invisible man in my pocket named Yehude. If you can’t disprove it, maybe it’s true.” Or the claim that there’s a teapot orbiting around the sun. [link to Russell’s argument]
Inner path and outer path.
The inner path is the direct experience of pure awareness (meditation and self inquiry investigation).
The outer path is aligning oneself, in thought, feeling, actions and life, with the universal, and seeing what happens (experiment).
Both become natural and effortless after a while. Thus they become not paths, but ways of life, or rather simply life itself, the way it always was and is, in reality.
Unpacking this a bit more, and/or rephrasing:
Sentience is that which is seen from the “outside”: in other words, behavior. We could begin, before we refine it more, by saying it’s “the experience of seeing what we perceive as intelligent behavior in or of some thing”. Examples:
1. Human examples: “I see that John has woken up from his deep sleep, and is now sentient, and can respond to my question about whether he wants some breakfast.” You could even say “he’s sentient enough to respond to my questions.” In this common usage, you could also say “awake and aware”; however we have to be careful, because “aware” could be a substituted for “conscious” or consciousness”, and as we delve into this, we will see that that is a mistake (spiritual or non-dualist folk will use the terms “awake” with a whole other meaning, which is yet another issue to clarify later).
2. Proto-Human examples:“I believe the human fetus becomes sentient in the third trimester, given the way it responds to stimuli such as pain, and moves, such as yawning.”
3. Animal examples: “I’m sure my dog is sentient. I have no doubt about it, the way it shows feelings and understands a lot of what I say and the way I feel, and is so loving and affectionate. We have a deep bond.”
“It looks like that grasshopper is truly sentient, the way it selects which part of the plant it likes to eat, and avoids other less tasty parts. It obviously has preferences and is sensing and responding to its environment in an intelligent way.”
4. “Wow, your robot hotel agent is creepily sentient, the way it smiles and wrinkles the corner of her eyes, and responds to my questions so perfectly, as if she truly understands what I’m saying.”
Are computers sentient?
Can computers, AIs, become sentient?
Are AIs truly intelligent, and if not, will they ever be?
How can we make AI that is truly intelligent, in a general way?
Once you discriminate properly between sentience and consciousness, all these seeming problems go away.
December 30, 2022
(midnight notes on phone)
Once you discriminate between sentience and consciousness, the rest follows.
[academic abstract – you can skip this boring dry part if you want]
The attribution of sentience is merely arbitrary and practical: whatever functioning of phenomenal objects (including human beings) in spacetime we deem as such, we can deem “sentient” (kill chickens, or not?) – but ultimately meaningless with respect to (the question of) consciousness which is time-invariant. The attribution of intelligence and meaning-understanding, is mistaken as being in objects because one does not understand understanding and is identified with thought as bodymind. The solution is one must still discriminate wisely and consistently between the attributes of consciousness versus the modes thereof.
Strictly speaking, objects do not have life, including so-called living objects. Their life is in consciousness-love-intelligence, as is here, which is indiscriminate consciousness-love-intelligence as well (as everything).
The separation of phenomena into living and non-living is a function of Thought and its projection of form, e.g. definitions and measurements. Sentience is the outward manifestation thereof: a paradox of shifting lines between thoughts projected on objects.
January 3, 2023
Consciousness & AI, and the Sentience of the Zombies
A simulation of water is not wet.
But what if … one had a robot (or even a text-based AI) that acted 99.9999% like a conscious human being – from an astronomical amount of training – would it be conscious?
We can make a distinction between consciousness and sentience, and call what we see from the outside “sentience” and not “consciousness”, but does that solve the problem?
And by the same token, why do we project consciousness onto other humans, let alone robots, dogs, cats, chickens, crickets, dolls…? This is the same old “zombie problem” from philosophy of mind: we could meet some humans that act exactly like humans but turn out to be zombies, or robots from the future. Fake humans.
Hmmm… it appears that, strictly speaking, humans do not have consciousness, (nor do any other objects)! This is a little difficult to explain to those with out or with limited non-dualist understanding but I think the sentience vs C. Distinction helps.--
So, we could say, to make it more clear “Consciousness has humans”.
But then we have a new problem (seemingly): doesn’t that imply that robots or machines could be conscious? Or any object for that matter (no pun intended).
So if we take what we’ve learned and seen from non-duality, that:
1. Consciousness cannot be a local thing, or any *thing* at all, but *the* most fundamental [otherwise there is no C], of the universe, and of inner experience (the only kind!) – inner/outer being the same reality – and
2. Consciousness has Attributes and Modes,
Attributes are eternal qualities that cannot exist without C, and C, without them, like Beauty, Truth, Love, whereas
Modes are passing fancies like emotions, external phenomenon, all the “mind” stuff
and one of the attributes is:
Intelligence (Truth , understanding, meaning), along with Beauty and Love (Goodness)
3. Consciousness transcends minds and bodies and unites them – it’s the “container” underlying or “behind” as it were, but really Is all that is and is not (being clear that non-Being is not, as Parmenides pointed out).
