Who lacks the qualia of consciousness?

post by Richard_Kennaway · 2019-10-05T19:49:52.432Z · score: 27 (17 votes) · LW · GW · 51 comments

Over on Facebook (I don't know if it's possible to link to a Facebook post, but h/t Alexander Kruel) and Twitter, the subject of missing qualia has come up. Some people are color-blind. This deficiency can be objectively demonstrated by tasks such as the Ishihara patterns. Some people cannot smell, and sometimes do not discover this until well into adulthood. Some people cannot form mental imagery, which was undiscovered until Galton wrote of it, but is now well-known enough to have a Wikipedia article. Until they discover that others really do see with the mind's eye, aphantasics take the expression to be some sort of metaphor. But it is not. Some people, I think most, do see things in their mind's eye.

More recently of note is that some people lack the qualia of long-term memory (see section 1.4): they can know that things involving them happened, but not re-experience them as a participant.

I want to put the following question: Does anyone here lack the qualia of consciousness?

If you do lack this then you won't know what I'm talking about. So I shall try to describe the experience. I have a vivid sensation of my own presence, my own self. This is the thing I am pointing at when I say that I am conscious. Whether I sit in meditation or in the midst of life, there I am. Indeed, more vividly in meditation, because then, that is where I direct my attention. But only in dreamless sleep is it absent.

Some people claim by meditation to have seen through what they claim is the illusion of consciousness. I am uncertain whether they have self-modified to ablate the faculty of having this experience, or merely philosophised themselves into believing there can't be any such thing, and insisting that they are not experiencing what they are experiencing.

But there may be some people out there who have never had any experience of themselves such as I have described. In effect, almost p-zombies. The original p-zombies are by definition indistinguishable in behaviour from everyone else, including talk about consciousness. But people without this experience of self, quasi-p-zombies, or q-zombies for short, may imitate the discourse as aphantasics or anosmics may, but without real understanding. I invite anyone who recognises themselves to be a q-zombie to put their hand up. Note that this is a question about whether you actually have this experience, not what you think about its possibility or nature.

51 comments

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comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2019-10-06T17:59:27.800Z · score: 17 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Do you mean the state of having conscious experiences at all, or the qualia of having/being a self? Those seem different to me, but you seem to talk about both.

comment by Richard_Kennaway · 2019-10-07T13:13:38.124Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure how to distinguish these, since what different people mean by these words is likely to vary as much as the experiences they have in this area. All I can say is that the state I mean is the one I described in experiential terms, a vivid sense of my own presence.

comment by mingyuan · 2019-10-06T20:55:49.431Z · score: 12 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure if this counts but: the experience you describe as "a vivid sensation of my own presence" is something I only have rarely, in flashes, and it always freaks me out. It's happened to me periodically for my whole life, and I've come to believe it falls under the label of dissociation.

Most of the time, I walk around basically on autopilot. I have feelings and wants, and I can introspect and remember things, but I'm not paying attention to the fact that it's myself doing those things; I just do them. This is very qualitatively different from what it's like to dissociate. When I dissociate, I am very aware that I am a brain in a body, that there's something it's like to be me and not anybody else, that everything around me was constructed by humans, etc. This sounds more like the "vivid sensation" you talked about, but I'm not sure. If so, I don't entirely lack the qualia of consciousness, but I don't have it most of the time, and it freaks me out when I do have it.

comment by Vanessa Kosoy (vanessa-kosoy) · 2019-10-08T11:44:38.732Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I have some very similar experiences*. During the "vivid sensation" moments (that are unpleasant) I acutely feel that "I am me", compared to which, the rest of the time "I" is just one of the characters in the play. Incidentally, I think that I didn't have a "vivid sensation" moment for years.

*Or, maybe I don't have experiences since I'm not conscious? ;)

comment by nontrivial · 2019-10-07T20:15:18.155Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Can you visualize stuff in your mind's eye?

comment by mingyuan · 2019-10-09T06:24:58.476Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, but not super vividly? Like, there's definitely a spectrum - you have people with aphantasia, and then on the other end you have my sister, who can build a 3D model of a sculpture in her mind, make various changes to it, and then construct it out of clay. My mental imagery is much weaker than that, more like vague impressions with some visual component, or images that are definitely there but fade when I look them head on (like stars).

comment by gwern · 2019-10-06T00:47:05.554Z · score: 9 (5 votes) · LW · GW

People with Cotard delusion seem to come close. And there is of course Simon Browne [LW · GW], who explicitly claimed to be "utterly divested of consciousness."

