The minds of robots and the mystery of consciousness
What can I say about a book I read 50 years ago?
I was a student at St Chad’s College, Durham, at the time, and I borrowed the book from the university library. It wasn’t part of the required reading for any of my courses, and probably the best I can do is see what I wrote in my diary back then — 24 January 1967.
It was library recall day, and I returned the diaries of Lewis Carroll, though I had not finished them yet. I saw a book called The minds of robots, which looked interesting from the blurb on the inside cover. It is something I have thought about and talked about, but everyone thinks I am talking nonsense — the relationship of consciousness to the topological connectivity of the nervous system. After reading A subway named Möbius about 3-4 years ago, I came to the conclusion that consciousness was the result of the movement of nerve impulses through the great topological connectivity and complexity of the brain, so that they transcended the physical mechanism, and like the Boston train in the story, lost their “whereness” on the circuit, and went into the fifth dimension.
According to the blurb, the author, James T. Culbertson, believes the topological movement is consciousness, but I’ll have to read the book to see what he says. But it’s good to see that an expert in maths is thinking along these lines. It seems quite a fascinating study.
And a couple of days later, after reading more of the book (26 January 1967)
In reading The minds of robots I still have not come across anything that bridges the gap between the sensations experienced and the network of causal transcensions [?] which gives rise to
them. But on thinking it occurred to me that the sensation of, say, green, is like a green light in a car dashboard. Its significance is purely arbitrary. The different labels on dials on a dashboard, and green sensation bears as little resemblance to the stimulus which causes it as the needle pointing to 40 lbs/sq. in. does to oil in a gallery being pumped to a bearing. This seems to cover everything involved, yet there still seems to be a gap of conception somewhere, and I can’t quite put my finger on it. Perhaps more thought will provide the answer eventually.
This would all be ancient history, and there would seem to be little point in discussing a book that is long out of print, except that I have recently seen several articles on the web on the topic of the nature of consciousness, and artificial intelligence, yet the conversation doesn’t seem to have advanced much beyond where it was 50 years ago.