Free Will

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Eebster the Great
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Re: Free Will

Postby Eebster the Great » Thu May 18, 2017 2:09 am UTC

tomandlu wrote:I guess what I'm trying to come to terms with is the idea that consciousness could arise in some extended Chinese room scenario, and that to me seems counter-intuitive. At the same time, any other view seems to insinuate some meta-physical quality to consciousness, which I also find unreasonable.

I may be off-base here, but it seems to me like the processes that generate consciousness are, to some extent, introspective (though not necessarily the way we imagine them to be). In other words, there is a level of perception and analysis of the mind's own contents that produces the sense of self. This seems like the very thing people mean when they talk about the difference between their experience of consciousness and what goes on in the Chinese Room.

But there is no reason we couldn't create an introspective AI or that our brains could not have physical networks that are introspective; in fact, in both cases, that is what you would expect.

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Re: Free Will

Postby Copper Bezel » Thu May 18, 2017 5:26 am UTC

I think the Chinese Room poses an important question, but an answerable one. In a sense, it's just abstracting the problem of consciousness away into absurdity. To me, the best response, although I don't remember the talk where I heard it, is to extend the Chinese Room from a computer into a brain: instead of one man in a room, give everyone on Earth a cell phone with a list of contacts, and have them text along the messages they receive to a specified list of recipients. You could create a (very slow) simulation of a brain this way, with each individual doing the job of a single neuron.

Or 505, for that matter.

Inserting a human into the process who has to push the buttons raises questions about the medium of consciousness, but I really don't think they're very hard ones. The pattern of interactions is the mind, regardless of the medium.

Not going to get into the "consciousness" semantics as I think it's high-grade equivocation. A very small part of a mind has anything to do with consciousness anyway.
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Re: Free Will

Postby Meteoric » Thu May 18, 2017 6:17 am UTC

The other problem with the Chinese Room is that lookup tables are so incredibly bad for the task that you'd need something closer to a world-sized supercomputer rather than a guy in a room with a book, and "it's just a world-sized supercomputer feeding you responses based on the contents of its massive databanks" doesn't really feel like a slam-dunk case of non-consciousness.
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Re: Free Will

Postby Soupspoon » Thu May 18, 2017 10:37 am UTC

Imma gonna mention David Brin's Earth here, for reasons that those who read it may realise. (If my 27 year old memories of my own doing so are not malformed... Hey, we're about half way to its hypothetical setting, aren't we?)

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Re: Free Will

Postby doogly » Thu May 18, 2017 12:23 pm UTC

The Chinese Room is the dumbest shit. Of course that room is conscious. If you think "Things that perform computations aren't real, like me, I'm real, I'm the best and most authentic," you need to not choose examples that beg the question so egregiously and transparently, and you need to study more Turing and Roddenberry.
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Re: Free Will

Postby tomandlu » Thu May 18, 2017 1:46 pm UTC

doogly wrote:The Chinese Room is the dumbest shit. Of course that room is conscious. If you think "Things that perform computations aren't real, like me, I'm real, I'm the best and most authentic," you need to not choose examples that beg the question so egregiously and transparently, and you need to study more Turing and Roddenberry.


So, you think a genuine consciousness arises? And not just something that behaves identically to a conscious mind but might have no self-awareness?
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Re: Free Will

Postby ucim » Thu May 18, 2017 2:00 pm UTC

tomandlu wrote:So, you think a genuine consciousness arises? And not just something that behaves identically to a conscious mind but might have no self-awareness?
Well, I certainly do.

You are looking at the Chinese room the wrong way. Let's look at the brain the same wrong way: Is the third neuron to the left conscious? What about the twenty seventh one up top, twelve layers deep? Each individual neuron is just a dumb box "pressing buttons" based on relative levels of ions in its immediate environment. Consciousness does not involve the individual neuron, nor (in the Chinese room) does it involve the dumb person on the inside who presses buttons based on a lookup table. Rather, it emerges from the pattern of the relationships of the neurons, or the patterns in the data in the lookup table.

The thing that makes a thing a thing isn't the thing, it's the way the thing is put together.

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Re: Free Will

Postby doogly » Thu May 18, 2017 2:12 pm UTC

tomandlu wrote:And not just something that behaves identically to a conscious mind but might have no self-awareness?

