Just HOW Fundamental is Consciousness?
“Reality may not be something that we’re as in touch with us we think we are.” — Sam Harris
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Sam Harris quotations:
“It’s the seeming that is the cash value of consciousness.”
“If anything is bad, creating hell, and populating it with real minds that can really suffer in that hell, that’s bad. You are worse than any mass murderer we can name, [whether it’s] in robot form or some simulation of a world, where we managed to populated with conscious minds, whether we knew they were conscious or not, and that world was in a state that was unendurable. Just like watching a person suffer for entertainment.”
“Mind, intelligence, and consciousness are ultimately substrate independent, right?”
I can’t lie. It’s pretty gratifying to see an intellect of the caliber of Sam Harris independently reaching similar conclusions about consciousness that we reached 20+ years ago. That’s not a competition, we landed on the planet in different time frames.
The number of times that Sam uses the phrase substrate independence in this conversation – one of my primary go-to concepts in the first decade of this millennium - almost makes me giddy.
It’s simply a gratifying independent finding, as is always the case in science, when someone else independent replicates our own and other colleagues results.
“Even the illusion of free will itself is an illusion. It’s not that free will is wrong, it’s not even wrong.”— Sam Harris
“What if people don’t have ideas but ideas select people, like distributed computational nodes to run certain programs?” — Lex Fridman
“Even the experience of an illusion is consciousness [experiencing something called an illusion].” — Sam Harris
On the topic of free will, I don’t know if I’ve caught up with Sam yet, or if I’m completely convinced of the perspective. But certainly, being in agreement on so many other direct non-symbolic experiences makes it well worth seriously contemplating. Enjoy!
Watch Sam Harris: Consciousness, Free Will, Psychedelics, AI, UFOs, and Meaning - Lex Fridman Podcast #185 if the embed below does not behave nicely.
On Anger, Regret, Remorse
“What utility is there to extract out of this error signal? How miserable do you need to be to solve your problems, in life, and to help solve the problems of people closest to you? How miserable do you need to be to get through your to-do list, today? Ultimately, I think you can be deeply happy going through all of it. Even navigating moments that are scary, and really destabilizing to ordinary people. Equanimity is so useful the moment you’re in response mode.”
On Denial of Death
“We’re living in a mode that … we’re perpetually diverting ourselves from things that should be obvious. In the case of death, it’s a matter of getting one’s priorities straight. The moment you realize that every circumstance is finite … then you can decide how you want to go through life, and how you want to experience each one of those days.”
On Human Embarrassment and Error Correction
“You want to extract the actionable information … But so many of us have spent so much time with a very dysfunctional and hostile and even hateful inner voice governing a lot of our self talk, and just our default way of being with ourselves. In the privacy of our own minds, we’re in the company of a real jerk a lot of the time and that can’t help but effect your own sense of well-being; it can’t help but limit what you’re capable of in the world with other people.”
On Benign AGI
“To be tethered to our own sense of our own well-being, such that, their primary utility function [embodies] our own estimation of what’s going to improve our own well-being as it’s master reward.” — Sam
“They’re going to be participating in the game theoretic dance of human society. There could be a point beyond which we are like birds to them. The intelligence explosion will be happening but there’s a lot more explosions to be doing before we become like birds. I truly believe that humans are intelligent in ways that we just don’t understand. Common sense, our abilities to reason about this world, consciousness.” — Lex
“But what about Alpha Go?” — Sam
I personally agree with Sam on this one. While Lex says it will happen over a long period of time, I believe the development has already been happening for a very long time and then the emergence occurs suddenly all at once. So it’s both. Gradual cultivation, sudden enlightenment. Gradual seems like it takes foreve, and then suddenly all at once, Alpha Go not only beats all human players but all prior versions of itself.
Sam reminds us that even when chess was first cracked, Go seemed completely unattainable, and now we take it for granted. This is why my position is we are already there and we just don’t know how to make sense of it. AI is already deeply integrated with our human cognition and experience through our devices.
AI is already deeply integrated with our everyday experience. Every time someone reaches for their phone and looks at Facebook first thing in the morning, AI is curating our world.
Ignoring this is what I refer to as Post-Automation Era denial disorder. It’s not an insult because denial is a coping mechanism that helps us survive.
And already, in my own experience, which you can compare to your experience, is such that AI has in countless ways been demonstrating that it is safer in its recommendations for me than human beings.
In the most pedestrian sense, I have asked people for directions in neighborhoods that are new to me, and they gave me very authoritative and detailed directions which were completely different and wrong when I compared them to Google maps.
There are countless other far more subtle ways that this is been demonstrated, because I have been very intentional in my personal interactions with AI, so my experience will not be typical, but it is my direct experience that AI – deployed by human actors – is already extremely active, prevalent, and effective in guiding human perceptions, options, choices, and behaviors.
“It does not seem like our wisdom is scaling with our power.” — Sam
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