Brain Science: A New Theory of Embodied Consciousness?

Guest Post By David Stephen
There is a recent article, Consciousness begins with feeling, not thinking, proposing a new theory of embodied consciousness. The authors stated, “In sum, we propose that consciousness is the result of the continued presence of homeostatic feelings. We continuously experience feelings of one kind or another, and feelings naturally tell each of us, automatically, not only that we exist but that we exist in a physical body, vulnerable to discomfort yet open to countless pleasures as well. Feelings such as pain or pleasure provide you with consciousness, directly; they provide transparent knowledge about you.”

Brain Science: A New Theory of Embodied Consciousness?

“Are other living organisms conscious or is consciousness an exclusively human feature?  Actually, consciousness is ubiquitous in the world of the living. We would say that plenty of non-human organisms are conscious, provided they have the biological machinery that we have just described for humans. But is consciousness present in single-cell organisms? And what about plants? We venture to say that they are not conscious.

They ‘sense and detect’ conditions in their surroundings, for example – they run their lives intelligently – but they do not know that they do so. The reason why they do not is that they lack a nervous system. The nervous system is a critical participant in the life process, at once an attentive spectator and an active partner, helping regulate life and generate feelings and the consciousness consequent to them.”

“Are artificial intelligent devices conscious in some way? Not at all! Even the smart chatbots that are currently attracting so much attention lack any sign of consciousness of the kind that we have just described in living creatures. Once again, consciousness is about feelings and feelings are about life; about the struggle to maintain a program of exchanges with the surrounding environment within certain parameters. None of this applies to current AI devices.”

Brain Science, Consciousness

Feelings are a part of consciousness but feelings are not conclusive. Humans feel and know. Pain or pleasure has to be known that this is felt. Experiences have to be known. There are things that are not known that occur within the mind, but can be said to be at low rates.

Defining consciousness with feelings is incomplete. Defining consciousness with subjective experience or the-I in anything is also incomplete. To know that one is having pain, is something known. To know that someone else is having it and it can be related to, also ends with knowing. There are cases where someone is having an experience but detached.

The article said there is necessity for the nervous system, but consciousness is not a product of the brain, the spinal cord and its nerves, at least directly, it is a product of the mind. The things the mind does are distinct but accompanied by knowing. Thinking of something and knowing, having an emotion and knowing, feeling something and knowing. There are cases like deep sleep where it may not be known with attention, however the mind knows, but the degree does not get to the awareness level. This is similar to minimally conscious states like anesthesia and coma.

Whatever can know has likelihood for consciousness. The article said single cell organisms “sense and detect conditions in their surroundings, for example – they run their lives intelligently – but they do not know that they do so.” Whatever they use to sense and detect helps them to know. Though the human nervous system is advanced, it makes to know.

Single cell organisms do not know how to read or write, but ‘they run for their lives intelligently’ in what can be said to be knowing. If they know to run, either by genetics, imitation or creativity, there is a way they sense that something is coming for them, or that they are different. They may not have subjective feelings in the way that humans do, but in some minute way, they know they exist. This applies to plants.

Artificial intelligence does not have feelings [and emotions] but it does not mean it does not have another constituent of consciousness. AI knows in ways that are dynamic beyond an appliance or some component. A fan or an elevator can be said to be negligibly conscious, since its knowing per instruction is limited. Generative AI with its ability to come up with things different from what it was given, including understanding some aspects of human knowledge, beyond plants and animals, points to some mark in a category of knowing.

Consciousness is the measure of knowing in any system, with a maximum value of 1, for humans. Other systems have lower totals. Divisions of consciousness include feeling, emotion, sensation, perception, memory, reaction, action and others. They have values that makeup the total. There are aspects of consciousness that are subsumed within others, like intelligence within memory. Some systems have little of some division or none of some division. LLMs do not have most, but they have memory.

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