And you have to wonder: long-term memory (SDAM) seems closely associated with aphantasia; and many people vary drastically on levels of 'internal monologue'. If you take someone with no internal monologue, aphantasia, and SDAM, what's left?

comment by Richard_Kennaway · 2019-10-06T14:46:19.184Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW
If you take someone with no internal monologue, aphantasia, and SDAM, what's left?

A behaviorist psychologist. :) I have to wonder about the inner life of J. B. Watson.

comment by mr-hire · 2019-10-06T21:40:45.603Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

And you have to wonder: long-term memory (SDAM) seems closely associated with aphantasia; and many people vary drastically on levels of 'internal monologue'. If you take someone with no internal monologue, aphantasia, and SDAM, what's left?

Well, certainly kinesthetic experiences and feelings aren't included in that list.

comment by gwern · 2019-10-06T23:12:23.701Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Animals have kinesthetic experiences and emotions too.

comment by mr-hire · 2019-10-06T23:35:27.334Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, and consciousness. Although not to the same level as humans.

Animals also visualize don't they?

comment by gwern · 2019-10-07T02:24:53.783Z · score: 9 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, and consciousness. Although not to the same level as humans.

Highly debatable.

Animals also visualize don't they?

How would you know if they didn't and were aphantasic? Did you ask them?

comment by mr-hire · 2019-10-07T18:33:40.191Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The same way we know they have feelings, by observing behavior (eg a mouse pausing in a maze then choosing the right direction). It's true I was overconfident in my statements , but you putting kinisthetic in a separate compartment, then also questioning the consciousness of animals in a sure way is also overconfident.

comment by Leafcraft · 2019-10-07T07:54:14.245Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
Highly debatable

I would say that the only fair thing to say here, is that we simply do not have any way to know that as of today.

comment by romeostevensit · 2019-10-06T18:22:19.424Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's funny because I would argue the exact same thing from the opposite side of the aisle. If you take someone who identifies with memory, internal speech, and internal image and reports nothing else, they don't seem all that conscious to me. Consider the moment directly before and after going lucid in a dream.

Come to think of it, I wonder if 'lucid' dreaming would even be a sensible distinction for a q-zombie.

comment by jimmy · 2019-10-06T18:03:12.033Z · score: 8 (5 votes) · LW · GW
Over on Facebook (I don't know if it's possible to link to a Facebook post, but h/t Alexander Kruel) and Twitter, the subject of missing qualia has come up. Some people are color-blind. This deficiency can be objectively demonstrated by tasks such as the Ishihara patterns

Lacking the ability to distinguish colors well means your brain does not know which qualia to use, not that it doesn't have all of the qualia available. I'm red/green color blind (according to the tests, and difficulty determining the color of small things), but I have very distinct red and green qualia. Most of the time my experience feels like "I'm unsure if this line is red or green", which is different than "this line is red-green, as there is not actually a difference between the thing people call 'red' and the thing people call 'green'".

However, I have also had the experience of having red text show up as bright green and then switch on me. I was reading part of the sequences back in the day, and I could tell from the context that the word "GREEN" was supposed to be red (stroop tests), but my brain took that as a cue that the text was supposed to be green. When I brought my face closer to the screen to check, the text flipped to red. When I backed up it returned to green. In between, individual pieces of each letter would start to flip color.

comment by Richard_Kennaway · 2019-10-07T13:45:26.436Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That is very interesting, although it raises the old philosophical condundrum of whether your red and green, when you have them, are the same as mine (who am not colour-blind), or how much are they alike, despite the fact that my red and green are never confused with each other. Perhaps the hardware that does the qualia is the same, and doing what it can with limited data.

I heard of a blind man saying that although he had never seen the color red, he imagined that it must be something like the sound of a trumpet. I think that's a pretty good metaphor for a vivid, pillar-box red. (Googling just now, I find the story is from Locke's "Essay Concerning Human Understanding", book 3, ch.4.)

comment by James Blaha (james-blaha) · 2019-10-06T20:12:51.652Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That is extremely interesting to me. I've had the experience of gaining a new qualia (depth) alongside gaining a new skill (depth perception). I've talked to quite a few people who lack the qualia of depth but have some amount of the skill of depth perception. Some people can score a certain value on tests of depth perception while reporting that they don't have the experience of depth, while others score that same amount and do report that they have the qualia. Whether or not you can do the task seems related but not always connected to whether or not your brain assigns that qualia to the task.

