The Ghost in the Machine
Neuroscientists are increasingly using artificial neural networks to create models of the brain. Could self-learning algorithms perhaps even generate some kind of consciousness?
In a locked room there is a person with whom you cannot speak, but only communicate with messages written in Chinese through a mail slot. But can it 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 philosopher Jean Searle illustrated this belief 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. Even if the disciplines differ greatly, it seems promising to combine them in order to get to the bottom of one of mankind's most persistent mysteries: How does consciousness arise? …