Understanding Self-consciousness: Differentiating Humans from other Sentient Beings
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Kurzweil's Comment 11/15/10: Dear Sam, It is remarkable how much people identify with their visual appearance. When I changed myself into Ramona for my 2001 TED presentation, even though the technology was fairly crude by today’s standards, it did give me the idea that my true identity is not my visual appearance, that we can and will change that. We need deeper mirrors. All the best, Ray * **
New research shows rhesus monkeys are able to recognize themselves in the mirror. In spite of this discovery, the power of self-awareness is an important distinction of human mental powers from those of other intelligent beings. We do not know about the power of self-awareness in the common ancestor of humans and rhesus monkeys, but there is no doubt that our self-consciousness is way beyond that of primitive humans.
For example, while rereading an article which we have written years ago, we can recall ourselves at a different time and space. Tool-making, language and writing have played a role in development of human self-consciousness throughout history. With the start of modern times and growth of individuality, self-consciousness has developed further. The brief statement of Descartes “I think therefore I am” is a good description of the importance of self-consciousness for the modern human. Surely, the modern human acting with higher self-awareness in society thinks more independently than those humans who were a part of a “mass” in the Middle Ages.
More than ten years ago Ray Kurzweil made a robot called Ramona that was supposed to help his website readers in his place. It is interesting that the robot was made as a woman to simulate Mr. Kurzweil. Kurzweil narrates that in this experience he noticed how much people identify with the visual appearance. He continues that real identity is not equal to visual appearance and thus we need deeper mirrors.*
What we have written in a book, when rereading at a different time and place, is an identity of ours that has nothing to do with our visual appearance. If we have written a music piece, even at its time of composition, we have used our auditory system to create it, and later, to listen to it, without using our sense of sight.
This is why in meditation all our senses and thought are used to bring us a deeper understanding of ourselves. It is interesting that Descartes founded the scientific method itself as a form of self-consciousness. He narrates it in Discourse on Method as days of meditation as if it were some kind of self-awakening.
In fact, writing, composing music and drawing paintings have made deeper kinds of self-awareness possible. But today, thanks to new technologies, there is the possibility for newer evolvement of self-awareness. Self-consciousness perhaps has a genetic foundation, but these environmental factors likely contribute to its growth. And it can grow in AI by self-learning algorithms.
When a person calls someone on the phone or sends an email and receives a response, without the sender or receiver ever seeing each other, self-awareness is developing separate from visual appearance; contrary to the delayed experience of books, here the immediacy of everyday conversation is possible. With the growth of smartphones, this strength in the means of communications is reaching the dimensions of face to face conversation.
Can’t we expect the human self-consciousness to develop like a geometric series? Hasn’t the Internet turned into something like a deeper mirror that Kurzweil is talking about? If modern democracy evolved with independent, individual thinking in the West, can't we hope that cyberspace lets humans globally develop a deeper view of themselves beyond visual appearance?
Hoping for a democratic and secular futurist republic in Iran,
July 16, 2012
Kurzweil continues the above thought in technical details in his following upcoming book, which is the result of his research in reverse engineering of the brain, due to be out in October 2012. Ray Kurzweil, How to Create a Mind, The Secret of Human Thought Revealed (Viking, October 2012)
For a Secular Democratic & Futurist Republican Party in Iran