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What are some views on the ability to transfer consciousness into a machine? So when discussing this question, there are two set of questions that arises. What is consciousness, is it something that arises from the brain or the soul? The second set of question relates to the question of whether the consciousness of a human can be replicated by a computer, and whether we can literally transfer the consciousness such that the original consciousness can be transferred instead of being simply copied and what it entails. I would like to know what are some thoughts philosophers have had on the subject.

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    your question amounts to scientific speculation and is therefore opinion based. Aug 20 '19 at 4:55
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    I'm in two minds about this question. Yes its speculative, but: consciousness have been studied by philosophers... I would like to know if the transfer of consciousness have come up in a philosophic context.
    – christo183
    Aug 20 '19 at 6:05
  • I also don't think you can use the first question as part of (the far narrower scope of) your main question, as it is far too complicated a subject. That's probably why the current answers completely ignore that part.
    – Joachim
    Aug 20 '19 at 10:04
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    "I'm in two minds about this question." Haha I see what you did there. You could upload one to a computer and still have one left over if anything goes wrong. /jk
    – user4894
    Sep 19 '19 at 6:54
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    Just an explicit comment... the notion of "transfer of consciousness" carries with it certain theories of identity, such that if "my" consciousness is now "here" in my head, I can take that thing (as if it were an object) and put it somewhere else, specifically, inside a computer; and the result would be that the object that used to be "here" is now in the computer. There's a question of whether or not this theory of identity is correct.
    – H Walters
    May 17 '20 at 3:10
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Some thoughts and references can be found here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind_uploading#Philosophical_issues

Practically, of course, we have no idea how to do this at this point. Philosophers have investigated questions of personal identity -- if you upload your consciousness will the result still be you -- and whether the result of the upload might be a philosophical zombie.

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If consciousness is simply an artefact of the brain, then we only need to recreate a suitable environment for ourselves. We know:

  1. the brain can transfer control from one side to the other in cases of brain injury; this isn't easy, it takes a lot of retraining

  2. the brain is capable of learning how to control extra peripherals like robotic arms, as well as acquire sensory information through digital devices

  3. split brain patients show that we retain "wholeness" with as little as 10% of the corpus callosum left (notably, the portion nearest to where consciousness is believed to originate in the brain)

  4. our brains are strangely good at offloading information; no one remembers phone numbers anymore but we retain enough to know where it is

  5. while memory is a function of brain size, deductive reasoning and consciousness can be found on brains a fraction the size of ours -- at least with any known method we have of testing for consciousness (mirror test in ants) or deductive reasoning (crows and ravens)

  6. artificial consciousness is not hard but has rarely been pursued academically (maybe rightfully so); one person was able to reconstruct a very crude level of AC in his Commodore 128

  7. third person cameras create an "out of body" experience a long with a sense of being "sucked back in" when ending the session, so moving our point-of-view is not the challenge, it's keeping it there after mortal death

A few other facts:

  • the average firing rate of a neuron is only about 200Hz
  • the whole brain has 80-90 billion neurons a neuron's state can be represented well with 8-bits; that's 85GB; that's nothing;
  • on average, a neuron has about 1,000 interconnections with other neurons; that's about 1KB per neuron of about 85TB; that's a lot, but doable
  • neurons have a very low duty cycle (they rest a lot), they're less than 10% active; total brain activity is around 1.7 THz (200Hz * 10% * 85 billion)
  • the corpus callosum is about 200-300 million neurons and represents a signal bandwidth of about 5 GHz (200Hz * 10% * 250 million)
  • each neuron takes 1KB of data to be 'processed' so in compute terms the whole brain is around 1.7 petaOPS and the corpus callosum is processing around 5 teraOPS. For comparison, NVIDIA GPUs top out at 130 teraOPS right now (circa 2020Q1)

My theory (and this is total opinion from here)

Transfer is possible so long as the person is still alive -- our consciousness is the precise state of our organic computer and not the chemical make up of it. Scientists may be able to reconstruct memories from dead brains, but not its original consciousness.

