Tag Archives: consciousness

Daily Grail: Reincarnation on Reddit

From Daily Grail:

Reincarnation research by Ian Stevenson Children’s past life memories

A popular link doing the rounds at the moment is to a question posed to Redditors regarding their kids: “Parents of Reddit, what is the creepiest thing your young child has ever said to you?” Obviously, some of the answers get a bit paranormal (seeing weird people in rooms/closets etc) so it’s a fun read, but there’s a also a few that sound very much like reincarnation-type stories. For example:

“Before I was born here, I had a sister, right? Her and my other Mom are so old now. They were ok when the car was on fire, but I sure wasn’t!”

He was maybe 5 or 6 years old? It was totally out of the blue..

The reincarnation-style quotes sound very similar to those collected by researchers Dr. Jim Tucker and the late Dr. Ian Stevenson , both from the Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia. I’ve embedded a video at the top of this story in which Dr. Jim Tucker describes this phenomenon:

Very young children, usually between the age of 2 or 3, who start reporting that they have memories from having had a past life. Some of them talk about being deceased relatives, but others will talk about being strangers in other locations. And if they give enough details like the name of the other location, people have often gone there and found that in fact someone had died in the recent past whose life matches the details that the children gave.

Given that there were a few reincarnation-type stories in the original Reddit thread, a ‘Past Lives’ sub-Reddit has been set up for discussion of those specific types of statements.

I have seen this a lot, even with my own kids and grandkids.

I even remember a few episodes of myself remembering past-life stuff when I was little ( don’t ask me how! ).

All in all this is a fascinating case study and one that deserves more.

Maybe there is more to consciousness than gray matter!

Reincarnation on Reddit

The “consciousness” of artificial intelligence

One of the basic tenents of a Technological Singularity according to people directly involved in making it happen, is the programming and building of an artificial intelligence.

By “intelligent” I mean a “human” level intelligence that is capable of thought and conversation with a human tester who can neither tell if he/she was talking to a machine or another human.

Such a test for the machine to pass is called a ‘Turing Test’, which was first proposed by Alan Turing in 1950. Turing was a pioneer in computer science and was instrumental in breaking the Enigma Code during WWII.

However on October 12 this coming Sunday at the University of Reading, six artificial intelligence programs are to to examined via the Turing test to determine whether AI programs have progressed to the point where a human tester can’t tell the difference between a conversation with a machine and a human:

In the Turing test a machine seeks to fool judges into believing that it could be human. The test is performed by conducting a text-based conversation on any subject. If the computer’s responses are indistinguishable from those of a human, it has passed the Turing test and can be said to be “thinking”.

No machine has yet passed the test devised by Turing, who helped to crack German military codes during the Second World War. But at 9am next Sunday, six computer programs – “artificial conversational entities” – will answer questions posed by human volunteers at the University of Reading in a bid to become the first recognised “thinking” machine. If any program succeeds, it is likely to be hailed as the most significant breakthrough in artificial intelligence since the IBM supercomputer Deep Blue beat world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997. It could also raise profound questions about whether a computer has the potential to be “conscious” – and if humans should have the ‘right’ to switch it off.

Professor Kevin Warwick, a cyberneticist at the university, said: “I would say now that machines are conscious, but in a machine-like way, just as you see a bat or a rat is conscious like a bat or rat, which is different from a human. I think the reason Alan Turing set this game up was that maybe to him consciousness was not that important; it’s more the appearance of it, and this test is an important aspect of appearance.”

The six computer programs taking part in the test are called Alice, Brother Jerome, Elbot, Eugene Goostman, Jabberwacky and Ultra Hal. Their designers will be competing for an 18-carat gold medal and $100,000 offered by the Loebner Prize in Artificial Intelligence.

The test will be carried out by human “interrogators”, each sitting at a computer with a split screen: one half will be operated by an unseen human, the other by a program. The interrogators will then begin separate, simultaneous text-based conversations with both of them on any subjects they choose. After five minutes they will be asked to judge which is which. If they get it wrong, or are not sure, the program will have fooled them. According to Warwick, a program needs only to make 30 per cent or more of the interrogators unsure of its identity to be deemed as having passed the test, based on Turing’s own criteria.

