Human and Machine Consciousness
I have just completed a book that brings together the work that I have been doing on human and machine consciousness over the last ten years. It explains how we can scientifically study human consciousness and make predictions about the consciousness of animals and machines. A first readable draft is available here. I am currently looking for a publisher.
Consciousness is widely perceived as one of the most fundamental, interesting and difficult problems of our time. But we still know next to nothing about the relationship between consciousness and the brain and we can only speculate about the consciousness of animals and machines. Human and Machine Consciousness is a bold interpretation of consciousness that clears away age-old philosophical questions and proposes how consciousness should be studied in the future.
Many people want to know what consciousness is. Gamez makes the surprising claim that our modern concept of consciousness emerged in the 17th Century in response to new scientific theories about the physical world. Our modern concept of consciousness is a container for properties that no longer fit into the physical world, such as colour, taste and smell.
People who think about consciousness often struggle with philosophical problems that have dogged our attempts to study consciousness for hundreds of years. For example, we are often stumped when we try to imagine how our experience of red is linked to neuron activity in the brain. Gamez dissolves these hard problems by explaining how they arise from a misguided reliance on thought experiments and imagination.
The central part of the book presents a compelling account of consciousness science. First we need to obtain detailed measurements of consciousness and the physical world. Then we can look for mathematical relationships in this data. This leads to a new interpretation of consciousness research as a problem of big data and machine learning, which can potentially be solved using the artificial intelligence technologies that are being developed by Google and Facebook.
The last part of the book discusses some applications of this interpretation of consciousness. One major benefit is that it will enable us to make better predictions about the consciousness of brain-damaged patients. This could have a big impact on our diagnosis of coma patients, and in the future it might be possible to repair a personís damaged consciousness. The book also explains how we can make predictions about animal consciousness and resolve the long-standing controversy about the consciousness of a bat. Finally Gamez shows how we can make believable predictions about the consciousness of artificial systems. This could enable us to upload our consciousness into a computer and build conscious machines. Human and Machine Consciousness also provides original insights into unusual conscious experiences, such as hallucinations, religious experiences and out-of-body states, and it demonstrates how 'designer' states of consciousness could be created in the future.
Human and Machine Consciousness explains philosophical problems in a clear non-technical way that closely engages with scientific research. The main text is written in punchy concise prose that is packed with vivid examples. It is an exciting entertaining book that occasionally shocks the reader. Problems are brought to life in colourful illustrations and a summary is given at the end of each chapter. The main text is short and self-contained and it can be read through without referring to the endnotes or bibliography. Readers who want to know more about the philosophy and science of consciousness can consult the endnotes, which provide detailed discussions of individual points and full references to the scientific and philosophical literature.
What We Can Never Know explores the limits of philosophy and science through studies of perception, time, madness and knowledge. Extracts and more information can be found at http://whatwecanneverknow.davidgamez.eu. Copies can be purchased from Amazon.
Philosophy and science are striving to provide a complete account of the world and our position in it. In this original and provocative book David Gamez shows that this project is fatally flawed because some of our best and most successful theories clash with each other or contradict their own basic assumptions. We want to understand everything about the world, but blindspots at the heart of our knowledge will always prevent us from achieving a final and complete description of reality.
The failure of key theories in philosophy and science is demonstrated by Gamez in a series of lively studies that examine perception, time, madness and scepticism. Colourful thought experiments and detailed readings are used to criticize theories in each of these areas and reach a number of surprising conclusions:
- There is no evidence for the brain.
- We cannot talk about time.
- Reason and madness are indistinguishable from each other.
- The world is a labyrinth of conflicting aspects.
What We Can Never Know is written in a lively and engaging style that makes minimal assumptions about the reader's prior experience of philosophy. A fascinating journey through contemporary philosophy and science that will leave you questioning everything that you think you know.
I co-edited What Philosophy Is with Havi Carel and it consists of revised versions of papers presented at the Philosophy As... conference that we co-organised in 2002. More information about this book can be found on the archived version of the Philosophy As... website. What Philosophy Is has been translated into Portuguese (Filosofia Contemporânea em Ação. Porto Alegre: Artmed).
What do we mean when we talk about philosophy today? How does philosophy relate to science, to politics, to literature? What methods does the modern philosopher use, and how does philosophy progress? Does philosophy differ from place to place? What can philosophy do for us? And what can it not do?
This book, with contributions from such exciting and influential contemporary philosophers as Simon Blackburn, Michael Friedman, Simon Critchley and Manuel DeLanda, offers us a fascinating picture of the character and methods of philosophy, its possibilities and its limitations. And of course, it is itself a piece of philosophy in action, not merely offering us answers but also prompting us to ask further questions and to philosophize for ourselves.