This is a question that was around since the beginning of time. And the funny thing about it is that it’s not that it doesn’t have an answer but that it has too many answers. Everyone understands the concept of consciousness, however, when we are asked to explain it, to define it, here’s where the fun begins.
Awareness of being ‘you’
One way to define consciousness is by identifying it as the act of being aware, being conscious about what is happening to you from the perspective of yourself. Think of it this way, if you’d stare at something and try to feel what it feels to be you, it might feel like you’re a thing inside a body looking out through the eyeballs. And nobody else on this entire earth will ever see the world from that perspective. This awareness of your own experiences, of the fact that you are having them and thinking your own thoughts, that’s consciousness.
Is that so?
What if you do a small experiment? What if you take your brain, split it into two pieces, and put it into two different people? Would both of them be new people who are conscious? One of the best places to start answering this question and defying consciousness is to begin with things that everyone agrees are not conscious.
Let’s start with Cleverbot. This is an amazing website where a computer program responds to your questions. But it does so only because it is programmed to do so. This can’t be called consciousness since it does not have a sense of itself. It does not have an inner life, it’s just a program that responds automatically to your input. And you can ask this guy anything from what’s the weather going to be like tomorrow to a top 10 casino list, just give it a shot.
The difference between Cleverbot and consciousness
The difference between a conscious human being and Cleverbot is having feelings and the fact that a human has the sense of themselves. But how can a human being detect or be sure of the same thing about another person? Or, in other words, what makes us sure that we’re dealing with other conscious individuals and not just small, more advanced versions of the Cleverbot?
The problem of other minds
In order to answer the previous question, we need to go ahead and ask a completely new one. One that is extremely philosophical by nature but, even so, is very important. Is it possible for something to exist as a philosophical zombie? The philosophical zombie is a thing that reacts and responds just like a normal human being but lacks the feelings. It does not know that it’s having its own thoughts, it just automatically responds to outside stimulus. What’s amazing about this question is that science does not really have an answer. Nor does it have the proper tools for finding an answer.
Even so, by studying patients with anosognosia or the Anton-Babinsky Syndrome we can conclude that there’s some disconnection between what they are experiencing and their conscious awareness of it. And the conclusion is that, without valuable data from its sensors, the brain is forced to create a confabulated response.