I do not see that there is such a category in which a chinese room or anything else might be potentially placed.
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Re: Free Will

Postby tomandlu » Thu May 18, 2017 2:23 pm UTC

ucim wrote:
tomandlu wrote:So, you think a genuine consciousness arises? And not just something that behaves identically to a conscious mind but might have no self-awareness?
Well, I certainly do. And what do you mean "behaves identically but is different"? That's rubbish.


Is it? I thought it was one of the classic puzzles of AI. I mean think about the film, Ex Machina. At the end, neither we nor any of the protagonists know whether Ava is actually conscious or just behaving as though she were. Even the Turing test acknowledges this (if I understand it correctly) - it doesn't ask "can this machine think?", it asks, "can I tell the difference?"

You are looking at the Chinese room the wrong way...


I don't think so (at least, there was nothing in what you wrote that I disagree with), but I am struggling to conceptualise where consciousness could 'sit' in a process that could, in theory, be reduced to shuffling bits of paper around. Of course, one might ask the same question of a brain...
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Re: Free Will

Postby Copper Bezel » Thu May 18, 2017 2:37 pm UTC

What would it entail to behave as if you're conscious, but not be? If you're not aware of your surroundings, you can't pretend to be. You can have something that creates the appearance of something in certain contexts - an illusion - but as you add in all the properties of the original thing, it eventually just becomes that thing.
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Re: Free Will

Postby doogly » Thu May 18, 2017 3:01 pm UTC

tomandlu wrote:Even the Turing test acknowledges this (if I understand it correctly) - it doesn't ask "can this machine think?", it asks, "can I tell the difference?"

But the reason why he asks this is because that is the correct question to be asking.
Turing is coming at this from an ethical perspective. He wants to know, how should we treat an AI? There's also a philosophy of mind question, are these notions actually the same, and I do think they are, but even if they aren't, the ethical question is more interesting because that determines what our own behavior ought to be.

I like this post here, and the parts about Turing's moral heroism give me goosebumps. This is greatness.
http://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=63
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Re: Free Will

Postby tomandlu » Thu May 18, 2017 3:35 pm UTC

doogly wrote:I like this post here, and the parts about Turing's moral heroism give me goosebumps. This is greatness.
http://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=63


Thanks for that - an excellent read. I have to admit, I laughed out loud at the "Jews cheat" anecdote.
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Re: Free Will

Postby ucim » Thu May 18, 2017 3:42 pm UTC

tomandlu wrote:At the end, neither we nor any of the protagonists know whether Ava is actually conscious or just behaving as though she were.
I haven't seen the film, but I'd ask you what the difference was, and would (myself) say there was none. You can't do everything required to have a property and not have that property. That's what "having that property" means.
tomandlu wrote:...Of course, one might ask the same question of a brain...
Exactly dead on. (Apply to the forehead). Why do you think a brain is conscious? The only thing you know is conscious is you, yourself, and not because you have a brain, but because you are the (grammatical) first person. What argument do you have that I am conscious?

Edit: Upon reading doogly's link above, I see that the above is essentially the "Jews cheat" anecdote. GMTA.

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Re: Free Will

Postby WibblyWobbly » Thu May 18, 2017 4:01 pm UTC

tomandlu wrote:
doogly wrote:I like this post here, and the parts about Turing's moral heroism give me goosebumps. This is greatness.
http://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=63


Thanks for that - an excellent read. I have to admit, I laughed out loud at the "Jews cheat" anecdote.

I also enjoyed the article. An aside:
Spoiler:
Something that caught me: the author quotes Halpern as saying in his essay that the status of von Neumann and Fermi is "one step below that of immortals like Newton and Einstein". Is anyone else here of the opinion that clearly von Neumann is at least of the same level, and that Fermi is only arguably a step back if you're a disagreeable jackass? Or is it just me?

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Re: Free Will

Postby doogly » Thu May 18, 2017 4:09 pm UTC

Fermi and von Neumann are definitely tier zero.
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Re: Free Will

Postby SDK » Thu May 18, 2017 4:18 pm UTC

Pretty sure he was talking about popularity and common knowledge there. Einstein, Newton, Edison, Galileo, Stephen Hawking... there are only a handful of scientists that are as well known as Brad Pitt.

Fermi and von Neumann aren't among them.
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Re: Free Will

Postby tomandlu » Thu May 18, 2017 4:21 pm UTC

WibblyWobbly wrote:Is anyone else here of the opinion that clearly von Neumann is at least of the same level, and that Fermi is only arguably a step back if you're a disagreeable jackass? Or is it just me?