The idea would be to create a new host that connected AS-IF it were the other half of our brain -- through the existing corpus callosum. The new brain would be connected to an android which would contain all your new senses, motion, etc. During training, your old body could use VR, but using the antagonist theory of accelerated learning, you'd want to slowly delay or cripple that to encourage use of localized thinking in the android itself.

Given time, I believe that would happen naturally -- as long as the new host is favorable to human thought. Over time, the new brain should be doing more thinking and have more recent memories than the old one and at some point, you should be able to let the old body die and "you" may survive.

Think of this like human vMotion.

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  • Splendidly reported, your step by step analysis of the relevant constituent elements, the ratios of processing power, your clear and accurately reported instances of related occurrence of transference plus your well painted speculative projection of the actual possibility provides a real wake up call to those of us who see AI as merely pattern recognition and Elon Musk's new computer/brain project as a flight of fancy. Well executed and thanks,
    – user37981
    Oct 13 '20 at 23:17
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According to the Hindu text Shvetashvatara Upanishad:

God, who is one only, is hidden in all beings. He is all-pervading, and is the inner self of all creatures. He presides over all actions, and all beings reside in Him. He is the witness, and He is the Pure Consciousness

According to this you cannot transfer consciousness into a machine because "we are all one". There is only one driver driving all the cars in the different spots in time and space. If a machine had consciousness it would not be different from yours. Is that sense of separateness that makes the notion of individuality which is ultimately false and created by mind, not the consciousness. This fake individuality is called the ego or idea of the self. e.g. "I'm my nationality, gender, body, my culture etc"

Some eastern philosophies tell you that you are not those things because those things are learned along the way. e.g. "If you can watch it it's because its not you" you can watch your body, your thoughts and emotions but you cannot watch the silent watcher which is called consciousness.

Buddhism and Tao take it a little further and tells you not to settle with that idea from the vedic texts. Consciousness or oneness is something to be experienced not to be told or understood (ideas and thoughts are created by the mind not the consciousness, "I think therefore I'm" it's wrong from this point of view. Consciousness witnesses the thoughts but it does not create them, the mind does). They teach Emptiness or Nirudha meditation for this.

If this approach is true. There is no death, no end, no beginning... Everything happens here and now. The rest is the veil of Maya, the mind/ego confusing your true essence.

If you want to put this to test ponder on the idea of who are you like in the Ship of Theseus. What if they made 2 o 3 copies of yourself in that machine which one would be you? If all cells and synaptic connections or atoms in your body change overtime you are not who you think you are but the illusion of it.

Existence is metaphysical and it will always be. It doesn't matter how advanced technology gets then again it's seems it's far to early to simulate all possible quantum events produced in the brain so apparently we are safe for now...or are living in a simulation and singularity has already been accomplished?

If you want some literature on the subject I could recommend you the film Total Recall 1990 (ego trip) and the series "Altered Carbon", the film Ghost in the Shell 1995.

