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planet. Since the goal is to familiarize your guest with humans
and their culture, you arrange for the alien to meet a variety of
people from different walks of life. One of the activities you
arrange is a visit to a care center for mentally retarded children.
Of course, political correctness suggests that we refer to these
disadvantaged youths as "special" rather than "mentally
retarded." Accordingly, you tell the alien that he will have the
opportunity to spend a few hours with several special children,
without elaborating on what this means.
After the visit you ask the alien what he thinks. He tells
you he enjoyed the experience, and was very impressed by just
how different and unique these children are. In an attempt to
understand their nature better, he asks you to describe the
"special" attribute that these children have. He has observed
that these children are different in some way that he can't quite
describe. He wants your help in identifying and defining
exactly what must be added to a normal adolescent to create a
special child. His question is very basic and to the point: Just
what is this "special thing" that these children have, that most
children do not?
When we hear this question we realize that the alien has
made a fundamental mistake. The alien can clearly see that
special children are different from normal children. However,
he has incorrectly assumed that this difference results from
some "thing" that special children possess, but normal children
Chapter 9: Consciousness as a Limitation 149

do not. But this is not true; a special child is created by taking
away abilities from a normal child, not by adding something.
The behaviors and unique traits that the alien seeks to explain
are a deficit, not an addition.
Why would the alien make this mistake? Perhaps the
primary reason is his lack of experience with normal children.
He is trying to understand how a special child is different from
a normal child, without having a good understanding of what a
normal child is like. Given this, it is understandable that he
might make a mistake in interpreting the relationship.
In addition, we may have biased the alien by our comments.
Our society refers to these children as “special” because the
word is soft and without stigma, especially compared to the
harshness of “retarded.” Unfortunately, this word is somewhat
inconsistent with its meaning in other contexts. When we say
“special children,” we mean that they have special needs.
However, the term “special children” could be incorrectly
interpreted to mean “exceptional” or “extraordinary,” something
above and beyond the normal child. Since this mistake has been
made by many humans, it is not surprising that it would be
made by an alien unfamiliar with our culture.
Lastly, it is common for humans, and presumably aliens, to
think about things as a composite of parts. Further, these parts
may include voids or missing regions that are treated as
components in themselves. For instance, we speak of the "hole"
in a doughnut, and an "unfilled" position in a company's
personnel roster. Even though these are not actual things, we
think of them as such to simplify the description of the overall
object or concept. This might predispose the alien to think
about the difference between a normal and a special child as a
“positive” entity, rather than a void or deficit.
Regardless of these reasons, the fact remains that the alien
is wrong. He has made incorrect assumptions, and they have
led him to an incorrect conclusion. We will return to this story
shortly, but first we need to define an important new concept,
the fully-aware being.
The Inner Light Theory of Consciousness
150

The Fully-Aware Being
Again we will imagine a scenario occurring in the future.
In this case we envision a group of scientists constructing an
artificial person, an android that mimics human thought and
behavior. They give their creation a body that appears very
human-like from the outside, even though it is made from
mechanical and electrical components, not biological tissue.
The android's “brain” is an advanced computer, carrying out
algorithms, programs, neural networks, and other sophisticated
information processing techniques. The android can perceive
the world around him by means of his camera-eyes and
microphone-ears. Further, he can understand what this sensory
data means, being able to recognize objects in the environment
and reconcile them with previously learned concepts. He can
understand and generate speech, with the ability to carry on
intelligent conversations. In short, the scientists design their
creation to interact in the world the same way as you and I.
But most important, the android is designed such that he can
monitor everything about his internal information processing.
He knows the exact status of each and every digital bit and
analog signal. He can observe the raw information gathered by
his electronic senses, monitor its consolidation with previous
memories, and examine how it affects his current mental status.
There is nothing about his internal computational activities that
he does not know. If you offer the android a cup of tea, he will
send it away with a wave of his hand, and then apologetically
tell you that he does not drink. But then he can discuss with you
in the finest detail the billions of computer operations that were
needed to carry out these actions. This is what we will refer to
as a fully-aware being, a computational machine having a
complete and detailed knowledge of its internal states.
Of course, such a creation is far beyond our current
technology; however, it appears that this is a clear and direct
extension of our present capabilities. Those that work in
computer science expect that this will come about as computers
become more sophisticated, and few knowledgeable people
Chapter 9: Consciousness as a Limitation 151

would disagree. In addition, it is within the realm of possibility
that a biological creature could be a fully-aware being. For
instance, in the future we may encounter extraterrestrial aliens
with the ability to monitor their inner mental operations to the
last detail. Even stranger, one day we may be able to modify
the human brain to be fully-aware. This premise is the topic of
the next chapter.
For now, our concern is with the fully-aware android,
something that science will be capable of developing at some
time in the future. The question we want to pose and examine
is this: Is this android conscious?