I wouldn't take that as a comment on their abilities or even their contribution; more on general awareness of them. I you ask a random person to name some famous scientists, they'll probably come up with Einstein, Darwin, and Newton, and probably never name Fermi or von Neumann.
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Re: Free Will

Postby WibblyWobbly » Thu May 18, 2017 4:31 pm UTC

Probably true, but I read it as though the context was how people in the AI community view the status of Alan Turing - i.e., this isn't a question of who is the most popular pop scientist that your Aunt Ethel knows about, but rather an evaluation by people who work in the field for a living.

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Re: Free Will

Postby gmalivuk » Thu May 18, 2017 5:19 pm UTC

tomandlu wrote:
ucim wrote:
tomandlu wrote:So, you think a genuine consciousness arises? And not just something that behaves identically to a conscious mind but might have no self-awareness?
Well, I certainly do. And what do you mean "behaves identically but is different"? That's rubbish.


Is it? I thought it was one of the classic puzzles of AI.
Nah, it's just one of the classic objections filthy dualists throw out against the notion that our brains might be purely physical.
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Re: Free Will

Postby Eebster the Great » Thu May 18, 2017 7:28 pm UTC

The Turing Test is just a sort of rule of thumb. I don't think a program that can convince you it is a person through a single casual conversation necessarily is. You might want a more rigorous test than that.

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Re: Free Will

Postby Sizik » Thu May 18, 2017 7:36 pm UTC

Eebster the Great wrote:The Turing Test is just a sort of rule of thumb. I don't think a program that can convince you it is a person through a single casual conversation necessarily is. You might want a more rigorous test than that.


Preferably one that would also filter out P-zombies.
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Re: Free Will

Postby Eebster the Great » Thu May 18, 2017 7:39 pm UTC

Sizik wrote:
Eebster the Great wrote:The Turing Test is just a sort of rule of thumb. I don't think a program that can convince you it is a person through a single casual conversation necessarily is. You might want a more rigorous test than that.


Preferably one that would also filter out P-zombies.

No, I'm serious. There is no contradiction in believing an algorithm could carry on a believable conversation in certain cases without having all the other properties we assume of a person. Conversations don't require you to make any decisions about how to actually act, and action is the only way we can ultimately demonstrate a semantic connection between the words and the environment. If I ask a program what bread is, and it demonstrates its understanding by bringing me a piece of bread, that's different from one who gives me a definition for bread. I would expect a person to be able to do both.

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Re: Free Will

Postby doogly » Thu May 18, 2017 7:57 pm UTC

But no fair being more rigorous when you know you're being asked to give someone a Turing test than when you normally decide whether or not to treat some entity as a conscious being. Like if they come at you covered in skin and with a face, you don't get to slack off.
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Re: Free Will

Postby Eebster the Great » Thu May 18, 2017 8:02 pm UTC

doogly wrote:But no fair being more rigorous when you know you're being asked to give someone a Turing test than when you normally decide whether or not to treat some entity as a conscious being. Like if they come at you covered in skin and with a face, you don't get to slack off.

Everything I have ever met that looks convincingly like a living human has been conscious, so while I will not rule out the possibility that some of them aren't conscious, when I see one, I will assume that it is a human until shown otherwise. Everything I have ever met that looks convincingly like a machine has not been conscious, so while I will not rule out the possibility that some of them are conscious, I will assume that it is not until shown otherwise. A Turing Test is very weak evidence one way or the other. By the same token, if I meet a person who cannot carry on a conversation, that will not convince me they are not conscious either.

The whole point of having a test is the ability to delineate between persons and non-persons. If the Turing Test fails to make this distinction, you don't get to just say "well you don't usually bother to test people anyways, now do you?"

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Re: Free Will

Postby Sizik » Thu May 18, 2017 8:07 pm UTC

Eebster the Great wrote:
Sizik wrote:
Eebster the Great wrote:The Turing Test is just a sort of rule of thumb. I don't think a program that can convince you it is a person through a single casual conversation necessarily is. You might want a more rigorous test than that.


Preferably one that would also filter out P-zombies.

No, I'm serious. There is no contradiction in believing an algorithm could carry on a believable conversation in certain cases without having all the other properties we assume of a person. Conversations don't require you to make any decisions about how to actually act, and action is the only way we can ultimately demonstrate a semantic connection between the words and the environment. If I ask a program what bread is, and it demonstrates its understanding by bringing me a piece of bread, that's different from one who gives me a definition for bread. I would expect a person to be able to do both.