"You are nothing, you are nobody you are just a stupid dream." Total Recall 1990

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    I don't think these ideas necessarily imply that the contents of consciousness aren't largely or wholly determined by the structure of the brain, only that consciousness itself, the ultimate witness of those contents, is something more. See Shunryu Suzuki on Big Mind and Small Mind for example. Buddhism also has teachings on "relative and absolute truth"--from a relative perspective it can be useful to talk about distinct minds, and continuity of identity, even if in the absolute perspective there are no fundamentally distinct selves.
    – Hypnosifl
    Jan 16 '20 at 21:54
  • @Hypnosifl Those ideas imply that consciousness has no content at all. It's just a silent eternal placeless witness. Brains create the mind, consciousness watches the mind and the later creates all thoughts and notions including ego and individuality. Check the 36 tattvas in Shaivism en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tattva_(Shaivism). BTW the article you commented is about improving your meditation skills. If you mean by big mind the same as "collective consciousness" then that concept is misleading. Consciousness don't think just witnesses the mind activity (emotions, thoughts, dreams...)
    – user22051
    Jan 17 '20 at 14:51
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    Doesn't it witness particular experiences, sensations etc.? That's all I mean by "contents of consciousness". I agree many Buddhist traditions don't teach philosophical idealism about the witness but some do, see this article on Huayan Buddhism which says "The original Indian Buddhist view that there are no selves transformed into the Chinese Buddhist view that there is no individual self, but there is a sort of transpersonal self (One Mind) of which all the transient and ontologically interdependent aspects of reality are parts"
    – Hypnosifl
    Jan 17 '20 at 17:11
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I remember Leibnitz once particularly talked about this in one of his philosophy books (forget the book name, maybe Monadology). He said something like if consciousness can be made up of mechanical parts, then try imagine to enlarge this machine proportionally until you can locate where is the part to know "I". I never fully understand his meaning, but sounds like as a rationalist he didn't believe consciousness is of "mechanical" nature, thus couldn't be possible to transfer to a machine. In his later years he introduced his notion of monad which is non-mechanical non-geometric kind of a complete inseparable substance (including self-consciousness what commonly called "I") which is the foundation of this world, and he was a foundationalist I believe when dealing with epistemology...

Of course during his time electricity and neuroscience is not much prevalent, but I would opine they all share same "mechanical" nature since all modern quantum mechanics successfully built fundamental laws onto non-deterministic mechanics nature with probability added.

In eastern philosophy and religion, monad concept existed long ago, which was called "manas-vijñāna" which may be the indo-european root of today's English word "mine". It's the 7th consciousness beyond our normal rational reasoning consciousness. It's a very subtle but powerful consciousness which determines all your thinking and living habits, it's the original impetus which motivates you to achieve something to flex your muscle and show to all others, it's also like a huge waterfall down from your whole body, hard to change its course at all, which is exactly makes up what we all simply call "I". This makes sense since regrading the notion of "I", we all intuitively feel it must come from the huge huge amount of our neurons' combinatorial network effect. But it doesn't equal all of them in a accumulative linear model fashion. Sure even if you lost a big part of it like above mentioned brain damage or other serious injuries, you still can know it's "I" thinking and moving, etc. While most people just argue about the concepts in the rational consciousness's reasoning realm all day long and try to use machines to learn new reasoning, to change and control this kind of specific consciousness for your own benefit is extremely hard...

Leibnitz once commented similarly in his Monadology, there're no windows between monad and its outward surrounding monads, although it reflects all outside processes. It's like pre-programmed, but also changable (all things change), just extremely hard, if someone achieved to change his or her old "I" resolving some previous sufferings, it can be called "reborn", or attained "Hu" in Sufism...

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Renee's answer has some interesting data points to consider. One in particular that I think is notable to point out would be number 7:

  1. third person cameras create an "out of body" experience a long with a sense of being "sucked back in" when ending the session, so moving our point-of-view is not the challenge, it's keeping it there after mortal death.<

One scenario that I had brought up in a question that I had asked ("Do dreams have material reality?") regarding dreams was the instance of "simultaneity" that is implicit in the process of having them. Dreams are considered "counterfactual/embodied simulations" and one could say that when having them our "consciousness" is transferred from the waking-reality to the dreamworld. Followers of the Bon tradition in Tibet make the distinction between this body, here and now, and the "dream-body" that one may recall having experiences of same through.

So there can be a transfer of consciousness from Topos 1: the bedroom you fall asleep from to Topos 2: the dreamworld you may find yourself in.

This, however, is presuming that the dreamworld is a place like any other place that one can "travel" to.

This is clearly not the same as the idea of transferring it into a machine but we can at least know, like Renee suggests, that our point-of-view can be transferred from one state to another.

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My thought is that it would be difficult to transfer consciousness to a machine before we know what it is and how it arises. Not one person who speculates this transfer is possible knows this.

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  • A range of stances can still be taken and reasoned about why or why it might not be possible. Your own stance has a set of positions within it. Set the context, relate to the literature, give references. As it stands, you have just given an opinion.
    – CriglCragl
    May 16 '20 at 2:31

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