If it is possible to simulate consciousness using computer hardware and software, does that mean that computers are able to experience qualia?

  • print "Hi, I'm in here and I'm conscious." If you run that program, it claims to be conscious. But you probably don't think it's conscious. On the other hand if I tell you a fancy neural network learning algorithm running on a supercomputer printed out the same sentence, you might feel different. What do you think? Is there a difference? Second question. How do you know your next door neighbor experiences qualia?
    – user4894
    Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 1:56
  • 1
    Hi, welcon to Philosophy SE. Please visit our Help Center to see how to ask questions that can be answered here. Your question is currently too broad, it is called the hard problem of consciousness and Wikipedia and IEP have long articles on it.
    – Conifold
    Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 2:06
  • Does this answer your question?
    – commando
    Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 3:07
  • No. Change simulate for replicate and then maybe...
    – M. le Fou
    Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 4:01
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    You will forever be as unable to verify that computer AI experience qualia as you are unable to verify that other humans experience qualia. Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 22:09

2 Answers 2


That conscience is a phenomenon, and not a concept (or even a construct, a fiction of sorts), is already a philosophical position. A host of thinkers have distanced themselves from it. I'm actually having trouble remembering one that doesn't, at least partially (help me in the comments if you do).

Another thing entirely is to talk about having experiences. Here, the key difference to be made is if you take computers to be artificial, just because their hardware was assembled, not "grown". That is why many people are uncomfortable with the "artificial" in Artificial Intelligence.

The thing is, you don't have to "solve" the nature vs. artifice problem to assume that experience is possible in non-conventional settings. In fact, what you may be forced to do, when thinking about these things, is to leave the problem open.


No, computers are not able to experience qualia as long as computers are only syntactical machines. Syntax is inadequate to achieve semantic content and a first person subjective ontological status. See Searle's Chinese Room. Also, see Feynman's Computer Heuristics lecture. Lastly, see Searle's argument that in addition to syntax being inadequate for semantics, that physics are inadequate for syntax: "Is the Brain a Digital Computer?"

Could we "simulate", "emulate" or model consciousness? Of course, but a simulation of a stomach won't digest a pizza.

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    The Chinese Room has been met with serious opposition in philosophy of mind. See e.g. Hofstadter, Blackburn, and others on how it begs the question and simply sets up an intuition as though it's fact.
    – commando
    Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 3:07
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    Newton's theory of gravity met with serious opposition too, that didn't in and of itself make it wrong. And how does syntax become semantics then?
    – user4894
    Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 3:36
  • @user4894 see e.g. here for suggestions of how certain kinds of representation suffice for semantic content. Moreover your analogy to Newtonian mechanics is not apt, as it was supported by a huge empirical body. Considering that the present discussion concerns subjective experience, which is not communicable, it's pretty much impossible (as far as anyone can tell) to answer the question with certainty. See, for example, Stoljar's Ignorance Hypothesis. Last, the syntax/semantics discussion is almost idiosyncratic to Searle's formulation.
    – commando
    Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 4:35
  • @commando, user4894's analogy is apt, see: neuroscience. Searle has refuted his critics and sorry, but a "suggestion" is not empirical verification, nor does Searle beg the question, see Baggini's assessment in your link.
    – MmmHmm
    Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 5:47
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    btw, I upvoted this answer, since while I do not agree with it, it consists of famous arguments and proper references, so it does not deserve in my opinion the score of -1 points that it had.
    – nir
    Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 6:43

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