A lot of confusion arises because we attribute Consciousness to objects, to externals. Actually objects and externals are the same thing: If all experience *is* Consciousness and Being [and Bliss] (Sat Chit Ananda),
and once we get sentience out of the way as mere behavior of objects – objects which are mere appearance within Consciousness (and therefore, looking deeper, *made of* Consciousness) – then the problem disappears as thus:
The Totality, Wholeness appears as many, yet is not divided.
Experience (empirical “Science of the Heart”) shows us that:
You can’t build the Whole from parts. It just Is. You’re going backwards, making no sense, putting the horse behind the cart.
Intuition is fundamental. It is not a quality or function of a individual or a brain or a process in time, or a separate anything; it’s not “rational” in the normal sense, though it can exhibit that Attribute when needed in Life and Love and Beauty;
Notice how intuition and creativity seems to come out of nowhere, or are seen, perceived as “from above” or “out of the blue” (ask a good inventor or artist)?
Notice how it knows things it can’t possibly know, if it were separate and “rational” in the usual way we define that?
Intuition and creativity – this kind of “direct knowing” – is on a need-to-know basis. Likewise, it cannot be forced, as you may noticed. The small self, the created entity, cannot order up an insight or epiphany on demand. The best we can do is wait, allow, notice, be open, relax, forget, take a break… this words suggest an approach, but nothing is guaranteed of course.
One could claim it’s the Right Brain versus the Left hemisphere, but that doesn’t solve anything except to it off, put a supposed object, a name, an image, and claim a function again, a process to what is instantaneous (as if hidden or magic, but it isn’t).
The solution is to start from experience, direct experience, inward-most experience – what we call “subjective” experience, and to not superimpose anything on it that is not already there, such as concepts, limitations, or abstractions.
Why do you think meditate and do self inquiry and seek guidance from a teacher?
*(the word “subjective” can have wrong connotations in this context, such as there being an opposite, like an objective reality that’s separate; or pejorative, as in a psychological subjective, a quality of poor judgement)
This (inquiry, contemplation, investigation) usually is not easy (at first) because we have a lifetime of conditioning. Conditioning is simply training by life: the picture and sound of society, family, friends, culture, school, church, teachers, etc., that give wrong information, so to speak.
We have to keep starting over, be “reminded” of what we really are.
Process & Time
Any sort of computational process, no matter how sophisticated or parallel or huge, is still a process in time.
Even a quantum computer transforms something (Qbits) to another thing. There is change involved. Functions. And models.
Same for brains or “quantum tubules” , or whatever. Pick your model. Your function. Your machine of choice. Your favorite equation.
Anything could potentially be simulated: you could simulate a sage or a prophet or a non-dualist speaker or writer. Again, because they are seen from the outside as it were, they are behavior, phenomenon in time and space, processes. They use the past (memory, stored data, learned stuff) which is dead.
Life has no past or purpose, as an entirety. It is complete.
Trying to turn C. into a technical or scientific issue will always be a problem – really, an impossibility (and This debate itself will go on forever, as it’s the nature of things, and can’t be proven objectively, just an asymptote approached as with language simulation) – because all of the thought processes (imagination, analysis, model-making, building…) appear in consciousness itSelf, as products, after-the-fact of awareness and intelligence. Awareness and its attributes (intelligence etc) can’t be “seen” from the outside, in themselves, but come out of the fruition thereof. It’s been called the unseen seer. And this is true.
This can be seen in your own experience. It cannot be observed from the outside.
Returning to the issue of a simulated sage or prophet, and some kind of “living word” or “transmission”: would what they say, be fresh, of the whole, creative, spontaneous? Would it address the whole?
One can see where something is coming from and going to in experience: from an agenda, from a fragment, or from the whole, with the qualities of real love, truth, beauty.
These are subtle qualities not easily discerned at times, unless one is attuned.
This explorations and contemplation and writing is and ongoing expression is itself here and now – there is never a shut, closed and done deal, final conclusion. Everything is open and appearing in One, as One. This cannot be explained. It can be described, roughly … and we also have poets for that. Artists. :)
This phenomenon of the form of things versus the formless from which is in the present boundlessly effortlessly springs, also explains the phenomenon of religion (as I’ve written elsewhere). Many things can be “religion”…
Even your favorite zombie sage, your robot sage of choice, will tell you:
it’s up to you to look within your own inner experience
there it will tell you the secret, the open secret, and all you need to know
Consciousness fundamental does not imply panpsychism. That is trying to hold onto materialism while introducing universal C.
Bret Weinstein calls it cheating on the puzzle...
The case is that atoms and everything appear in Consciousness, not the other way around.