The purpose of qualia: What if human thinking is not (only) information processing?


Despite recent breakthroughs in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) – or more specifically machine learning (ML) algorithms for object recognition and natural language processing – it seems to be the majority view that current AI approaches are still no real match for natural intelligence (NI). More importantly, philosophers have collected a long catalogue of features which imply that NI works differently from current AI not only in a gradual sense, but in a more substantial way: NI is closely related to consciousness, intentionality and experiential features like qualia (the subjective contents of mental states)1 and allows for understanding (e.g., taking insight into causal relationships instead of ‘blindly’ relying on correlations), as well as aesthetical and ethical judgement beyond what we can put into (explicit or data-induced implicit) rules to program machines with. Additionally, Psychologists find NI to range from unconscious psychological processes to focused information processing, and from embodied and implicit cognition to ‘true’ agency and creativity. NI thus seems to transcend any neurobiological functionalism by operating on ‘bits of meaning’ instead of information in the sense of data, quite unlike both the ‘good old fashioned’, symbolic AI of the past, as well as the current wave of deep neural network based, ‘sub-symbolic’ AI, which both share the idea of thinking as (only) information processing: In symbolic AI, the name explicitly references to its formal system based, i.e. essentially rule-based, nature, but also sub-symbolic AI is (implicitly) rule-based, only now via globally parametrized, nested functions. In the following I propose an alternative view of NI as information processing plus ‘bundle pushing’, discuss an example which illustrates how bundle pushing can cut information processing short,and suggest first ideas for scientific experiments in neuro-biology and information theory as further investigations.

Author's Profile

Martin Korth
University of Münster


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