The Ghost in the Machine
Brain models can be created using artificial neural networks. Do self-learning algorithms perhaps even have the potential to create conscious states?
In a closed room there is a person with whom one cannot speak, but can only communicate with messages written in Chinese through a mail slot. Can this be used to find out without a doubt whether this person actually understands Chinese? He could just look for the right answer to a message in a large encyclopedia. It is impossible for outside observers to tell the difference. Nor can it be said with certainty whether a living being is conscious or merely imitates a corresponding behavior.
The American philosopher John Searle (1932) illustrated this conviction with the thought experiment described, called "The Chinese Room". It reveals one of the greatest difficulties in studying the human mind: its subjective character. One has one's own perception and can ascribe consciousness to other people by reasoning. But it is impossible to feel like another person - or even another being.
But that doesn't stop scientists from wanting to fathom consciousness. Three different disciplines – working largely in isolation from the others – have dedicated themselves to the topic: philosophy, neuroscience and computer science. While the disciplines are vastly different, it seems promising to combine them to unravel one of humanity's most enduring mysteries: How does consciousness arise?
Philosophy is by far the oldest of the three sciences. More than 2000 years ago, the Greek scholar Aristotle was convinced that only humans were endowed with a rational soul. Animals, on the other hand, only have the instincts necessary to survive. Even today, some believe that self-confidence is reserved exclusively for humans…