One of the most interesting problems in the theories surrounding consciousness is the problem of other minds. Basically we can use ‘I think, therefore I am’ to conclude within reasonable doubt that ‘I’ exist, therefore something along the lines of a consciousness that is ‘I’ exists. But the problem of other minds is simply this: while I can be very certain that ‘I’ as a conscious entity exists, I have absolutely no idea of whether other consciousnesses exist or not. The problem of other minds is the knowledge of whether other minds have any consciousness is one that cannot be determined.
To put the problem in another way, people around me are obviously walking, talking, moving, living, in an appearance of awareness and volition, so to speak. However, to take the problem of other minds to its extreme, all the world (except ‘I’) could possibly simply be very smart robots programmed to do all those things. They may not be aware of what they’re doing or why they’re doing it at all. Hell, even ‘they’ may not exist, not as conscious entities. And ‘I’ have absolutely no way of telling if I am not the only one who is conscious, because the inside of other people’s heads is simply beyond my scope.
One of the possible solutions to the problem lies of course in a materialistic view of the world. If the brain is considered the seat of consciousness, and if in every fundamental, measurable way my brain is no different from Person X’s, it adds a lot to the claim that Person X is also conscious in the same way I am. The alternative would be unsupported by the current evidence – but of course, just because current scientific techniques can’t prove that my brain and person X’s is different in some fundamental way, doesn’t mean they aren’t. So the problem lingers on.
Another domain where the problem of other minds is applied is concerning animal consciousness. Even if we suppose (because the alternative is difficult to swallow) that since all human minds are fundamentally similar in structure, therefore they all possess consciousness, what of the minds of animals, whose brains do not possess a similar structure? Can we conclude that they are conscious? Might they be conscious, but in a different way? If they are conscious, how can that be determined, and how does that affect our treatment of them?
Finally, the reason why I have been thinking about the problem of other minds lately is rather more prosaic. Simply put, it struck me the other day that not only is it impossible to determine whether other minds exist, but even if we grant such a thing to be so, it is mightily difficult to conclude what the other minds are thinking, or what they mean when they intruct the other bodies they belong to to say things. The sheer impossibility of being able to access another person’s head, unlike the way one would be able to access their hotmail account, makes life very perplexing.
To use a very specific example: if someone says they love you, can you really ever be certain that they are not simply robots obeying some kind of preprogrammed instructions? And if they are real minds instead of blank, unconscious robots, how does one know what they mean by ‘love’ or by ‘you’ or even by ‘themselves’? How can one ever be certain of anything in another person’s head, when you can’t even be certain that they other person has a mind in that head?
Oh the problems of over-thinking 😛
See you guys soon.