Before I was able to compute stereo depth from binocular disparity, I never remember experiencing the qualia of depth. For me, as soon as I was able to learn the skill, the qualia came with it for free. But, for many people, this does not seem to be the case, and no amount of the skill brings them the qualia. Or maybe the first and second groups are just not communicating well, it is hard to tell for sure!

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2019-10-07T09:02:07.844Z · score: 5 (2 votes) · LW · GW
I don't know if it's possible to link to a Facebook post

The timestamp of a Facebook post should have a link to its URL, letting you link to the post if it's a public one. (This is a common UI convention: in general, if you want to link to an individual post-like-thing, see if its timestamp would happen to have the link.) E.g. this is the link to the post I assume you were thinking of.

comment by justinpombrio · 2019-10-06T15:17:57.911Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · LW · GW

So I shall try to describe the experience. I have a vivid sensation of my own presence, my own self. This is the thing I am pointing at when I say that I am conscious. Whether I sit in meditation or in the midst of life, there I am. Indeed, more vividly in meditation, because then, that is where I direct my attention. But only in dreamless sleep is it absent.

Can you be much more specific about what you mean?

For example, I have had dreams in which:

  • I was me, walking around and doing stuff, and aware that I was dreaming.
  • I was me, walking around and doing stuff, from the usual perspective, but unaware that I was dreaming.
  • I was someone else (with a different name, history, body etc.), walking around and doing stuff, from the usual perspective.
  • I was me, walking around and doing stuff, but viewed from a third-person vantage point.
  • There were some people. One of them stood out, and was the "focus", but they felt more like the main character of a movie than "me".
  • There were some people, and none of them stood out from one another.

In which of these cases was I a p-zombie?

However, dreams to me are vague and fuzzy in comparison to the real deal, being awake. While I'm awake, I typically have what could be called a "self" with the following properties:

  1. Spatially, my self is located behind my eyes, I think?
  2. My self comes with knowledge and expectations of my personality and behavior. Like "I'm a professional, I'll behave professionally" when working, or "wheee, kitty!" when in proximity to a feline or image thereof.
  3. My self comes with a mood. Like "I just woke up, and am groggy, ugghh".

I think these properties are generally lacking when I dream, but it's hard to tell. E.g., I recall dreams in which I was afraid, but not dreams in which I was grumpy or groggy.

After meditating for a long time, I sometimes enter a state of mind that lacks some of these properties:

  1. I'm not sure about the spatial location thing?
  2. The knowledge and expectation of my personality and behavior is still available, but feels less important and it feels more like I have a choice at each moment.
  3. I tend to view moods as their component pieces. E.g. "I'm grumpy" becomes "physical sensation plus change in movement of attention plus bias in what thoughts arise".

Beyond of these specifics, this states of mind tend to come with a very strange feeling of something missing that was ordinarily there.

Which of these properties, when lacking, makes me a p-zombie? Or have I not captured it; is this thing that I call a "self" totally different from what you mean by "qualia of consciousness"? Either way, what properties does your "qualia of consciousness" have?

Epistemic status: generally muddled about all of this; suspicious that my ontology is wrong; certain that most attempts at communication around this topic go poorly.

comment by Richard_Kennaway · 2019-10-06T15:39:29.227Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I wouldn't say that any of those dream experiences have zombie nature. I have a similar range of dreams. All of my perceptions in dreams are rather muted compared with real life, although in the dream I am not aware of this, except for rare lucid ones. But always, there I am.

I never have an experience of myself not being there. I may not be turning my attention to it all the time, but like my left foot, there it is whenever I do.

comment by justinpombrio · 2019-10-07T03:09:42.549Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I may not be turning my attention to it all the time, but like my left foot, there it is whenever I do.

