Tuesday 3 July 2012


III. Turing Testing Know-How (Sunday July 1)
Stevan Harnad (UQaM) How/Why Explaining the Causal Role of Consciousness is Hard 
Inman Harvey (Sussex, UK) No Hard Feelings: Why Would An Evolved Robot Care?
Ioannis Rekleitis (McGill) Three Basic Questions in Robotics: New Directions
Dario Floreano (Lausanne, Switz.) Evolution of Adaptive Behavior in Autonomous Robots 
James Clark (McGill) Attention: Doing and Feeling
Michael Graziano (Princeton) Consciousness and the Attention Schema
Comments invited



    "What struck me the most today was how there is so much talk about the basis of consciousness (feeling) and so little phenomelogical description of it. If we want to qualify, describe, tease apart the elements of consciousness, we need to talk about verbal reports of what it feels like to be nearly unconscious (eg. fainting, falling asleep), and other fringe states. We need to pay attention to this. As Harnad briefly pointed out, blindsight patients don't report degraded visual stimuli, but a "feeling of awareness". We are in dire need of more descriptive, first-person vocabulary."

      "Making sense of our experiences is surely important and I even think that it might be the function of feelings in verbal animals (i.e. humans). In fact, supposing that a fundamental drive of our existence is to understand our feelings to develop a clearer sense of the self, then verbal elaboration of feelings might alleviate such a drive by allowing to specify the nature and source of our feelings (even if phenomenological understanding of feelings might be false in a scientific sense). Concerning the lack of phenomenological description of feelings in the talks, I think this is due to the prominence of scientists. Phenomenology has been most widely investigated in literature and other arts as well as in philosophy and qualitative sciences (e.g. qualitative psychology)."

      "I agree. So many has been said about conscious state and couscious content but nothing on unconscious content. Why do we have a conscious access to a limited number of contents and why others will never reach the level of consciousness? might the adaptive function of consciousness have anything to do with the fact that the brain seems to separate two kinds of data?

      And what about cases of "altered" and other bizar cases of consciousness as described brillantly by VS Ramachandram in his book "The Tell-Tale Brain" (such as synesthesia, telephone syndrome, anosognosia, out-of-body experiences...) http://www.amazon.com/​The-Tell-Tale-Brain-Neurosc​ientists-Quest/dp/​0393077829"

      "Separating kinds of data is not feeling per se"

      "No, it's not what I meant. I didn't mean that separating two kinds of data was a feeling itself. I meant that, it seems that, some data will never reach the level of consciousness, they will never be translated into feelings. My question was rather why some processed data turn into feelings whereas others don't. Having feelings allows selective attention and attention allows the brain to focus on attended things. Paying attention to something thanks to feelings increases the biological value on that specific attended thing by, at the same time, diregarding completely all the other potentially-conscious-rela​ted stimuli that interact with the organism. So I was guessing if consciousness had evolved because it allowed to process relevant things of the environment and react in real time thanks to feelings, but that at the same time, the brain keeps continuously processing another set of data. This set of data might rely on fundamentally vital function to the organisms (eg. heart beating, oxygen processing...). But as long as the environment starts becoming extremely reach and complex, if the organism had to process any single stimuli from the environment, it would necessitate something to discriminate what is relevant for survival. Consciousness do select what is important for the immediate survival in a given specific environment simply by increasing the biological value. I don't mean that unconscious processing doesn't produce a biological value but feelings allows to add another layer."


    "Based on what has been said until now by all the different speakers, would you be able to give a synthetic definition of consciousness?"

      "Except that there is a zillion types of consciousness with a specific definition for each? I don't think so."

      "I'd have to side with Harnad : consciousness as feeling is the most synthetic one. I see no "type" of consciousness (visual, interoceptive, etc) that wouldn't fall under that umbrella, and any information processing that doesn't generate a feeling just shouldn't be called consciousness."

      ANDY NDK :
      "Did anyone notice that several speakers of our consciousness school actually said they dont know much about consciousness.. ;)"

      "Maybe Pascal but that is such a dead end. If every kind of consciousness is a matter of feeling then we have nothing more than our own to think and elaborate on because other's cannot be reached properly. And more than that there would be very little interest in this summer school because introspection would be the only way to reach consciousness."

      "Zillion, too many, let's categorize.
      One, not enough, let's differentiate.

      Awareness is hearing a sound.
      Consciousness is knowing you have heard a sound. (Did Brentano say something like that?)
      Or, if you prefer, being aware that you are aware. (Did Rosenthal say something like that? Re: Higher Order Theories - HOT)

      Feeling fits awareness. You need more than feeling to get to consciousness. Sorry Stevan, T3 is not enough, you need T4."

      "I disagree Matias, there are many promising avenues (heterophenomenology, front-loaded phenomenology, finding out the NCCs, or mapping out a qualia space like Tononi proposes). It's really a matter of combining approaches, but letting go of phenomenology altogether is letting go of what matters the most. We need to elucidate consciousness for ethical reasons (people in coma, animals, etc), not to just add more lines to the "book of what we know" (even if it's fun to do so)."

      "I'm not sure I agree with your typology Pierre, but I agree we need some better specification, both for phenomenal and non-phenomenal aspects of consciousness."


    "Is there a more beautiful way to understand the mystery of life than by elucidating the ultimate causes (evolution and adaptive functions) of its components? I don't see any!

    However, how can we study the evolution and function of such a fundamental component of life such as consciousness without even being able to define it?
    Because I noticed that, here is the problem we hit in this summer school. My feeling (if I can say so!) is that we cannot be effective in tackling evolution and function of consciousness because we do not even have a definition of what consciousness is! and I noticed that none of the speakers I heard from the begining of the school seem to have the same definition of consciousness.

    Consciousness is probably the more difficult problem to tackle as scientific humans. So, considering this clear lacking of consensus in the definition of consciousness, it might be really helpful if speakers could, at least at the begining of their talks, explain briefely what is their own conception of consciousness...
    That being said, thanks to Pr. Harnad and some others who clearly exposed that point into their talks.

    Maybe the first quarter of the discussion session could be use as a debate between the speakers to tackle this fundamental problem of defining consciousness?"

      "Pauline, I agree with you 100%! I think that by the end of the week, we'll get a better idea of what consciousness represents or maybe we'll bask in the glory of its plurality ;) I also do agree with you on the fact that at the beginning of each presentation, they should clearly enunciate what their conception of consciousness really is...at least to avoid further confusion for our sake! "

      "Fully concur!!!"

  4. Originally posted on facebook

    I'm really looking forward to listening to the upcoming talks about free will (someone asked a question about that). It's really interesting in regard to the consciousness because I guess that if we don't have free will then maybe our consciousness is fooling us in thinking we do! It's farfetched I know, but maybe our brain takes all the decisions and we feel afterward that we took the decision, we did the deliberation ourselves. I'm not a fan of this interpretation since our brain "seems to be us" anyway and that everything we do, think or sense comes from our brain! I also wanted to share this interesting theory that if in fact humans have free will then it means that particles themselves have a certain amount of free will!

  5. I share the enthusiasm many expressed for evolutionary robotics. Dr. Floreano's work really does highlight the potency of natural selection - seeing how efficiently his robots evolved makes one doubt how something as prevalent as 'feeling' could ever be an evolutionary accident.