How the Traditional View is Mistaken
The “traditional view” of consciousness tells us no, there is
nothing contained within this android that could result in it
being conscious. According to this view, consciousness is
something above and beyond computations and information
processing; it is something “extra” that must be added. To
complete their creation, the scientists must open the android's
head and pour in a quart of "consciousness stuff," so to speak.
Without this extra ingredient the android is nothing but a
collection of mindless gears and cogs.
The rationale behind this view is very straightforward. The
world of science sees the brain as a machine. In contrast,
introspection sees a mind that cannot be reduced to machine
operations. In fact, the mind has aspects that cannot be reduced
to anything; such things as qualia, mental unity, and semantic
thought are irreducible. Therefore, according to the traditional
view, consciousness must be something in addition to the
machine-like operation of the brain.
Of course, this is where the bottom falls out. The problems
associated with this traditional view are severe and deep. For
instance, if consciousness is something beyond information
processing, why is there not the slightest scientific evidence for
this “extra thing?” Worse yet, how can something that is not
detectable by science interact so easily with the human body?
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152

And just as troubling, why should we have this "consciousness
stuff" at all? If information processing is sufficient to control
our behaviors for mating, escaping enemies, and finding food,
why would evolution give us consciousness in the first place?
The traditional view is filled with these types of seemingly
unsolvable problems. The more you try to grasp the thing, the
more it slips through your fingers.
And here is the reason why. The traditional view of
consciousness is based on a flawed assumption, the same error
made by the alien visiting the special children. Consciousness
is not some entity beyond full-awareness. Rather, it is a
limitation, a deficit in one™s ability to perceive and understand
oneself. Introspection sees the mind as being irreducible
because of these limitations, not because an extra entity is
present. Consciousness is not created by adding something to
full awareness; it is created by taking something away.
As an example of this, our fully aware android perceives the
world through his camera-eyes and microphone-ears. Just as in
humans, this raw sensory information must be processed before
it is meaningful. For instance, the visual field must be broken
into regions of similar color and texture, these regions grouped
together into objects, and the objects recognized. Lastly, the
relevance of the objects must be evaluated. Is this a face?
Whose face is it? Is this an enemy or a friend? Hearing and the
other senses have a similar hierarchy of information processing.
The important point is that our fully-aware android can
perceive and understand each and every step in this process. He
can perceive it all, from the raw data, through the intermediate
stages, to the final result. If we show him a picture of George
Washington, he will not only recognize it, but can tell us in the
finest detail how he recognizes it. By definition, this is what it
means for our android to be fully-aware.
But now we want to give our android a human-like mental
experience. We do this by blocking his ability to perceive the
lower stages of this information processing. We allow him to
experience the result of the process, but not the process itself.
Chapter 9: Consciousness as a Limitation 153

To test our modifications we show him the picture of George
Washington and ask him what he sees. As before he tells us
that the face is of the first president of the United States. But
when we ask him how he knows this, we receive a blank
expression. He does not know how he knows, only that he does
know. The experience of seeing and recognizing the face has
come to him without explanation, support, or evidence; it just
appears in his mental processes. The experience that “this is
George Washington” is now an irreducible part of his world.
While our fully aware android saw the event as nothing but
Information, our “conscious” android experiences it as an
Element-of reality. This is the Principle of Relative Reduction
in its most basic form, a blockage of Information flow resulting
in pure Information becoming an Element-of-reality.
The Inner Light Theory tells us that human consciousness
is something less than full-awareness, not something more. If
we were fully-aware beings, we would know each and every
operation being carried out by our brains, from the firing of
individual nerve cells in our sensory organs, to the large-scale
patterns of neural activity that represent our higher thoughts.
There would be no mystery to our minds whatsoever;
introspection would provide a complete and detailed
understanding of exactly what we are.
But of course, this isn™t our nature. Our physiology does not
allow us to be fully-aware; the information in our brains is
segmented into local groups without global accessibility. The
low-level workings of the brain cannot be examined by the
high-level workings. We do not know how we recognize a face,
experience pain, or develop a thought, only that we can do these
things. Our internal mental world appears to us as results
without process, conclusions without justification, and things
that exist in themselves without a supporting structure.
Therefore, all of these things appear to the first-person
perspective as irreducible. However, this is not because they
are entities above and beyond the brain™s activities, but because
of the brain™s limited ability to perceive its own operation.
The Inner Light Theory of Consciousness
154

Seeing the Forest Between the Trees
Why have we been mistaken about this for so long? Why
is it not obvious that consciousness is a limitation and not
“something extra?” Perhaps for the same reasons that the alien
misunderstood the special children.
First, in order to see consciousness as a limitation, we must
compare the human mind with a fully-aware being. Trying to
compare it with a lesser computational machine, such as a
business computer, is meaningless. Unfortunately, no human
has ever had direct contact with a fully-aware being; we know
them only through our imagination and thoughts. If fully-aware
beings lived among us, perhaps it would be obvious that our
minds are limited compared to their computational powers, not
the other way around. In other words, understanding the nature
of the mind requires a reference point, and this reference point
is something we have little experience with.
Second, human nature itself predisposes us to think of the
mind as something beyond the neural machinery of the brain.
As one example, consider how we cope with death. Humans are
social creatures, forming their lives around closely woven
circles of family and friends. These relationships and bonds are
often viewed as the most important things in our lives. But
death rips this apart, attacking the survivors on a fundamental
level. However, this extreme loss and pain can be minimized
by the simplest of acts, merely believing that the mind of the
departed still survives in some manner. Nature literally tortures
some people into believing that consciousness is something
beyond the physical body.
Third, as previously discussed, it is human nature to think
of voids, missing regions, deficits, and limitations as positive
entities. For instance, a doughnut is thought of as a piece of
sweetened bread, plus a hole. And there is nothing wrong with
this; it simplifies our understanding of the world. The problem
is, this predisposition to “positive entities” can bias our analysis
of the world. An unexplained phenomenon is inherently viewed
Chapter 9: Consciousness as a Limitation 155

as a “thing,” rather than a “void.” We must overcome this
inherent prejudice to see limitations as they truly are.
But regardless of the reason, the traditional view of
consciousness is mistaken. The first-person perspective sees
the mind as irreducible because of its limited observational
power, not because additional entities are present. This paves
the way for stating a formal definition of consciousness, our
seventh major teaching:


Major Teaching #7:
The Definition of Consciousness
Consciousness is the irreducible entity a computational

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