Panpsychism and AI consciousness

Synthese 200 (3):1-22 (2022)
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Abstract

This article argues that if panpsychism is true, then there are grounds for thinking that digitally-based artificial intelligence may be incapable of having coherent macrophenomenal conscious experiences. Section 1 briefly surveys research indicating that neural function and phenomenal consciousness may be both analog in nature. We show that physical and phenomenal magnitudes—such as rates of neural firing and the phenomenally experienced loudness of sounds—appear to covary monotonically with the physical stimuli they represent, forming the basis for an analog relationship between the three. Section 2 then argues that if this is true and micropsychism—the panpsychist view that phenomenal consciousness or its precursors exist at a microphysical level of reality—is also true, then human brains must somehow manipulate fundamental microphysical-phenomenal magnitudes in an analog manner that renders them phenomenally coherent at a macro level. However, Sect. 3 argues that because digital computation abstracts away from microphysical-phenomenal magnitudes—representing cognitive functions non-monotonically in terms of digits—digital computation may be inherently incapable of realizing coherent macroconscious experience. Thus, if panpsychism is true, digital AI may be incapable of achieving phenomenal coherence. Finally, Sect. 4 briefly examines our argument’s implications for Tononi’s Integrated Information Theory theory of consciousness, which we contend may need to be supplanted by a theory of macroconsciousness as analog microphysical-phenomenal information integration.

Author Profiles

Marcus Arvan
University of Tampa
Corey Maley
Purdue University

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