Debate What is the bare minimum needed to be conscious?


I've been reading off and on about AI consciousness. Most of the "experts" don't even know how to define consciousness nor know the difference between sentience and consciousness. It's almost comical. I've come to the conclusion that consciousness exists in levels instead of a binary value. If something is alive, it will display some level of consciousness from very little to a full value.

The dictionary definitions for a lot of the simple definitions can apply all the way down to single cell organisms. Bacteria are known to grow in colonies and communicate among themselves displaying some complex behavior. They are also known to respond to both positive and negative external stimuli. This might even be called a group consciousness under certain definitions. I wouldn't rate it more than 1% conscious.

I've heard of numerous experiments with plants claiming some sort of consciousness. I've also heard of those experiments being attempted in more controlled and scientific lab environments and failing. Mythbusters even disproved a few of them. It is well known that plants lack a nervous system, pain receptors, and a brain, so I doubt they feel pain. Plants do have a moderately complicated internal communication system, but most of the time it is very slow. It can respond to some electrical triggers, but those triggers are weak and localized to the trigger area. That's how rapid leaf curling is done in the plant mentioned and how venus fly traps work. There seems to be some basic memory in regular non-neural cells, but this seems to be limited to only what the cells need to survive. It takes a lot of energy to vibrate 20kHz to 100kHz, and I doubt plants really do this. I doubt I'd call a plant more than 2% conscious.

Bugs have a tiny brain and primitive nervous system. Most are likely to feel pain and have the most basic of memory. Smarter bugs can learn very simple things. When a bug cries out in pain while it is being eaten, this is more of an automatic reactive response. I doubt I'd call an advanced bug more than 5% conscious. I'd rate dumb gnats the same as plants.

I describe unicellular organisms, plants, and bugs having a genetically programmed reactive behavior vs true intentional complex behavior.

Human levels of consciousness typically deal with and include: advanced memory, learning, reasoning, general understanding, interpretation of learning, coherency, understanding of cause and effect, problem solving, understanding errors and fixing them, being able to differentiate between information that may or may not be true even if it seems true, ability to design and use tools, imagination and anticipation and creativity, developing desires beyond the programmed biological, all eventually leading to advanced information processing, discrimination, comprehension, and prediction. This tends to lead to: self awareness, awareness of others, awareness of what others are thinking about, sense of morality, ability to perceive emotions... Which leads to: the difference between just simple existence vs. having an inner world and growing concepts. This tends to lead to living purposefully vs simply reactionary.

Animals have many of these qualities in varying amounts (some a lot more than others). I'd say it ranges from 30-80% depending on the species and the smarter individuals within it. For example: low level functionality is easy to pass, but high level functionality is not. Most people on twitter and fakebook would be considered low level zombies and around the 50% mark. Some dolphins would be smarter than these humans.

Reflexes are a little more complicated. Some go through local loops, but others require a basic cranial response. If you think about surgeries, local anesthetics would stop a local reflex response. More complicated surgeries require a general anesthetic and tend to block pain receptors in the brain rather than locally. I've yet to hear of a patient being fully unconscious and spazzing out on the operating table when getting cut open by a scalpel. Many people when sleeping have greatly reduced to practically no feelings in their limbs, but I don't recommend cutting on them as a home experiment to find out.

Consciousness does reside in the brain... but not all of subconsciousness does. "Gut reaction" and "heartfelt" have been proven to be real things. It seems that dense neural clusters tend to form primitive intelligences but can't really act standalone. (This is an interesting study in itself.) It has been noted that heart transfer patients will sometimes take up interests and activities of their doners. I've never heard of a gut transfer patient, so can't comment there.

To make things a little more complicated, I've programmed some of my microcontrollers to monitor an environment, react to it, remember certain values, and act on those values. Others have done far more advanced in robotics projects. Does that make hardware projects sentient? By some definitions, yes. Does that make hardware conscious? No. They are mindlessly following fixed instructions they could never change nor move beyond. If you turn off hardware (kill it), you can turn it back on and it will reload and follow the same instructions. That can't be done with life.

Some have talked about simulating emotions in AI. All those emotions will ever be is a stream of data. Each individual stream can be turned on and off at will. Pain is a simulated concept in AI as computer hardware has no concept of pain. Pain can be switched on and off at will. I sure wish I could do that sometimes. It seems only life has a true concept of pain. Where AI gets dangerous is when all these simulations get merged into one and can't be individually controlled anymore.
Though I think your rudimentary percentage markings have some basis I think your percentages given to humans are far too generous.

The benefits of dying, or in fact dying twice in a life time will prove to you plenty that consciousness absolutely does not reside in the brain at all, now I won't go so far and say piss off and die just to prove it to yourself but there already is tons of research that prove this on various levels.

As for the sounds plants or trees make, yes it would take us a lot of energy to create a sound at 80,000 hertz but the cavitation of water molecules within plants takes far less energy, even some sea dwellers can create ultrasonic waves so powerful they use it as a weapon. It's just clever mechanics and millions of years of evolution, no different from sonar really.

If you want to exchange with a plant though and not be a cruel bastard about it, may I suggest the appreciation exercise often taught...
Find yourself a fruiting sample, doesn't really matter if it's an apple tree or strawberry plant but one where there are ripe and unripe fruits present.
Step 1, slowly pull a fruit free paying careful attention to how much pressure it takes to break free.
Step 2, pull on a piece of fruit until you're just on the edge of that breaking point, and then say thank you to the plant or tree...
Step 3, try again using different languages...Try not saying thank you and using other random words...

Now ask yourself a few questions;
Did it give you the fruit when you said thank you?
Or did it give you the fruit when you thought the intention of saying thank you?
How can it give you the fruit in the first place?
How can it know what different languages even are let alone understand them all?
What is the nature of the physiological response you felt in your body?


Active Member
How can plants respond to pain if they don't have nerves? Maggots don't have a central nervous system either.
Plants still communicate chemically and by single electrical impulses. Releasing a hormone from a dying cell could easily cause the rest of the plant to pick it up and move away or do other things. Maggots must have some kind of neural communications for coordinated movement when they crawl along and then eventually spin their cocoon.

Though I think your rudimentary percentage markings have some basis I think your percentages given to humans are far too generous.
My percentages are relative to a more idealized human. This also brings up the point of why aliens tend to think so little of humans. From an alien's perspective, a human might be 10%. A tiktok user might be 5%.

that consciousness absolutely does not reside in the brain at all
Sorry, will clarify: For this argument I'm not implying that there's any kind of spiritual life force. I do believe there is one. The original argument deals with the physical. I'd really like a way of solidly and objectively measuring a life force, but I doubt it will be released in my lifetime.

I understand the fruit analogy, but there's nothing close to me to try. I have mobility issues with my health problems and also live in a semi-arid environment.