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The word 'consciousness' is just used to control people


The idea of consciousness is at odds with evolution
Marvin Minsky Scientist
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It’s 400 million years since the first multi-cellular animals appeared. And then we have 100 million years of… of evolving toward… toward fish and getting vertebrae and things like that. Then, it’s 100 million more years of the fish becoming amphibians and moving on to the land and also – of course – continuing to evolve in the sea. And then, it’s 100 million years of... then, they’re amphibians. And it’s 100 million years of being reptiles and land-living animals. And… and then, in the last 100 million years, the mammals started to appear. The warm-blooded animals with... and all through this process, the nervous system was becoming more elaborate and complicated and having more… different parts of the spinal cord and brain. And in the last five or six million years, the… our ancestors the orangutan and the… the gorilla and the… baboons and the chimpanzees... and we split from the chimpanzees pretty much in the last 50 or 100… 50 million years or less. And all of this involved developing more and more complicated structures in the brain. And so, to me it’s sort of pathetic that people say, and the wonderful thing is that it suddenly became conscious and this new thing appeared instead of 30 different things. And so I’m sort of ashamed of my colleagues who say, well this is a philosophically difficult problem. How could… what is consciousness? It’s not matter, it’s not material. Where did it come from? It’s kind of… inexplicable spirit. Surely, it’s something that cannot be explained scientifically. The answer is, they're… they’re absolutely right because there isn’t any such thing.

Marvin Minsky (1927-2016) was one of the pioneers of the field of Artificial Intelligence, founding the MIT AI lab in 1970. He also made many contributions to the fields of mathematics, cognitive psychology, robotics, optics and computational linguistics. Since the 1950s, he had been attempting to define and explain human cognition, the ideas of which can be found in his two books, The Emotion Machine and The Society of Mind. His many inventions include the first confocal scanning microscope, the first neural network simulator (SNARC) and the first LOGO 'turtle'.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: evolution, consciousness

Duration: 2 minutes, 5 seconds

Date story recorded: 29-31 Jan 2011

Date story went live: 13 May 2011