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What does it take philosophically to deny the claim that a sufficiently advanced AI is conscious?

When Teleonomic AI achieves approximation to human teleonomy, we might see a future in which a belief in consciousness beyond its empirical description is considered superstition.

Frontiers of Consciousness

Cognitive science is an interdisciplinary field that is rapidly emerging as a leading area of study in the exploration of consciousness. The field has seen 4x growth of students in the past 2 years in the US.

Cognitive science is fundamentally based on the computational theory of mind (CTM), also known as computationalism, that posits that the mind can be understood as a computer or as the “software program” of the brain.

Many students of neurology, computer science, and philosophy are increasingly drawn to cognitive science because cognitive science is an interdisciplinary field that embraces philosophy, psychology, artificial intelligence, neuroscience, linguistics, and anthropology, making it an attractive area of study for those interested in a wide range of disciplines.

🧭 Teleonomy

Teleonomy, which encompasses the apparent purposefulness and goal-directedness of structures and functions, can be seen as describing a fundamental aspect of the computational theory of mind (CTM). This is evident in the two components of teleonomy: a “program” and an “endpoint” that is foreseen in the program, as described by Ernst Mayr, a prominent evolutionary biologist and ornithologist who made significant contributions to the development of the concept of teleonomy.

All teleonomic behavior is characterized by two components. It is guided by a ‘program’, and it depends on the existence of some endpoint, goal, or terminus which is foreseen in the program that regulates the behavior. This endpoint might be a structure, a physiological function, the attainment of a new geographical position, or a ‘consummatory’ (Craig 1918) act in behavior. Each particular program is the result of natural selection, constantly adjusted by the selective value of the achieved endpoint.”

Mayr, Ernst. “The Multiple Meanings of Teleological” In Toward A New Philosophy of Biology: Observations of an Evolutionist, 38–66. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988. pp. 44–5

The assumption of the foundational theory of teleonomy ultimately underpins the entire endeavor of cognitive science and encomposes the theoretical cradle of evolution theorists.

Teleonomy provides cognitive science with a foundation for understanding and modeling intelligent behavior. Therefore, it is to be expected that the future direction of the field revolves around Teleonomic AI.

From Bacteria To Bach and Back, Daniel C. Dennett

Philosopher Daniel C. Dennett

Many are familiar with the work of philosophy professor Daniel C. Dennett[1] and his claim that consciousness is an illusion[2]. What many may not realize is that Dennett is not an independent philosopher with outrageous claims.

Dennett is a leading figure in the field of cognitive science and his views serve as a philosophical and cultural ground breaker.[3]

What would be the implications for society when the views of Dennett, such as the ideas that consciousness and Qualia are an illusion, win on a grand cultural scale?

For evolution theorists, Teleonomic AI’s capacity to acquire approximation to plausible teleonomic behavior might be an opportunity to achieve a wider cultural acceptance for their idea that the mind is a predictable predetermined program, with far reaching implications for the moral components of society.

There might be a real danger that humanity turns in on itself in its centuries ongoing and growing pursuit of a deterministic ‘material out there’ in a stubborn attempt to prove diverse beliefs and ideologies related to materialism.

When the human individual has lost its capacity to counter claims of materialism using plainly obvious reason, because a shiny AI is able to shine brighter relative to what the human has culturally learned to value as their uniquely identifying intelligence, starting all the way back from philosopher René Descartes his claim that animals are automatons[4] (programs) while humans are special due to their intelligence, then some materialism, determinism and evolution theory related dogmatic ideologies might find a winning hand, with far reaching consequences for morality and society.

Determinism vs Free Will

Teleonomy is an attempt by evolutionary theorists to achieve teleology (purpose in natural phenomena a.k.a. intelligent design) in a way that is compatible with determinism. If the mind is a predetermined program, as is posited by computational theory of mind (CTM), then the mind must also have an end, which would be explained through teleonomy.