When you do turn your attention to it, what is it like? Could you try to describe it in a way that would be useful for someone who does not experience it? For example,

Smell is a sensation, distinct from others like sight and sound. It detects particles in the air using the nose, and if you hold your nose than you mostly stop experiencing smell. Air in different places will smell differently. Smell emanates from certain objects, like wet socks or foods, and spreads out through the air. There are very many distinct smells; for example I can tell if popcorn is nearby from the smell, and I don't think I've ever confused the smell of popcorn for anything else. While color can easily be separated into components (e.g. RGB), I'm not aware of any nice separation like that for smells. Smells can be pleasant or unpleasant: flowers really do smell good sometimes, and a smell can be so bad that it makes you feel nauseous and is painful to experience. People mostly agree on what smells are pleasant or unpleasant. If I enter a place with a different smell, I'll tend to notice it immediately, then adjust to it and stop noticing it, unless it is particularly strong. I don't recall ever having smelled something in a dream.

I'm asking because there is more than one thing that I have experienced that could be what you are describing, and I'm not yet sure which of these things you are trying to refer to, or if you're referring to something else which I have not experienced and I'm a p-zombie.

comment by Slider · 2019-10-06T16:48:14.308Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What do you mean when any is particularised to the "there are a group of people and none stood out" that that is not a zombie nature?

The left foot thing made me think about the phantom hand illusion. Stroke your hand behind a mirror throught which you see a fake hand being similarly touched. One might come to feel that it is their hand. Some of the youtube videos have people drop hammers on the fake hand etc which makes it clear that selfpreservation is extended to that illusion.

If the self can be extended or redacted from limbs the dream state where it is removed from whole bodies seems like a state where there is atleast no spatial extension to the self. (You can still have knowledge of the objects because surprise you are omniscient about your dreams)

comment by Richard_Kennaway · 2019-10-07T13:16:55.763Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW
What do you mean when any is particularised to the "there are a group of people and none stood out" that that is not a zombie nature?

I have had a few dreams in which I had a viewpoint, but I was not any of the characters in the dream. Think of it as like a daydream about events not involving oneself. Nevertheless, this I-ness was still present.

comment by Urshanabi · 2019-10-07T14:18:27.068Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I recall a conversation about consciousness that I came out of convinced I was a p-zombie, because the description of consciousness didn't describe anything going on in my head. I feel confused about what you're even referring to when you say "a vivid sensation of my own presence."

I don't have any experience of my self as a distinct thing, though it's possible that it's just always there and I can't tell it's there because I have no concept of it not being there, if that makes sense. I haven't meditated much, perhaps doing more will make it more distinct?

I can introspect fine usually, but the me doing the looking doesn't feel separate from the me being looked at. When I do things, I just kind of... do them? It doesn't feel like there's a specific "me" doing things.

comment by Richard_Kennaway · 2019-10-07T15:50:26.943Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW
I recall a conversation about consciousness that I came out of convinced I was a p-zombie, because the description of consciousness didn't describe anything going on in my head. I feel confused about what you're even referring to when you say "a vivid sensation of my own presence."

We have a winner! :)

In meditation there is a concept called "divided awareness". One is aware of something that one is concentrating on, e.g. the breath, a candle flame, or whatever, and at the same time aware of one's attention to that thing, dividing one's attention between the two. Does this make any sense to you?

In principle one can go on to be aware of one's awareness of one's attention to the object, and so on indefinitely, but when I try to hold multiple levels of awareness all at once, I only get up to the low single figures.

comment by mr-hire · 2019-10-07T18:35:30.235Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The thing you're talking about sounds much more like a very specific representation you have for a homonoculus in your head then a sensation of consciousness.

comment by Richard_Kennaway · 2019-10-07T18:41:17.684Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's definitely (what I would call) a sensation. Just as is seeing my physical body in a mirror.

comment by mr-hire · 2019-10-07T20:48:19.183Z · score: 1 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, and you attribute consciousness to that sensation. That does not mean that sensation=consciousness in others minds. To me it feels like the thing I described above - taking a representation of a homonoculus and calling it consciousness.