I kid, I kid.
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Re: Free Will

Postby gmalivuk » Thu May 18, 2017 8:21 pm UTC

Eebster the Great wrote:
Everything I have ever met that looks convincingly like a living human has been conscious

[citation needed]
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Re: Free Will

Postby Eebster the Great » Thu May 18, 2017 10:15 pm UTC

Is there a point here? I agree there are behaviors we can use to justify a conclusion of consciousness. I disagree that the ability to make conversation is either necessary or sufficient. Nobody wants to argue that, just make random cheap shots.

Would you really argue that a human who cannot hold a conversation is probably not conscious?

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Re: Free Will

Postby gmalivuk » Thu May 18, 2017 10:42 pm UTC

How about every other member of this forum? Do you assume they're conscious? On what basis?

Doogly's point about skin and a face aside, you decide people are conscious all the time based on nothing more than conversation.
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Re: Free Will

Postby Eebster the Great » Fri May 19, 2017 1:11 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:How about every other member of this forum? Do you assume they're conscious? On what basis?

Doogly's point about skin and a face aside, you decide people are conscious all the time based on nothing more than conversation.

And I could theoretically be mistaken, but seeing as there is not yet any AI that I know of which is capable of producing convincing conversation, that is a completely reasonable determination. It's not that I think this is true because I have defined conversational beings as conscious but because all conversational beings I am aware of do in fact happen to be conscious. But I think the concept of an artificial intelligence which has rudimentary conversational skills but no semantic understanding at all is entirely coherent and even likely in the near future, and I would not consider that conscious at all.

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Re: Free Will

Postby ucim » Fri May 19, 2017 3:26 am UTC

Eebster the Great wrote:Everything I have ever met that looks convincingly like a living human has been conscious, so...
How do you know?

You don't. You haven't a clue as to whether they are conscious or just zombies. You are assuming that they are conscious, probably because they look sufficiently like you. In other words, you are assuming the consequent. Alternatively stated, that's a case of begging the question. In essence, you are starting with the conclusion you wish to derive.

Similarly, you don't know that the machines you have met are not conscious. You like the assumption, so you make it, accept it as the Truth, and use this as your method of determining whether machines are conscious or not.

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Re: Free Will

Postby Eebster the Great » Fri May 19, 2017 3:43 am UTC

I thought we had moved on to tests for consciousness, but I guess we're just moving in circles.

Yeah, I get that consciousness is difficult to define. But I absolutely reject the idea that it is impossible to prove. For instance, I don't buy that you think it is likely people you know are actually p-zombies (whatever that might actually mean) or that we assume they are not merely as a matter of convenience.

If there is a clear definition of consciousness, it will relate to the way humans think about the world, as evidenced by a variety of behaviors including self-reported experiences. I don't have a detailed definition, but that doesn't mean the whole thing is hopeless and arbitrary and an abacus is just as conscious as you are. A retreat to solipsism is not a new or useful approach.
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Re: Free Will

Postby Meteoric » Fri May 19, 2017 4:02 am UTC

Eebster the Great wrote:The Turing Test is just a sort of rule of thumb. I don't think a program that can convince you it is a person through a single casual conversation necessarily is. You might want a more rigorous test than that.

A simple example of the point: a program with a fixed output that just happens to make the other half of a conversation should probably not be considered conscious.
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Re: Free Will

Postby Copper Bezel » Fri May 19, 2017 4:06 am UTC

ucim wrote:
Eebster the Great wrote:Everything I have ever met that looks convincingly like a living human has been conscious, so...
How do you know?

You don't. You haven't a clue as to whether they are conscious or just zombies. You are assuming that they are conscious, probably because they look sufficiently like you. In other words, you are assuming the consequent. Alternatively stated, that's a case of begging the question. In essence, you are starting with the conclusion you wish to derive.

Similarly, you don't know that the machines you have met are not conscious. You like the assumption, so you make it, accept it as the Truth, and use this as your method of determining whether machines are conscious or not.

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Come on. Our only reference for consciousness is our own subjective experience. It doesn't matter what the method, identifying it in others will always be by analogy with ourselves.
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Re: Free Will

Postby Eebster the Great » Fri May 19, 2017 4:22 am UTC

Meteoric wrote:
Eebster the Great wrote:The Turing Test is just a sort of rule of thumb. I don't think a program that can convince you it is a person through a single casual conversation necessarily is. You might want a more rigorous test than that.