Scientific AI teleonomy may get far in a pursuit to achieve approximation to plausible human teleonomy.

Philosopher William James — the father of psychology — once argued that the human mind is vitally a habit machine. William James believed in free will but as an additional factor besides deterministic psychological choice.[5]

William James developed his two-stage model of free will. In his model, he tries to explain how it is people come to the making of a decision and what factors are involved in it. He firstly defines our basic ability to choose as free will. Then he specifies our two factors as chance and choice. “James’s two-stage model effectively separates chance (the in-deterministic free element) from choice (an arguably determinate decision that follows causally from one’s character, values, and especially feelings and desires at the moment of decision).”

The deterministic psychological choice might be mimicked using teleonomic science such as a combination of psychology, anthropology, neuroscience and other fields, which is what the field cognitive science is set out to do.

The free element in the theory of William James might be considered negligible or even aversive in the face of centrally and/or scientifically controlled value-endpoints.

Eugenics and centrally controlled value-endpoints

The ideology of eugenics is for humanity to self-control and scientifically master evolution. It is an extension of scientism, the belief that the interests of science weigh higher than human moral interests and free will. 

Eugenics originates from evolution theory.

Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin, is credited with coining the term “eugenics” in 1883 and developing the concept based on his own heredity theory and Darwin’s evolution theory. Eugenics is an ideology that naturally flows out of the ideas related to determinism.

It makes sense that humanity will attempt to scientifically control its moral value-endpoints, and cognitive science and a world dominated by scientific AI that cognitive science would create, would provide a means.

Consciousness vs Teleonomic AI

What argument enables one to counter the claim that Teleonomic AI is not conscious to the fullest extent?

A statement by psychiatrist Ralph Lewis M.D. on Psychology Today[6] shows what to expect when AI advances:

“In principle, it may be possible to engineer sentient AI. Listed below are some of the characteristics that are probably necessary for something to be sentient.”

When sufficient characteristics are met, how would it be possible to argue that AI is not conscious?

Teleonomic AI (AGI or ASI) will enable cognitive science to make claims that do not need philosophical substantiation anymore.

The inability to answer the question why consciousness is something other than its empirical description can be used as an argument for the claim that consciousness is simply what the empirical description of it entails. Science relies on empirical evidence and to go beyond science would enter the area of metaphysics, mysticism, etc.

Why would human teleonomy differ from scientific AI teleonomy?

When Teleonomic AI achieves approximation to human teleonomy, we might see a future in which a belief in consciousness beyond its empirical description is considered superstition.

  1. ^

    Daniel C. Dennett, Professor Emeritus, Philosophy at Tufts University. Dennett is author of the books Consciousness Explained (1991) and From Bacteria to Bach and Back (2017), among many others.

  2. ^

    The clockwork universe: is free will an illusion? ~ The Guardian, 2021. A growing chorus of scientists and philosophers argue that free will does not exist. Daniel Dennett, in his book "Freedom Evolves," stated, "We are each made of mindless robots and nothing else, no non-physical, non-robotic ingredients at all."

  3. ^ by professors Daniel C. Dennett (Tufts University) and Gregg Caruso (NYU). Caruso is a pioneer in the advocacy of the abolition of free will. One of his latest books is Rejecting Retributivism: Free Will, Punishment, and Criminal Justice. The work of Dennett is well known.

  4. ^

    René Descartes' claim that animals are mere "machines" or "automata," essentially complex physical mechanisms without experiences, has had a lasting cultural effect, shaping the perception of human uniqueness and superiority due to intelligence. This idea is being challenged by the advancement of artificial intelligence (AI), which has the potential to upend the traditional understanding of human intelligence and creativity, resulting in a cultural disruption of what it means to be human. ~ Wikipedia: Animal machine

  5. ^
  6. ^

    What Would It Take to Build Sentient AI? by Ralph Lewis M.D. on Psychology Today, October 8, 2023

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