Are We Really Conscious?

4 minute read

1. On the Intelligent Design

This is the first part of a Serie on consciousness, life and intelligenceThis is the first part of a Serie on consciousness, life and intelligence

As far as I can recall, the idea of an intelligent design in life always seemed strange to me. It seemed like the adults had little imagination to involve yet another being to explain things, as if every stories were the same, always. But under the lights of science and empirical thinking, intelligent design might not be that wrong of a word after all.

There is, whether you look at living cells running around chasing others, at a brain simulation and the firing of neurons, or at a leopard’s body and agility, a beauty, almost artistic, a feat of engineering that is closer to a masterpiece than any other man made object. It has always amazed us humans from mens of science to poets. It is enough to convince anyone of something:

There has to be some kind of intelligence behind it.

And there is…

Natural. Selection. algorithm. (also called genetic algorithm). This is both a theory and a computer science algorithm, based on this same theory. It is part of a domain of computer science called Artificial Intelligence since it involves trying to find a model to solve a task, automatically. Not as famous today as Deep Learning, it is still extremely powerful for many tasks. It has been used to train neural networks, works better than DeepMind’s AI on problems such as having an agent run and walk.

This was never used to create a scentient being but what happened if instead of 3, the population size were of quadrillions… what if the software was super powerful ( let’s call it “the ecosystem”) and what if the computer on which it ran was the entire planet Earth…

…And this, for billions of years.

Well, no need of a neural network to understand that this is exactly what evolution is. So, this super intelligence exists has been used by humans as soon as they understood it and has been proved to work very well.

And that is a intelligent design I can live with. Extravagant, different and unique… But then who designed the evolutionary algorithm?

This question, fortunately, is not a real one, see, evolutionary algorithms are super simple, you need 5 things for them to run (both on your computer or IRL):

  • Individuals with whatever initial configuration

  • An unforgiving environment with defined rules, like Earth.

  • A self replication process, like life.

  • Noise, like the chemistry every living thing is built upon, or the environment that surrounds us.

  • And interactions amongst individuals and between individuals and their environment.

But there seems to be no intelligence in here, how can it design so beautiful and complex beings? The key here is randomness. It is only through this process, controlled by this set of rules, that, with time, and a humongous number of trial and errors, complexity can emerge.

This process is very well documented in science and it regroups many fields working together to understand the history and events during the billions of years of its existence. Doing so, they managed to trace back every living beings today to one common ancestor and he even has a name: LUCA.

If we admit that this algorithm can take one self replicating object (like the first proto organisms on earth, to produce all the masterpieces we see today, well one might still have another question..

Who is the designer of the first self replicating being?

This question has obsessed and been the research focus of Pr. Stephen Wolfram.

He has been wanting to prove that from random noise and simple rules, self replicating and sustainable systems can emerge.

With The Game of Life and related concepts of cellular automata , this theory was, in a way, proven. It is the extreme simplification of chemical processes. The Game of Life is a 2D environment, with a 3 simple local rules.

In a particular set of cellular automata, differentiated by a set of rules, it is possible to witness the emergence of complex patterns. Of course, the designs here are man made, but with randomness, interactions and time, all will appear and the self sustainable, self replicating ones will emerge.

If given sufficient compute power and time, it is possible to witness such things, in 2 dimensions, with 3 basic rules. Thus it is in our 3D universe. With numerous chemical rules, a computer the size of our planet and hundreds of millions of years, it is very likely that our ancestor came to emerge from the chaotic environment of our planet.

The intelligent designer might not look like us or think like us or might even not be conscious or might not even exists as a being. Because everything points toward a Chaos as the main Designer of Life.

From Energy emerges randomness and chaos. From randomness and chaos emerges complexity. From complexity emerges intelligence.

The ideas expressed here are mine and have the sole purpose of giving a framework that is as much as possible routed in our 21st century knowledge and wish to provide a framework to the reader to better live in the age of AI and artificial life.

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