The Hard Problem of Consciousness – David Chalmers on The Artificial Intelligence Podcast, Hosted By Lex Fridman

Check out The Artificial Intelligence Podcast Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • David doesn’t rule out the fact that we’re living in a simulation
    • After all, if a simulation were designed well enough, it’d be indistinguishable from a non-simulated reality
  • The different types of consciousness:
    • Access consciousness: being able to access information from your mind
    • Reflective consciousness: being able to think about yourself
    • Phenomenal consciousness: the subjective experience that we’re feeling anything at all
  • You don’t need universal consciousness (God) to give the world meaning when you have local consciousness (yourself) to give the world meaning (but without consciousness, life has no meaning)
    • “Consciousness is the source, in my view, of the meaning of life, but I wouldn’t say consciousness itself is the meaning of life. What’s meaningful in life is basically what we find meaningful or what we experience as meaningful.” – David Chalmers
  • “The meaning of life is where you find it” – David Chalmers

Intro

  • David Chalmers is an Australian philosopher and cognitive scientist specializing in the philosophy of mind and language
  • Host: Lex Fridman (@lexfridman)

Books Mentioned

Are We Living in A Simulation?

  • “I don’t rule it out” – David Chalmers
    • If a simulation were designed well enough, it would be indistinguishable from a non-simulated reality
      • Even evidence of a nonsimulation could be simulated!
  • The way we experience the world is an over-simplified version of what’s actually happening
    • (There are atoms, quantum waves functions, and superstrings that we don’t see)
  • There’s no reason for a universe that’s simulating our universe to be similar to ours
  • Humans, as a species, only recently became advanced enough to develop language and culture
    • We’re just at the beginning of that on the evolutionary threshold … We’re just at the very beginning for what’s possible.” – David Chalmers
  • One theory: A superintelligence species created our universe as a simulation for entertainment, much like we currently watch Netflix for entertainment
    • Another theory: This superintelligence species creates simulations for enjoyment, just as humans create babies
  • Pondering further, if we’re talking simulations, it has to be easier to simulate the brain than the universe as a whole (because the brain is part of the universe)
    • A question to think about: If you simulated the brain, would you get all the things that come with it (i..e, consciousness, thinking, free will, etc.)?
      • David says yes
        • (It’s important to note that, as advanced as humans are, we still don’t understand consciousness)
  • Or… Perhaps our lives are just a super complex dream in the next universe!

Virtual Reality (VR)

  • “Right now, in virtual worlds, the mind is somehow outside the world, but you could imagine, in the future, once we develop serious AI—artificial general intelligence—then we could come to enter virtual worlds with enough sophistication to allow one to actually stimulate a brain”David Chalmers
  • Video games are already quite immersive—people feel as if they’re in another world; this feeling will only get stronger
  • When people play video games (whether VR is involved or not) they tend to adopt different character avatars and personalities
    • People will likely adopt different genders, races, and social backgrounds virtual worlds become more popular

What is Consciousness?

  • “The kind of consciousness that I’m interested in is basically subjective experience—what it feels like from the inside to be a human being”David Chalmers
  • Different types of consciousness:
    • Access consciousness: being able to access information from your mind
    • Reflective consciousness: being able to think about yourself
    • Phenomenal consciousness: the subjective experience that we’re feeling anything at all
  • Humans can create consciousness machines—they’re called babies—but we don’t know how consciousness is created
  • Interesting questions to think about:
    • Do animals have consciousness?
      • (Some people argue that insects and plants have consciousness)
    • When did humans develop consciousness? 
    • Do particles have consciousness?
      • “Physics tells us about how a particle relates to other particles and interacts; it doesn’t tell us about what the particle is itself” – David Chalmers
  • The easy problem of consciousness is behavior; the hard problem is subject experience
    • “It’s hard to see how existing physics is going to give you a full explanation of that” – David Chalmers
  • If consciousness developed at a certain point in time, it would be useful to know when that event took place
  • “No one knows what consciousness is for functionally. So, right now, there’s no specific thing you can point to and say, ‘You need consciousness for that.’”David Chalmers
    • This is why consciousness needs to be taken seriously—no one understands how it works

 God & the Meaning of Life

  • David isn’t religious and doesn’t consider himself an expert on God by any means
  • The deep question in religion: what are people looking for when they’re praying to God?
    • Most likely, they’re are seeking a sense of meaning and a connection to something greater than themselves
  • David believes you don’t need universal consciousness (God) to give the world meaning when you have local consciousness (yourself) to give the world meaning
    • But, without consciousness, life has no meaning
      • “Consciousness is the source, in my view, of the meaning of life, but I wouldn’t say consciousness itself is the meaning of life. What’s meaningful in life is basically what we find meaningful or what we experience as meaningful.”David Chalmers
  • Meaning comes from what you value in life—there’s no universal answer
    • If you find meaning and value in intellectual work, then, for you, that’s the meaning of life
    • “The meaning of life is where you find it” – David Chalmers
      • But: “Without consciousness, there really wouldn’t be any value”

Questions About the Illusion of Consciousness

  • If humans can create robots with consciousness, will how we treat them matter?
    • Can a robot with consciousness suffer?
    • Will robots have rights similar to animal rights?
    • Will robots with consciousness become their own species and have civil rights?
  • How can humans test if a machine is conscious or not?
    • If something is puzzled about the existence of consciousness, that’s a good sign the system is conscious, but it could also be an illusion
      • Perhaps a robot can be designed to trick humans into believing it is conscious
  • Are clones conscious?
    • Most likely, but hopefully, the original version has more rights than the clone

Do Humans Have Free Will?

  • “It depends on what you mean … If you mean something which wasn’t determined in advance and could never have been determined, then I don’t know if we have free will” David Chalmers
  • David believes in compatibilism: the belief that free will and determinism are mutually compatible and that it’s possible to believe in both without being logically inconsistent
    • “I can’t see any reason in principle why an AI system couldn’t have a free will of that kind” – David Chalmers

Additional Notes

  • David used to have synesthesia, the ability to see colors when songs are played, but it went away in his 20s
  • A world without intelligent life would be a moral disaster—all value and meaning would likely be gone
  • If superintelligence or artificial general intelligence is developed, it would likely have consciousness 
  • In the future, when people can upload their brains to a computer system, the line between human and machine will be hard to draw
  • If David could hang out with one philosopher from the past, he’d choose René Descartes
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Notes By Alex Wiec

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