Okay, I’m clearly no expert in this field but my geek-oriented mind can read. Also, I believe the topic of consciousness can lend further understanding into our spiritual interactions with God, so it should be of some interest to us as Christians. And while materialists attempt to demonstrate that consciousness comes from physical matter, we have good reason to be skeptical.
We’ve already looked at the logical incoherence of the materialist’s ontology in my series titled, “The Classical Arguments For God.” And, also, why no materialist can be an empiricist. Now, I would like to show why I believe materialism does not satisfactorily explain consciousness and how that relates to our pursuit of artificial sentience.
I’ve also already talked about the problem with some of the materialist’s explanations for consciousness, like panpsychism, in my post titled, “Christ, the Cosmic Mind, and Consciousness.” That post will serve as an explanatory foundation for what I want to share here.
Computers don’t actually compute…we compute
Some theorists imply that an artificial computer comparable in complexity to the human brain and nervous system could achieve something like our conscious states, but as David Bentley Hart says in The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss:
“Unfortunately, the entire theory is an incorrigible confusion of categories, for a very great number of reasons, foremost among them the absolute dependency of all computational processes upon the prior reality of intentional consciousness. I do not mean this simply in the sense that computers and their programs happen to be designed by human minds, which is an important but ancillary issue….I mean rather that—as John Searle has correctly argued—apart from specific representations produced by intentional consciousness, the operations of a computer are merely physical events devoid of meaning.” (p. 217 *)
The problem is, as Hart points out, we’ve become victims of our own computer metaphors:
“We have become so accustomed to speaking of computers as artificial minds and of their operations as thinking that we have forgotten that these are mere figures of speech. We speak of computer memory, for instance, but of course computers recall nothing…. And I do not mean simply that the computers are not aware of the information they contain; I mean that, in themselves, they do not contain any semantic information at all. They are merely the silicon parchment and electrical ink on which we record symbols that possess semantic content only in respect to our intentional representations of their meanings….we have imposed the metaphor of an artificial mind on computers and then reimported the image of a thinking machine and imposed it upon our minds. (ibid, 218 *)
But we may be able to use the computer analogy for consciousness if we have a prior reality of an outside programmer of the algorithms.
We could call this programmer…God.
Our simulation fallacies
Nonetheless, the computer’s ability to simulate brain processes according to pre-programmed algorithms does not create consciousness, as Hart continues:
“The computer, in itself, as an object or a series of physical events, does not contain or produce any symbols at all; its operations are not determined by any semantic content but only by binary sequences that mean nothing in themselves. The visible figures that appear on the computer’s screen are only the electronic traces of sets of binary correlates, and they serve as symbols only when we represent them as such, and assign them intelligible significances….A computer does not even compute. We compute, using it as a tool. The computer could just as well be programmed so that it would respond to the request for the square root of pi with the result “Rupert Bear”; nor would it be wrong to do so, because an ensemble of merely material components and purely physical events can be neither wrong nor right about anything—in fact, it cannot be about anything at all. Software no more “thinks” than a minute hand knows the time or the printed word “pelican” knows what a pelican is.” (ibid, 218-219 *)
Or, as Bernardo Kastrup, whose PhD specialization was in AI, says about this simulation fallacy:
“I can simulate the working of kidneys in my computer…but that won’t make the computer pee on my desk! A simulation of kidneys doesn’t create actual urine.”
I’ve cued up the video clip below where Kastrup talks about the simulation fallacy. As he says, it’s a bit embarrassing to have to explain this to people who dream of creating artificial consciousness just by simulating information flow as measured in real living brains. The simulation isn’t the phenomenon. He says this is what you get from the crazy ontology of materialism.