Week 7: Conciousness by Dennis Yeh

This week’s lecture included several videos I thought were fascinating, such as how bees would work together as a collective in order to take down intruding wasps.  When I saw this video, I couldn’t help but wonder how such creatures were able to teach and execute a complex plan.  As humans, we communicate and learn through vision and hearing.  Bees communicate through their dance.  But are bees inbred with this dance knowledge, or is it taught to them?  If the dance is taught, could bees potentially learn or dance patterns or skills?  The discussion on animal conciousness constantly reminded me of a book I used to read in elementary school: The Animorphs.  In this book series, a group of teenagers have the ability to morph into animals that they have touched, and when they first morph into another animal, the animal’s mind tries to take over, and they must learn to tame it.



In addition to animal consciousness, another topic that was brought up was the idea of machine consciousness, an idea which is played upon constantly in Hollywood, with movies such as The Matrix, Terminator, 2001: A Space Odyssey, AI, Wall-E, etc.


But what about examples of machine consciousness in real life?  Our technology has advanced considerably in the last century, resulting in the complete transformation of the world.  Inventions such as the internet, which was non-existent 20 years ago, are propelling the fields of science and engineering every day.  Eventually, our science fiction may one day be a reality.  Advances in nanotechnology, robotics, biotech, etc. may one day make machines that learn, think, and interact.

Three graduate students create a robot that learns hand movements:

A snake-like robot that can climb buildings and inspect parts of the building that would be be dangerous for a human to be. - http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081210144936.htm

Spanish researchers make predictions on the future with regards to robots and their impact on society. -

Before we can judge how others such as machines or animals are conscious, it is helpful to first determine how humans are conscious.  In the Psych 10 class I took last year, we learned one theory about consciousness: Freud’s structural model of consciousness and personality: the ego, id, and super-ego.


The id is every person’s “pleasure principle.”  In other words, the id is the part of our mind that tells us what we want, and it is focused on achieving instant gratification regardless of whether it would be “good,” “bad,” or appropriate to do so.  On the totally opposite end of the scale, we have our super-ego, which aims to achieve perfection, and constantly strives to achieve our goals, ideals, morals, and spiritual beliefs, and our conscience.  The super-ego and id are constantly in a battle between behaviors that are pleasurable and behaviors that are moral.  In the middle, the ego is what mediates between the super-ego and the id, and it tries to satisfy both the needs of the super-ego and the id.  If we think about all of our behaviors and actions in this way, we can see that the super-ego and the id constantly influence our behavior, such as when we decide to go to class instead of sleeping in, or finishing homework instead of hanging out with friends or going to the beach.

Therefore, in order for animals or machines to be “conscious,” they must possess the capacity to learn, think, and interact intelligently with its surroundings.  Machines that are programmed to run a simple script cannot be considered conscious, because they are not capable of independent thought.  However, if a robot such as the Terminator is programmed to scan its surroundings and process the information in order to determine its behavior, then it can be considered conscious.  Many of the examples shown in class, such as the squirrel / giant squid obstacle courses, demonstrate how animals have the capacity to learn and adapt to its surroundings, it is unfortunate that more examples regarding current work being done with artificial intelligence in machines was not presented.

-Dennis Yeh

Comments are closed.