A simple example of the point: a program with a fixed output that just happens to make the other half of a conversation should probably not be considered conscious.

Sure, another example would be a chat program with an extremely limited repertoire of sentences that it feeds back to you based on some simple rules, most of which are non sequiturs, insults, and arrogant refusals to answer questions. If done cleverly enough, such a program might be able to convince you it was a real troll without much complexity at all.

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Re: Free Will

Postby ucim » Fri May 19, 2017 4:51 am UTC

Eebster the Great wrote:Yeah, I get that consciousness is difficult to define. But I absolutely reject the idea that it is impossible to prove.
It's impossible to prove unless it has been defined. You can go in either direction, but you need them for each other.
Eebster the Great wrote:...I don't buy that you think it is likely people you know are actually p-zombies...
No, I'm not going to assume the consequent.
Eebster the Great wrote:If there is a clear definition of consciousness, it will relate to the way humans think about the world...
No, not at all. It will probably start there, because it's easier. But the whole point of this is to move on to non-humans, to wit, machines, and expand (or fail to expand) the definition enough to include (or exclude) them. To do that, we need to know what we're talking about. And not just "well, you know... 'our kind' (wink wink nudge nudge)".

We need to think of the components of consciousness independently of the entity purporting to have it.

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Re: Free Will

Postby Eebster the Great » Fri May 19, 2017 5:17 am UTC

I didn't say the definition would depend on humans specifically, just that it would relate to them, because that would obviously be what motivates the definition. What else could?

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Re: Free Will

Postby Copper Bezel » Fri May 19, 2017 6:15 am UTC

ucim wrote:But the whole point of this is to move on to non-humans, to wit, machines, and expand (or fail to expand) the definition enough to include (or exclude) them. To do that, we need to know what we're talking about. And not just "well, you know... 'our kind' (wink wink nudge nudge)".

What's the point? It's not going to be significant on any moral axis, for instance. If your definition for consciousness contradicts our moral intuitions about what counts as a "person" in one direction or the other, we'll just decide that "consciousness" isn't the deciding factor and default to another axis on which to define "our kind". It's exactly as irrelevant as the solipsistic nonsense it's a product of.
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Re: Free Will

Postby tomandlu » Fri May 19, 2017 11:22 am UTC

Latest thoughts and musings:

  1. The Turing test cannot distinguish between a conscious AI and a p-Zombie
  2. However, there is a very good case to make that a genuine p-Zombie would be harder to create than an actual AI

Moving on, I'm wondering if some of the debate is bogged down by over-emphasising the role of intelligence. 'Qualia' might be a better focus than consciousness per se, which carries with it connotations of introspection. A recent New Scientist highlighted some recent studies that indicate that the best test for whether a particular organism is conscious or not might be the simple question - "does it have serotonin receptors?" (which means that chordates, arthropods and molluscs are all conscious, but not echinoderms or roundworms, etc.)
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Re: Free Will

Postby Liri » Fri May 19, 2017 12:13 pm UTC

tomandlu wrote:A recent New Scientist highlighted some recent studies that indicate that the best test for whether a particular organism is conscious or not might be the simple question - "does it have serotonin receptors?" (which means that chordates, arthropods and molluscs are all conscious, but not echinoderms or roundworms, etc.)

I like that, since it emphasizes that consciousness, like other things that we think humans are hot shit at, is a difference of degree, not kind. Assuming humans continue to slip past various crises, the species that descend from us a million, ten million years from now could be heaps more "conscious" than we are.

Edit: here's a New Yorker article profiling Daniel Dennet.
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Re: Free Will

Postby gmalivuk » Fri May 19, 2017 12:51 pm UTC

For the record, I agree that a single apparently coherent text conversation isn't enough to determine consciousness. I also agree that Bayes should inform our initial assumptions as always.

However, a prolonged series of conversations about a range of topics is very strong evidence of consciousness, and importantly, this doesn't mean the lack of such a conversation is strong evidence against consciousness.

Eebster seems to have made that mistake twice, once when askingwwhether we thought a person incapable of conversation wasn't conscious, and again when asking whether ucim assumes people are p-zombies. Even if I thought a single conversation could prove consciousness, it wouldn't mean I thought a failed conversation disproved it.
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