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What is the FACT?

 

 
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The FACT refers to ‘The First Axiom of Consciousness and Thought’ – ‘If a thing is not alive, it cannot be conscious, nor can it think’, a lucid thought if ever one was expressed. Dr. Endel Tulving wrote about the FACT in one of his earlier, tellingly animated tales that is now available online (posted […]

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Posted April 23, 2007 by Bernard J. Baars

 
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The FACT refers to ‘The First Axiom of Consciousness and Thought’ – ‘If a thing is not alive, it cannot be conscious, nor can it think’, a lucid thought if ever one was expressed. Dr. Endel Tulving wrote about the FACT in one of his earlier, tellingly animated tales that is now available online (posted with his permission). His message is piercing and his writing style is refreshingly entertaining. It is a great read that I recommend to anyone interested in the scientific study of consciousness. Tulving E. (1997). FACT: The first axiom of consciousness and thought. In R. Solso (Ed.), Mind and Brain Sciences in the Twenty-First Century.


Bernard J. Baars

 


7 Comments


  1.  
    anonymous

    The FACT is not even a lowercase fact. There are numerous computer programs and AI engines that perform tasks which when done by humans we would consider to be “thinking”, but these programs not alive in any shape or form. They do not reproduce, have no metabolism, etc. etc.




  2.  
    truth machine

    I can’t quite tell whether this is a badly written satire attacking an absurd view, or some sort of badly written tongue-in-cheek support for said absurd view. I charitably lean toward the former, but both alice and anonymous seem to have taken it as the latter — alice approving of the absurdity (“lucid thought”??) and anonymous disapproving of it.

    Alice doesn’t seem to grasp the concept of “review”. If Dr. Tulving’s “message” is so “piercing”, then just what is it? One of his points seems to be that there are a lot of fools working in consciousness studies who can’t distinguish a syllogism from a religious proclamation.




  3.  
    gcox

    I believe Tulving’s story is exceptionally tongue-in-cheek. Several things make this clear: 1) His introduction in which he explains how “one” can absolve oneself for predictive errors, followed immediately by an explanation of why he has received a revelation from the future, making such an excuse effectively unnecessary. 2) His various vindictive references to “committee science”, which seems to guide the research of the future in a way he clearly thinks is bad. 3) The use of GOD and JC as the initials of the “saviors” of cog sci, whose “FACT” has become an article of unquestioned faith in the future, and which is based on clearly invalid logic. 4) Notice the language he uses when talking about testing for DNA, which bares similarity to the language used when talking about testing for consciousness.

    That being said, I think the FACT (“If something is not alive, then it is not conscious”) is more remarkable–and more true–when expressed as its contrapositive: If something is conscious, then it is alive. Thus, if one built a conscious machine, it would be alive, by the FACT.




  4.  

    Of course, to take the argument further, you would then have to argue that the corollary to FACT is “If something is alive, then it is conscious”. Does this mean that bacteria have consciousness? Do microbe philosphers debate the existence of macrobiotic life? Or do we argue that anything without consciousness can not be alive and so non-conscious biological organisms simply mimic life?




  5.  

    Romeo Vitelli – Tulving argues that the set of conscious things is a subset of alive things. He does not argue that the two sets are identical. The argument is “If something is conscious, it is alive.”, the argument is NOT “If AND ONLY IF something is conscious, it is alive.”




  6.  

    So you can have life without consciousness but you can not have consciousness without life? I’m not sure that clearly follows from the axiom as stated.





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