Consciousness, Animals, and Computers; just an amalgam of today’s thoughts

Philosophers like J.P. Moreland have offered arguments for the existence of God which are based on the curious fact or phenomenon of consciousness. [Edit: this may not be Moreland’s argument] I can imagine such an argument going something like this: consciousness is a fact which makes Theism much more likely than Atheism, since the proportion of atheistic possible worlds which exhibit consciousness on average with all atheistic possible worlds is much less than the proportion of theistic possible worlds which exhibit consciousness on average with all theistic possible worlds. In other words P(C/T)>P(C/A).

However, one curious problem which arises not for the generic theist, but for the Christian (at least), is the problem of animal consciousness. Animals are thought typically to have material souls in Catholic theology (thus, not immaterial and rational souls). However, they are also conscious (Descartes argues that they aren’t, but we should agree with Leibniz here precisely because the inference that they are conscious is just as secure as the inference to other people being conscious, since it is based on the same: namely, on our experience of interacting with them). Thus, even if animals don’t apperceive (they don’t perceive that they perceive) they do have some manner of perception. [As a quick thought, perhaps what makes it possible for somebody to act as a moral agent is apperception]. However, if everything which composes an animal is actually physical, and if animals are conscious, then isn’t it possible in principle to put matter together in such a way as to manufacture consciousness as a physical phenomenon? If it is not, then by reason of what is it not? Perhaps if animals require substantial form (a substance which imposes form on matter in a particular way) then one would try to argue that computers are just never in-formed by the same sensitive substantial form as animals. However, if matter and substance are intricately related, as seems evident, then rearranging matter in particular ways actually rearranges the relation of substances in such a way that we might be able to make some substantial form impose itself on matter (think how this would work in the Monadology).

Technically, even if all the above were conceded one could still run an argument of the form P(C/T)>P(C/A) by saying that even if Christianity entertains some form of consciousness supervening on material composition (organization), consciousness nevertheless is a curious fact which is more likely on Theism than on Atheism. That, however, seems much less persuasive, since even the Christian will concede that consciousness is wholly explainable in terms of physical composition, and requires no reference to any feature which is not reducible to a physical description. Perhaps the intelligible ordering and arrangment of matter remains a more problematic fact on materialism than on Theism, but it certainly seems a much more trivial problem once one concedes that consciousness (excluding apperceptive consciousness) is in principle a physical phenomenon.

Perhaps another way to go about putting this argument is to say that there is something qualitatively different about apperceptive consciousness, and simply isolate that form of consciousness as our curious fact C* best explained on Theism. Thus; P(C*/T)>P(C*/A). I will admit at this point that I have not read J.P. Moreland carefully at all, and so I do not yet know if this is indeed what he does (I will get around to reading him this summer). The trouble here is that the evolutionary naturalist is going to be tempted to see consciousness of the ‘petites-perceptions‘ type as qualitatively the same thing as that consciousness which we share. What can a Christian respond to that suggestion of analogy? First, we can point out that this would entail that animal beliefs are really actually not ‘rational’ or ‘reflexive’ beliefs, but behaviourist-beliefs, reducible to physical dispositions to have certain ‘intentional-states’ (or something like that). To reduce our beliefs to behavioural dispositions, however, seems self-evidently wrong – our beliefs (at least many of them) are experienced to be rational, such as the belief that ‘Av~A‘, or the belief that ‘cogito ergo sum‘, and not about physical dispositions at all. So, I can know by an immediate act of reflection that my beliefs are of the rational sort, rather than behavioural dispositions. More interestingly, I can probably work my way to demonstrating plausibly that there is a connection between having these kinds of beliefs and having true syntactic language, which is curiously never found in the rest of the animal kingdom, and is a very hard curious fact in and of itself to explain on Atheism.

This reasoning would lead us to believe that a computer, while perhaps being able to have behaviourist-beliefs, cannot have rational beliefs or be apperceptive. The trouble here is precisely that we run into a plausible objection analogous to the one I raised about manufacturing animal consciousness. What if the matter of a human body were to be put together by a futuristic machine which knew precisely how to put a person together…

Consider, for the sake of a thought experiment, that teleportation machines were to be invented, teleporters being machines into which you could walk, choose a destination locally disconnected from yours, and have yourself transported to that other place (such as you might imagine seeing in a science-fiction movie). These machines can work on materialism precisely because on materialism there is no immaterial ‘I’, but rather a person is just the sum of all their parts, and those parts, being physical, can be arranged in the same order somewhere else (it doesn’t even matter that it isn’t exactly the same atoms which compose the person, since the atoms stand in the very same relation to each other). Now, is such a thing logically possible? I would want to say yes (not least because I think the substance realist has to entertain multi-location of one single thing in various places at the same time, and I am at least a substance realist). However, on Leibniz’ monadology (which I’m taking for the sake of the thought experiment) it is plausible that the same monad clearly perceives precisely from the perspective of where the transportation-portal situated the aggregate of monads which loosely constitutes it (technically all infinite sets of all aggregates constitute any and all bodies on Leibniz’ view). Then one must wonder if a machine like a transportation-portal could produce the same person at two different locations (say by a glitch of some kind). Technically this isn’t very problematic for the Catholic, since there are examples of Thaumaturgists like St. Anthony of Padua who are purported to have bi-located regularly.  If it isn’t a problem, maybe we can imagine a transportation-portal working off of a large database of human-like aggregates of matter, and producing a human-like composition which is not identical to any other person – would the product, then, be conscious, apperceiving, and thus have an immaterial soul? The matter would be arranged such that the monad/soul would stand in the ‘rational’ perceiving relation to it’s matter, so on Leibniz’ view this wouldn’t be problematic. It would be for a Catholic, however, since Catholics must believe that a soul only begins to exist at all at the moment of conception. Thus a Catholic either has to say that the matter arranged in a human-like way is simply not apperceptive (even if it passed a turing test), or else has to say that the production was analogous to an invetero-fertilization or manufactured-conception; almost like a cloning process where a human being is ‘grown’ in a factory-like environment.

To follow this thought experiment further, supposing that the teleporters of the far future had a database of many different aggregates of matter which we would recognize as human bodies, and then a clever programmer programmed an algorithm which would allow the machine to mesh features of these aggregates together, such that somebody with ‘Tom’s body had Susie’s memories’ – even if that person had memories which made him/her feel alien to his/her own body, would that person really be a human if merely apperceptive?

The point of these thoughts, however, has been to show that it is perhaps logically possible to arrange matter in such a way that the arrangement brings about the phenomenon of apperception. If this is even possible then the argument from the phenomenon of apperception to the falsity of naturalism seems strenuous at best. Especially if the naturalist is an empiricist, and even more-so if the naturalist is a ‘logical empiricist’.

All that said, I have to read Moreland.


About tylerjourneaux

I am an aspiring Catholic theologian and philosopher, and I have a keen interest in apologetics. I am creating this blog both in order to practice and improve my writing and memory retention as I publish my thoughts, and in order to give evidence of my ability to understand and communicate thoughts on topics pertinent to Theology, Philosophy, philosophical theology, Catholic (Christian) Apologetics, philosophy of religion and textual criticism.
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