I think meditators have become so whole that they begin to dissolve these "parts" of themselves - the homonoculi inside them.

comment by Richard_Kennaway · 2019-10-08T07:33:57.585Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

A problem in talking about these things is that there is no easy way to agree on what the words we are using refer to. This is why in the OP I tried to give an idea of what it is like to experience this thing I am trying to get at. When I wrote "This is the thing I am pointing at when I say that I am conscious", that was a statement about how I use the word "conscious", not an attribution of something else called "consciousness" to that state.

comment by mr-hire · 2019-10-08T14:40:00.215Z · score: 5 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I get that, I'm trying to point to something a little more subtle. That is, I think the thing you're calling consciousness is rather a gross sensation that correlates with consciousness based on your perception of a homonoculus inside of you.

If that perception of a homonoculus went away, I suspect you would still experience something you called consciousness, but as simply a subset subtle sensation that you can't seperate out right now from the gross sensation of the homonoculus.

As preliminary evidence of this, and contrary to your original claim, I did a Google search, and couldn't find any claims of meditation exposing the illusion of consciousness, but many about it exposing the illusion of self. Once the homonoculus goes away, it seems that the thing people call consciousness is still there.

It would be like if you always experienced red in the presence of warmth, and never experienced warmth without red. You would come to believe that red WAS warmth.

comment by mr-hire · 2019-10-08T01:27:16.558Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

As preliminary evidence of this, and contrary to your original claim, I did a Google search, and couldn't find any claims of meditation exposing the illusion of consciousness, but many about it exposing the illusion of self.

comment by Richard_Kennaway · 2019-10-08T15:25:56.967Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm still unclear what distinction you are labelling with the words "self" and "consciousness", but try the works of Susan Blackmore. Although she says she is not denying the existence of consciousness, that's hard to square with this: "there are no contents of consciousness and no difference between conscious and unconscious processes or events."

comment by mr-hire · 2019-10-08T17:16:44.173Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW
I'm still unclear what distinction you are labelling with the words "self" and "consciousness"

My claim is that this is the same type of confusion as the person above not clear about the difference between "warmth" and "red" because they've always experienced them together.

try the works of Susan Blackmore.

I actually don't understand what's being said in this essay enough to figure out what claim she is making about consciousness.

comment by Richard_Kennaway · 2019-10-08T19:50:05.663Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW
My claim is that this is the same type of confusion as the person above not clear about the difference between "warmth" and "red" because they've always experienced them together.

I still don't know what two things you are pointing to that you are claiming are being confused with each other. Imagine that English is my second language, and while I have a reasonable competence in it, I happen never to have encountered either of the words "self" and "consciousness". How would you express the distinction you are drawing?

I actually don't understand what's being said in this essay enough to figure out what claim she is making about consciousness.

She says many different things, some of which seem clear enough, but they seem inconsistent with each other. Again there is the problem of distinguishing the thing that is being talked about from the things that are being claimed about that thing.

comment by mr-hire · 2019-10-08T20:07:07.114Z · score: 5 (2 votes) · LW · GW
I still don't know what two things you are pointing to that you are claiming are being confused with each other. Imagine that English is my second language, and while I have a reasonable competence in it, I happen never to have encountered either of the words "self" and "consciousness". How would you express the distinction you are drawing?

I'm claiming that the original thing you pointed at

I have a vivid sensation of my own presence, my own self. This is the thing I am pointing at when I say that I am conscious.

Now take away "presence", "self," and "I have", What's left is awareness of "sensation" without needing a subject. That awareness is somewhere in the ballpark of consciousness.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2019-10-08T20:43:18.980Z · score: 3 (1 votes) · LW · GW

People commonly report that the strength of their self-sensation varies depending on what they are doing. In particular, flow states are frequently described as ones where the sense of self vanishes, as the person's focus is purely on the activity and nothing else. Just the doing, with no room for the sensation of a self, as the person's entire focus is on the sensations of the doing.

Does this match anything in your experience?

comment by Richard_Kennaway · 2019-10-09T11:26:49.032Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Not really. I can be hard at work on something, my focus on the activity, but my sense of myself never vanishes. I can remember being "lost in a book" as a child, but not since then, and I don't find it a particularly desirable state of mind.

comment by Urshanabi · 2019-10-07T17:25:42.349Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I can sort of focus on my attention, I think. It feels like I'm focusing on the difference between what I'm focusing on and what I'm not focusing on, or on the process of shifting attention.

If I'm supposed to be focusing on the thing doing the attention then I can't do that. A quick attempt at focusing on the process behind choosing what to focus on failed, though I might have more success if I tried doing it for longer.

comment by Leafcraft · 2019-10-07T07:58:47.733Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW
Some people are color-blind. This deficiency can be objectively demonstrated by tasks such as the Ishihara patterns.