I like the analogy Professor Warwick uses in describing “consciousness” in the programs, “…conscious in a machine-like way, just as you see a bat or a rat is conscious like a bat or rat…”.

There is wisdom in that, if an AI program did become sentient, would it be ‘conscious’ like a human, or would it act like its nature implies?

I suppose it would mean whether one believes consciousness requires sentience, or that sentience requires consciousness.

Here are some links to posts by various people who have opinions and possible answers to such questions.

As for yours truly, I think consciousness is overrated, but the death of my ego leaves me a little unnerved!

‘Intelligent’ computers put to the test

Dr. Michio Kaku interview at the Daily Grail

Physical Basis for Problems

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SETI: An American Enterprise?

Seth Shostak laments:

A widespread and popular impression of SETI is that it’s a worldwide enterprise. Well, it’s not, and there’s something modestly puzzling in that.

The idea of communicating between worlds is at least 150 years old. Victorian scientists Karl Friedrich Gauss and Joseph von Littrow are both reputed to have concocted schemes to establish rapport with Moon-men or Martians by signaling them with light. Gauss was a German, and von Littrow was Austrian. But within a century, the important ideas about getting in touch with aliens were coming from the western side of the Atlantic. The fundamental concepts for radio SETI were first incubated and hatched in America.

For three decades following Frank Drake’s first modern SETI experiment in 1960, the American efforts had a strong and fertile counterpart in the Soviet Union. The Soviet SETI work was frequently brilliant, occasionally nutty, and pursued by researchers who were active and enthused.

That all ended with the Soviet Union’s collapse. And for the last two decades, the large majority of all SETI effort has taken place in the U.S. Yes, there have been commendable experiments in Australia, Argentina, India, and Italy. But only the Italians are active today.

So what’s the story? Why is SETI nearly exclusively an American game?

Actually, ol’ Uncle Seth has a point, why is SETI almost purely an American venture?

It could be because of our Puritan and ‘Lewis and Clark’ heritage, the push to find our own ‘space’ to do what we what without interference.  Maybe if we contact aliens, we could gain insight on how we can get by our ‘times of troubles’ (messianic rescue us complex) and survive to once more ‘find our own individual freedom and space’.

Why Don’t They Do SETI?

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At the other end of the SETI spectrum, author and Fortean Mac Tonnies puts forward the theory that UFOs (as related to SETI) is tied to our cultural (American) archetypes and consciousness:

…If the UFO phenomenon has a purpose, perhaps it’s to challenge entrenched ideas about our role as sentient observers. The ever-colorful “space visitors” encountered since 1947 could be the vanguards of an unknown manifestation of consciousness. (Far from invalidating the UFO inquiry, such a discovery would likely propel a new era of scientific understanding. If so, would our collective unconscious adopt some new disguise and cease to provide us with novel visitors and resplendent “craft”?)

Harvard psychiatrist Dr. John Mack once described alien abductions as an example of “reified metaphor.” While he believed his patients’ accounts of sexually charged encounters with apparent aliens were sincere, he was reluctant to accept them literally. In “Passport to the Cosmos,” he mused that activities endured during “abductions” might herald a sort of cosmic wake-up call–real enough, but only as real as scenes in a stage play. Like self-professed abductee Whitley Strieber, Mack seemed intrigued by the idea that the mind, subjected to a sufficiently foreign stimulus, could produce imagery culled from myth or even pop culture. (Extraterrestrials, big-headed and bug-eyed, seem like suitable candidates for a population weaned on science fiction.)

Of course, that begs the question of where the archetypal “Gray” originated in the first place. British researcher Albert Budden, a strident critic of the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis (ETH), suggests that the minimal physique ascribed to the Grays of abduction infamy might have a basis in neuro-anatomy. If he’s right, that still leaves us to sort out cases with physical effects…

The common thread between Shostak and Tonnies’ opinions is how we, as a culture, perform the function of being observers and the effects thereof.

Is SETI and the possible contact of alien intelligence a manifestation of American culture and will?

Or are we just being delusional about the true nature of the Universe?

UFOs, Aliens and Consciousness