Is there a way to prove if something is self-aware or has the quality of consciousness? Can I even prove that I am self-aware to myself?

Would consciousness be like a faith or belief, in that I can not conclude absolutely one way or the other based on current available information?

Edit: Tried my best to turn my post into a question. If this is not a philosophy question, could I please be directed to the correct place?

Not homework related at all. I just would like to see what other people think.

  • 4
    I don't see the point of the story. You could as well have said this: Mark utters a sequence of sentences. The question is: is Mark a robot? Neither the logical structure nor the truth-value of anything Mark utters can have a bearing on that. Supposing that we have a proper definition of what makes an agent a robot, the question "is a given agent a robot?" is an empirical one. That is why I have voted to close this question as off-topic. May 2, 2014 at 2:54
  • 5
    Everyone but me is a robot. I'm the only conscious entity in the universe.
    – user4894
    May 2, 2014 at 4:15
  • I would try filling out this form: captchacreator.com/v-examples.html. It's pretty good at figuring out whether the thing filling it out is a human or a robot. May 2, 2014 at 13:10
  • 1
    Rereading it, this question is actually more incoherent than I thought. Specifically the word "robot" seems to be reduced to meaninglessness by specifying that he's biologically identical to a human. Joining in Hunan in voting to close...
    – virmaior
    May 2, 2014 at 13:54
  • 2
    Its a perfectly meaningful question - its simply that the form its put in is unusual - ie a narrative. I don't see anything wrong with that. May 2, 2014 at 15:14

8 Answers 8


Its the Turing Test put into first-person narrative form of a philosophical zombie (a golem would do just as well, and perhaps better, as it figured in the pre-history of imaginative literature and thinking about robotics). It was Chalmers that popularised this to argue that Physicalism is false - ie Consciousness is not Physical, as the SEP describes.


The 'duck theory' is a possible (though not always accepted) answer to this - if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, etc, then it is a duck.

This approach defines Mark as a human (as he's indistinguishable from a human), and states that p-zombies are impossible, that they're equal to people.


Binary tests oversimplify the situation and bias the definition of consciousness too much toward how humans behave. There is a continuum of degrees of self awareness and consciousness. It depends on the amount and type of sensory data, completeness of the agent's model of reality/environment and it's ability to interact and communicate. It may also depend on computational ability (number and arrangement of neurons), which allows for recursive language and thought.

Other animals' consciousness is certainly not as broad as humans and it appears they don't communicate as well. However I suspect that some animals are closer to human self awareness than we think, like when highly focused on itself and a small part of its environment. I'm thinking about an octopus hunting for food.

This is not a proof but psychology has methods for measuring awareness. Given the huge amount of neurons dedicated to visual processing in humans this test is heavily biased and invalid for agents that have neurons invested elsewhere but could be used for evaluating self and environment.


A simple test that is sometimes used with animals is to gauge their response to a mirror image... and then add some new mark, like a red spot on the forehead and see if they respond to the new mirror image. Obviously, this works with humans as well.

This might seem that it is taking what we mean by "self-reflection"rather literally and materially. But I think there is more to it than might at first appear... and that "reflection" is not merely a trope. Consciousness is, after all, some sort of electromagnetic condition or refraction.

So some clever version of this "mirror image" that is/is not "me" might be worked out even for computers. Perhaps even in the use of an actual mirror and robotic "sensory" apparatus, as with the alternating feedback patterns video cameras generate when they "video" themselves.

Obviously, sketchy. Just an idea to free us up a bit from the Turing Test motif. But cybernetic feedback systems do offer intriguing models for some kind of measurement of "self" recognition.


Robots made by humans are getting better and better as the time goes on. I believe this is a imaginary division and it's just a matter of time for it to disappear. We are a product of many things like our DNA and things happening around us and we can clearly see when some "robots" are programmed more differently which we may call a malfunction robot or a crazy human being. So I can't see how making this division logically clear is somehow possible.


I think that something that makes humans unique is that we have self-contradicting thoughts.

For example, almost universally, we try to reduce manual labor (and hence, the invention of robots, right? :-)). At the same time, we do recognize that physical activity is good for good health and try to include it in our lives.

If a robot were to be programmed with such self-contradictions, the program would enter into a circular loop and cannot function.

  • I like the answer, but the circular loop is not necessary. Artificial Intelligence is an entire science in which a big part is simply 'decision making', i.e. comparing multiple options and choosing the best one. That would cover two mutually-exclusive options as well (do I exercise or not).
    – 11684
    May 3, 2014 at 8:05
  • I agree that Artificial Intelligence is highly developed science. In a given context, there may be mutually exclusive options. My point was that we actually choose mutually exclusive options from different contexts (examples: exercising and not wanting to do manual work, eating unhealthy foods and wanting to eat healthily).
    – Joseph B
    May 5, 2014 at 13:04
  • My TomTom can believe that going from A to X via B is the shortest way, and simultaneously believe that going from A to X via C is the shortest way. And it can live quite well with that contradiction. Assuming that a program would have to enter a circular loop is totally unjustified.
    – gnasher729
    Jan 16, 2015 at 17:32

There is no high-standard response to such questions. This is a version of the big question, which comes in seemingly unrelated formats. One can go through enormous technicality in various directions and attain resolution, but only up to certain specialization. A high-standard general response to this question is too tall of an order, for it would resolve many of age-old puzzlements instantly.


i sorta like Mark's original question:

My name is Mark and I am a robot.

I am 19 years old and I attend a university with other people, but you know, I just don't feel like I fit in because I am a robot. It is a fact that I am a robot in the sense that I am really a machine processing a bunch of computations, but it is universally agreed by others that I am a human. Unfortunately, there is no known way to prove that I am human since I am indistinguishable from a human being.

I have all the features of a human. I have all the same organs and stuff that humans have, including a brain that is indistinguishable from a human brain. I can engage in seemingly intelligent conversation. I occasionally forget information just as humans do and I can contract all the diseases that humans can.

Actually, I was even programmed to convince you that I am a robot. You might think that there are actually "thoughts" in my mind, but really, I have no understanding at all of what I am doing. I am simply reacting to my environment according to rules specified in my memory. Even though I exhibit "morality" like humans, there is no "conscience" at all going on in my brain/processor/memory thing. I am aware of nothing even though it may seem that I am aware of stuff.

Sorry about my poor writing style and word choice and sentence structure. I am quite tired right now since I did not have enough sleep last night and I am having a lot of anxiety since I am new here.

So, is Mark a robot? Are you a robot? I have no idea. It might seem like you are all thinking and understanding stuff, but I can't know for sure if that is what is really happening.

I don't really know what I am asking though all this, but I know there is some kind of underlying question.

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