This does not mean that color-blind people are missing qualia. In fact we know for sure that at least some color-blind individuals still possess the qualia of the "missing" color.

As a general rule people that cannot smell/touch ect. simply lack the receptors for these kind of experiences; this doesn't mean they lack the qualia.

comment by Richard_Kennaway · 2019-10-07T13:32:20.654Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It would be interesting to know to what extent the brain has the hardware to have qualia that their senses for are missing. People who have been blind from birth, but then through some medical intervention can see do have "sight", but it's a rather more confused experience than for those who have always been sighted.

comment by Leafcraft · 2019-10-07T13:38:15.500Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
it's a rather more confused experience than for those who have always been sighted.

I suppose they just need to develop the spatial skill to process the information? As I said there is no reason to believe these people lack qualias, as color-blind people with synesthesia experience so-called "Moon Colors"

I have never heard of people who acquired sight later in life experience long-term issues with the sense; unlike say people who haven't been exposed to language at an early age.

comment by Slider · 2019-10-07T15:57:44.600Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Fresh from birth babies have also trouble seeing and I think this is a simliar lack of sensory skill but I would characterise it as more of a cognitive one rather than a spatial one. Althought with babies their understanding is all-around limited whereas if someone is new to seeing but otherwise familiar with life the "noobiness" is very pinpointed to a narrow sector.

comment by Spiracular · 2019-10-06T22:43:32.566Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

In one of the sub-comments, I thought about the tests that identified mental-imagery, and started thinking of how you might test for several variants of "lack of sense of self" or some related attributes.

Related Tests for inner-sense or model of self

No-qualia seems challenging to test. But "no model of self" (one form of "lack-of-self-awareness") seems halfway-there, or at least in the correct spirit of the question? And I think that could be tested reliably; just get a group of people to predict their own behavior, and watch that subset of the group who reliably fail catastrophically at this.

For lack of consistency and other-awareness... There's a Nazi (ETA: Eichmann) who seemed likely to be a troublingly-vivid example of "no consistent worldview or other-awareness"; all his words and beliefs were inconsistent platitudes, and he seemed genuinely surprised when Jewish judges didn't feel sympathy for the difficulty in his attempts to get promoted by doing a "good job" optimizing trains for death. Unfortunately, I can't track down his name. If someone knows who I'm talking about, I'd love to be pointed at an article about his strange psychology again.

Lack-of-attachment-to-internal-identity seems to be another semi-related thing. I feel like there are some things where I care about "identity-alignment" a great deal, and other matters that others clearly care about where I just lack any feeling of identity euphoria/dysphoria around the matter regardless of what I do. I suspect there are some people who lack either sensation altogether. Probably some fraction of those people come across as identity chameleons; people who switch out identities according to external incentives, because they have no internal reason not to.

(Personally, meditation updated me considerably towards a reduced attachment to internal-identities, but there are still some I'm attached to and care about maintaining.)

Alexithymia is a phenomenon where you lack awareness of your own emotions, sometimes even as you are acting them out. This seems easy to test in a manner similar to green/red color-blindness; have the person try to appraise what sort of emotion they're feeling, and then read their circumstances or watch their behavior for a read of which emotion it actually is, and see who usually seems to misjudge it (or believe they're not feeling emotions entirely).

Another p-zombie variant

There's a different p-zombie subtype I've been thinking about a great deal myself..

If you set up a system where there's an observer, an actor, and an environment, then there are 2 kinds of consciousness:

  • The observer influences, controls, or is the actor who does things in the environment
    • A policy feedback loop
  • The observer is just modeling what the actor will do in the environment
    • A one-way modeling of the agent

I suspect the later can feel "conscious" even if the observer never influences the actor in any way.

Humans are usually a bit of both, but someone who only has "consciousness" in the later capacity feels a bit like a... "consciousness hitchhiking on a q-zombie" to me.

(Related: The Elephant and The Rider)

comment by Richard_Kennaway · 2019-10-07T13:19:06.145Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW
There's a Nazi who ...

