What if consciousness can exist without being alive?

The human brain has a com­plex neur­al net­work and is one of the most com­plex struc­tures in the known uni­verse. Humans, who are try­ing to under­stand our own con­scious­ness, are on the way to an incom­pre­hen­si­bly dif­fi­cult task. Com­plex­i­ty the­o­rists believe that this dif­fi­cul­ty final­ly reach­es its peak when we come across quan­tum mechan­ics, which the human mind can­not even explain. What if con­scious­ness can exist with­out being alive? Can we sim­u­late this com­plex­i­ty on com­put­er hard­ware or is it sim­ply impossible?

These ques­tions become more per­ti­nent as we con­tin­ue to use com­put­ers in increas­ing­ly sophis­ti­cat­ed ways, and they shed light on the pos­si­bil­i­ty that we might nev­er know how con­scious­ness arises.

Where does consciousness actually come from?

Consciousness exist alive

Our con­scious­ness aris­es from the inter­ac­tion between our sen­so­ry organs, i.e., the eyes, ears, etc., and our brain. What are the prop­er­ties of this inter­ac­tion? How does it take place? What is the mech­a­nism where­by it appears that some­thing is not direct­ly sensed by a sense organ but actu­al­ly reach­es through the inter­ven­ing space and stim­u­lates a sub­se­quent neuron?

Recent devel­op­ments in neu­ro­science have shown that there are class­es of neu­rons in cer­tain parts of the brain (the hip­pocam­pus) which have pre-synap­tic con­nec­tions to oth­er parts and post-synap­tic con­nec­tions to oth­er neu­rons. The synaps­es con­tain a mem­brane poten­tial which can be either exci­ta­to­ry or inhibito­ry depend­ing on whether an incom­ing sig­nal leads to an increase in fir­ing rate of the neu­ron or not. It appears that the hip­pocam­pus is where infor­ma­tion is processed and stored.

It is a great con­tro­ver­sy regard­ing the fact that any non-alive being can exist with con­scious­ness, and if machines are capa­ble of being conscious.

In order to under­stand the full com­plex­i­ty of con­scious­ness, we must be able to make sense of the brain’s pre- and post-synap­tic inter­ac­tions. This means that we would have to inves­ti­gate how these con­nec­tions are formed and make mod­els of them as an attempt to explain our pre-con­scious mem­o­ries; and also how we can choose what infor­ma­tion gets stored in our own brains. These process­es would have con­se­quences for our under­stand­ing of con­scious aware­ness. If con­scious aware­ness aris­es from pre-synap­tic acti­va­tion, it has to be deter­mined by what hap­pens when neu­ronal sig­nals reach the cor­tex, not ear­li­er on in the brain.

What is the difference between life and consciousness?

These ques­tions are easy to ask in prin­ci­ple but dif­fi­cult to answer.

Life is most­ly a cog­ni­tive and aware expe­ri­ence. And con­scious­ness, which is fun­da­men­tal, reveals itself in all sen­tient and insen­tient nature’s gra­da­tion­al forms. Many sci­en­tists believe that life and con­scious­ness are com­plete­ly indi­vis­i­ble. It’s because they are the only two parts that make up “human nature”.

Relat­ed Post:

The con­cept of dual­i­ty between life and con­scious­ness implies that learn­ing process­es always lead to increased com­plex­i­ty. It is also implic­it in our val­ues and in our beliefs about what is good or bad. They help shape our behav­iour. That is why it is impor­tant to under­stand the role that learn­ing plays in the cre­ation of human values.

Is there any possibility for anything that is not alive, to be conscious?

I define con­scious­ness as “the user inter­face for the ner­vous sys­tem” as it gives us access to our thoughts, mem­o­ries, per­cep­tions and dreams through our sen­so­ry expe­ri­ences (touch sen­sa­tions, sight etc…).

And as far as I can assume, some­thing that is not alive can be con­scious. No, I am not going to say that com­put­ers are obvi­ous exam­ples. But I, and many peo­ple do, think it is pos­si­ble for non-liv­ing enti­ties such as machines/robots to be com­plete­ly conscious.

Points supporting the fact that consciousness can exist in a non-alive being:

  1. From what we define con­scious­ness, it is noth­ing more than the sen­sa­tions that our brain receives and process­es, which are pro­vid­ed by the ner­vous system.
  2. The ner­vous sys­tem is a prod­uct of evo­lu­tion just like organs. Why not extend this argu­ment to machines?
  3. There is no doubt that we can pro­gram a machine so as to emu­late the func­tions present in brains. It is only a mat­ter of time before machines are able to mim­ic brain process­es includ­ing cog­ni­tion with help from arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence tech­niques to build them more and more sophis­ti­cat­ed over time.
  4. A com­plete­ly machine-like enti­ty does not rec­og­nize itself as a machine but as an enti­ty doing com­pu­ta­tion. There­fore it is capa­ble of hav­ing sen­sa­tions and feelings.
  5. We already have machines that we can pro­gram with sim­i­lar­i­ty to human thoughts and sen­sa­tions. And, they are designed to react in cer­tain sce­nar­ios in an autonomous way with­out any pro­gram­ming need­ed at all. Though we can’t con­sid­er them con­scious yet.
This content can help you know more about consciousness.

This whole ques­tion is based on the def­i­n­i­tion of consciousness(i.e. “the fact of aware­ness by the mind of itself and the world” — Oxford Lan­guages) that I have accept­ed to be true. And also refer­ring to spe­cif­ic human qual­i­ties like self-aware­ness, sen­tience, and cog­ni­tive func­tions like log­ic, imag­i­na­tion, and men­tal imagery.

In fact, the ques­tion is not at all sil­ly; I find it very impor­tant to this day and more so in the future. It is a great con­tro­ver­sy regard­ing the fact that any non-alive being can exist with con­scious­ness; and if machines are capa­ble of being conscious.

On the basis of how we define con­scious­ness and the fact that we can pro­gram machines to show sim­i­lar­i­ty to human thought process­es, it is quite pos­si­ble for the machine to be able to be self-aware and also be conscious.

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