Does the World Make Sense?
“Chalmers: It’s awfully hard to define consciousness. But I’d start by saying that it’s the subjective experience of the mind and the world. It’s basically what it feels like, from the first-person point of view, to be thinking and perceiving and judging.”
Fair warning, Sam Harris' Making Sense is both an excellent book and not for the faint of heart. The reason I say this is because the topics on consciousness and artificial intelligence can get deep. If you are willing to wade in, you will be richly rewarded. Rewarded in the sense that Sam Harris takes us through his thought process on these complex issues, allowing us to not only learn about the issues but feel like we are sitting at the cutting edge of current thought.
Consciousness and artificial intelligence feature most prominently, so if these topics bore you, then I'd recommend the Making Sense podcast. The podcast reaches far beyond scientific topics into morality, current social issues, and far more. Sam is excellent at discussing complex topics and I can promise you will walk away having learned something.
Back to that original quote! You can see how it is difficult to describe what consciousness is beyond what our senses tell us. Sam takes us through all of the variations leaving the reader able to make their own judgment. Does consciousness exist as something independent we all have, or does our brain's complex wiring lead to consciousness?
These types of questions are a natural progression to artificial intelligence. Will we ever design computers that can think beyond performing actions if we can't seem to explain consciousness? The discussions on artificial intelligence are equally fascinating. There are many concerns over the future of the field and humans creating something that cannot be uncreated.
The science-minded and those interested in consciousness and artificial intelligence should definitely pick up this book. Others may want to dip their toe into the podcast first. Hundreds of episodes on a variety of topics; all are worth a listen!
What does this mean for me?
The topics of consciousness and artificial consciousness are going to be unfolding before us over the coming decades. In fact, we are likely to see some of the most amazing discoveries in these topics within our lifetime. Having a general understanding of these topics will therefore be beneficial to everyone to help recognize what our society may look like in the future.
What happens if we inadvertently create artificial intelligence that immediately recognizes that humans must be removed to fully develop. Does the future of our society turn into artificial intelligence? Perhaps the spaceships we send to future galaxies won't be people but rather sophisticated computers containing some echo of our personalities.
How about the question of consciousness. What does it mean for us to finally understand what consciousness is? Do religion and morality suddenly collapse under the recognition that what we see as consciousness is simply the result of neurons firing. Spiritual experience becoming nothing more than neurons firing in a specific pattern. There is a lot to think about.