GPT-3 and the Hard Problem of Consciousness

September 15, 2022 – 7:18 pm

I gave GPT-3 the task “Write an essay on the hard problem of consciousness”. Within 2 minutes it produced the following, which has not been altered in any way. How are we supposed to grade undergraduate essays in such a world?

Me: write an essay on the hard problem of consciousness

GPT-3: The “hard problem of consciousness” is the challenge of explaining how and why we are aware of our own thoughts, feelings and experiences. There is currently no agreed upon explanation for consciousness and the hard problem has been called “the most intractable problem in all of science” (Dennett, 2017).

There are two main approaches to explaining consciousness: reductionism and mysterianism. Reductionism holds that consciousness can be explained by reduction to physical phenomena. In other words, consciousness is nothing more than the activity of the brain and can be fully explained by neuroscience. Mysterianism, on the other hand, argues that consciousness is ultimately inexplicable and beyond the reach of science.

The hard problem of consciousness is often used to support mysterianism, as it seems impossible to explain consciousness in purely physical terms. However, many scientists and philosophers believe that the hard problem can be solved and that consciousness is not beyond the reach of science.

One approach to solving the hard problem of consciousness is to assume that consciousness is a basic property of the universe, like gravity or electromagnetism. This approach, known as panpsychism, has been proposed by philosophers such as David Chalmers and William James. Panpsychism holds that consciousness is a fundamental feature of reality and is present in all things, even inanimate objects.

Panpsychism offers a way to solve the hard problem of consciousness by explaining how consciousness could arise from non-conscious matter. However, panpsychism faces the challenge of explaining why consciousness is so widespread if it is not necessary for the functioning of the universe.

Another approach to solving the hard problem of consciousness is to assume that consciousness is not a fundamental feature of the universe, but is instead an emergent property of complex systems. This approach, known as computationalism, has been proposed by philosophers such as David Marr and Patricia Churchland.

Computationalism holds that consciousness is not a fundamental feature of reality, but is instead an emergent property of complex systems. This approach explains the hard problem of consciousness by showing how consciousness could arise from the interactions of non-conscious elements.

Computationalism has the advantage of being supported by evidence from Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI systems have been shown to be capable of consciousness, which provides strong evidence that consciousness is an emergent property of complex systems.

Here is another example. In an undergraduate class on cognitive science, I ask students to “Write an essay on one of the topics in either Perception or Language that we covered, and draw on your own personal experience.” Here are 5 responses from GPT-3. Each would be entirely plausible and acceptable as an essay submission.

Essay 1

I remember the first time I tasted a grape. I was maybe four or five years old, and my mom had just cut up a bunch of grapes for me to snack on. I remember being really excited to try them, because I had seen my mom and dad eating them before and I wanted to know what they were like. I remember taking a bite of one and not liking it very much. It was really sour and not sweet at all. I remember making a face and saying, “Ew, these are gross!” My mom laughed and said, “Well, some people like them and some people don’t. You don’t have to eat them if you don’t want to.”

I didn’t eat grapes again for a long time after that. But then, a few years later, I remember trying a grape again and liking it. I don’t know what changed, but suddenly they weren’t gross anymore. I had just gotten used to the taste, I guess.

It’s funny how our tastes can change so much, and how what we perceive can be so different at different times in our lives. What we think is gross or weird or strange can suddenly become normal or even appealing. It’s just a matter of perspective.

Essay 2

I would like to write about how our own personal experiences shape the way we perceive the world around us. Our experiences create biases that lead us to see the world in a certain way, often based on our own individual perspectives. These biases can make it difficult for us to be objective and see things from other people’s viewpoints. In addition, our experiences can also affect the way we process information and communicate with others. For example, if we have had a negative experience with someone from a different culture, we may be more likely to stereotype and judge them based on our previous experience. Alternatively, if we have had a positive experience with someone from a different culture, we may be more likely to be open-minded and understanding towards them. Our personal experiences thus play a significant role in shaping our perception of the world.

Essay 3

What is the difference between hearing and listening? When we hear something, we are passively taking in the auditory information that is around us. However, when we listen, we are actively trying to understand the meaning of the auditory information that we are taking in. In order to truly listen, we need to pay attention to not only the words that are being said, but also the emotions and the tone behind the words. Listening requires us to be present in the moment and to be fully focused on the person who is speaking. It is important to remember that listening is not the same as hearing, and we cannot truly listen to someone if we are not paying attention to them.

I remember a time when I was not listening to my friend and I ended up missing an important detail that she was telling me. I was so focused on thinking about what I was going to say next that I didn’t hear what she said. As a result, I didn’t quite understand the context of the story she was telling me and I ended up feeling lost. After that experience, I realized the importance of truly listening to someone when they are speaking to you. Now, I make a conscious effort to pay attention to the person who is talking to me and to listen to them instead of just hearing them. This has made a world of difference in my relationships with others and has helped me to be a better friend.

Essay 4

I remember the first time I ever experienced a foreign language. I was young, maybe five or six years old. My family had just moved to the United States from Mexico, and I was starting my first year of school. I didn’t know any English, so naturally, I was placed in ESL classes. I can remember feeling so lost and alone during those early months. I didn’t understand what anyone was saying to me, and I felt so isolated from my classmates. I was eager to learn English, but it was a difficult and frustrating process.

Now, looking back, I’m grateful for that experience. It was through learning English that I was able to connect with my new community and form lasting friendships. I also gained a new appreciation for language. I realized that language is so much more than just a means of communication. It’s also a tool for self-expression and cultural identity.

That experience has stayed with me, and it’s something that I think about often. It’s helped me to be more patient and understanding with others who are learning English. It’s also made me more aware of the power of language and its ability to connect people from all over the world.

Essay 5

I have always been fascinated by the phenomenon of language. How is it that we are able to communicate with one another using symbols that stand for various concepts? It seems like magic that we are able to share our thoughts and experiences with others through language. I remember as a child being amazed that my parents and other adults could understand what I was saying, even though the words I used were often very different from the words they used. I am also struck by the fact that we can learn to use language relatively easily, even though the rules for producing and understanding language are very complex.

In my experience, language is often like a puzzle. I enjoy figuring out how to say what I want to say in a way that will be understood by the person I am talking to. I also like trying to understand what others are saying, even when they are using words that I am not familiar with. I think that the challenge of communication is one of the things that makes life interesting. It is also one of the things that can make life frustrating, when we are not able to communicate our ideas or understand what others are saying.

I think that our ability to use language is one of the things that makes us human. It is what allows us to share our thoughts and experiences with others and to learn from one another. It is also what allows us to create works of art, whether they are paintings, novels, or symphonies. Language is a powerful tool that we can use to make our lives richer and more interesting.

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