This is Eichmann, notably written about by Hannah Arendt, who coined the phrase "the banality of evil" in response.

comment by Vanessa Kosoy (vanessa-kosoy) · 2019-10-06T22:00:26.660Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

A lot of people seem to associate consciousness with moral worth. Hence, it seems like admitting you lack consciousness is rather dangerous: you may lose value in the eyes of other people.

comment by Matthew Barnett (matthew-barnett) · 2019-10-06T22:25:35.987Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

When I think about what I find morally valuable about consciousness, I tend to think about rich experiences which are negative/positive, from the way that I rate them internally. An example of a negative value conscious experience is a sharp pain associated with being pricked by a pin. An example of a valuable conscious experience is the sensation of warmth associated with sitting near a fire during a cold winter day, together with the way that my brain processes the situation and enjoys it.

These things appears to me subtlety distinct from the feeling of inner awareness called 'consciousness' in this post.

comment by stochastic_bit · 2019-10-05T22:23:38.433Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

1. In regard to mental imagery and other lack of qualia phenomena, it seems to me that the lack of qualia can be in the other directions in all cases. For example, people who say that they can form mental images, may not have qualia for real life imagery, so both experiences are more of the same to them.

How you can distinguish between those two possibilities?

2. People without qualia (if exist) will have their “real” interpretation of stuff like "vivid sensation of my own presence", and i think that most definitions will failed to find them.

And to be more specific to your definition - non-qualia person will still have awareness for his presence and a self. And still will have more awareness for what he think and his body when meditate.

comment by Spiracular · 2019-10-06T22:36:06.132Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Mental imagery: Drawing seems to reliably distinguish between coherent-mental-visualizers and those who aren't. Tasks like "count the stripes on the tiger" make sense to a vivid/detailed visualizer, but not to someone who is just holding on to the concept "striped big cat."

I suspect drawing-attempts would also reliably identify people like "The Man who Mistook His Wife for a Hat", who viewed people as a "disorganized bag of facial-features" and had to rely on a single distinctive trait to identify even people he knew well (ex: Albert Einstein & his eccentric hairstyle), and who described things that weren't there when trying to interpret a low-feature image like a picture of the dunes of the Sahara.

comment by Flawed Spiral (flawed-spiral) · 2019-10-19T01:09:50.838Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The discussion on this post reminded me of some incidents when I was overcome with strong emotion as a child.

I had a lot of issues controlling my emotions of anger and sadness, to the point that after other children angered me I exploded in hot, violent rage. Every such time I felt like I lost control of myself and was more of an observer. I needed to lock myself away from the world and let all that anger out somehow, until I came down and calmed down. Looking back, I think that (paradoxically) I felt more conscious during those moments. I think this might be because the overwhelming emotion purged all complex thought and made me focus less on the outside environment, so I could pay more attention to myself and my experience.

In relation to my emotional issues, I've learned to suppress certain kinds of emotions. I don't think I've truly felt angry since I was about 11, and I haven't shut down from sadness since I was 15 or so.

I still cry when seeing some movies (I blame the music - it's always sad music that gets me), and I feel irritated when someone annoys me, but I don't feel like shutting down, or that 'I want to fucking murder someone, so I better close myself in a bathroom stall until I calm down' anymore.

This means that I can't really experience emotions the same way other people do, and I have trouble with empathy, since I had to dull those emotions to be able to work with other people, as otherwise I would can up minor irritations until I exploded violently. In this way, I guess you could consider my experience as less conscious in some way.

I prefer not to form an opinion either way as "consciousness" is way too foggy as a concept, and (as we can see in adjacent comments) people (mildly) disagree on what they mean when they talk about it.

comment by emmab · 2019-10-08T03:10:29.760Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I feel a sense of impossibility that "anything could exist at all".

I feel a sense of impossibility when I contemplate the recursive nature of perceiving myself perceiving thoughts.

I feel a sense of impossibility about something unspeakable that comes before and is outside anything else.

How are we sure we mean the same thing by the word consciousness though? All I can tell for sure is that ppl think consciousness is "impossible" (cus they try to invent quantum phlogiston to explain it), and something about consciousness engendering moral worth.

I don't think I'd have less moral worth if I couldn't recognize myself in a mirror. I still have moral worth when I'm not introspecting.

I get the sense of impossibility but I get it about lots of things, e.g. Greg Egan's dust from permutation city.

I feel like maybe I'm missing something other people are experiencing here, but maybe not.