How can you tell if another person, animal or thing is conscious? + Category mistakes

How can you tell if another person, animal or thing is conscious? Try these 3 tests

INTRO (Tam Hunt): How can you know that any animal, other human beings, or anything that seems conscious, isn’t just faking it? Does it enjoy an internal subjective experience, complete with sensations and emotions like hunger, joy, or sadness? After all, the only consciousness you can know with certainty is your own. Everything else is inference. The nature of consciousness makes it by necessity a wholly private affair.

These questions are more than philosophical. As intelligent digital assistants, self-driving cars and other robots start to proliferate, are these AIs actually conscious or just seem like it? Or what about patients in comas – how can doctors know with any certainty what kind of consciousness is or is not present, and prescribe treatment accordingly?

In my work, often with with psychologist Jonathan Schooler at the University of California, Santa Barbara, we’re developing a framework for thinking about the many different ways to possibly test for the presence of consciousness. There is a small but growing field looking at how to assess the presence and even quantity of consciousness in various entities. I’ve divided possible tests into three broad categories that I call the measurable correlates of consciousness. (MORE - details)

Covered: Neural correlates of consciousness ... Behavioral correlates of consciousness ... Creative correlates of consciousness

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Category Mistakes (new SEP entry) - First published Fri Jul 5, 2019

INTRO: Category mistakes are sentences such as ‘The number two is blue’, ‘The theory of relativity is eating breakfast’, or ‘Green ideas sleep furiously’. Such sentences are striking in that they are highly odd or infelicitous, and moreover infelicitous in a distinctive sort of way. For example, they seem to be infelicitous in a different way to merely trivially false sentences such as ‘\(2 + 2 = 5\)’ or obviously ungrammatical strings such as ‘The ran this’.

The majority of contemporary discussions of the topic are devoted to explaining what makes category mistakes infelicitous, and a wide variety of accounts have been proposed including syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic explanations. Indeed, this is part of what makes category mistakes a particularly important topic: a theory of what makes category mistakes unacceptable can potentially shape our theories of syntax, semantics, or pragmatics and the boundaries between them. As Camp (2016, 611–612) explains: “Category mistakes … are theoretically interesting precisely because they are marginal: as by-products of our linguistic and conceptual systems lacking any obvious function, they reveal the limits of, and interactions among, those systems. Do syntactic or semantic restrictions block ‘is green’ from taking ‘Two’ as a subject? Does the compositional machinery proceed smoothly, but fail to generate a coherent proposition or delimit a coherent possibility? Or is the proposition it produces simply one that our paltry minds cannot grasp, or that fails to arouse our interest? One’s answers to these questions depend on, and constrain, one’s conceptions of syntax, semantics, and pragmatics, of language and thought, and of the relations among them and between them and the world.”

Moreover, the question of how to account for the infelicity of category mistakes has implications for a variety of other philosophical questions. For example, in metaphysics, it is often argued that a statue must be distinct from the lump of clay from which it is made because ‘The statue is Romanesque’ is true, while ‘The lump of clay is Romanesque’ is not—indeed, the latter ascription arguably constitutes a category mistake. Correspondingly, an assessment of this argument depends on one’s account of category mistakes. (see §4 below)

After a brief discussion of how to characterize category mistakes (§1) and of the history of the debate (§2), the majority of this entry focuses on the question of how to account for the infelicity of category mistakes (§3). We conclude with some of the implications of the debate on category mistakes for other issues in both philosophy of language and metaphysics (§4). (MORE)

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