Conscious Robots by Paul Kwatz' Caption: 'Facing Up to the Reality of Being Human'
|Publisher||Peacock's Tail Publishing|
Conscious Robots is a book exploring hard determinism written by Paul Kwatz and published in 2005. Kwatz argues that the illusion of free will can be dispelled by considering our personal experience and scientific knowledge.
The book intertwines three factors to reach its conclusion. Evidence from the biochemical and neurological composition of the brain; Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection; and our ability to learn through emotional feedback. This emotional feedback creates a hard-wired decision making scheme of pleasure and pain responses which can be likened, Kwatz contends, to a computer program. Drawing on all of these examples Kwatz concludes that free will must be an illusion.
The book considers the idea that our misplaced trust in free will is as instinctive as our initial belief that the world is flat. Given that our only proof for free will is this instinctive belief; Kwatz concludes that we must be mistaken. Conscious decisions are reducible to little more than evolutionary programming; and human beings are, as the books title suggests, little more than conscious robots.
The conclusions of Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett on genetic and memetic predestination are both indirectly criticised by Kwatz. Dawkins particularly is seen by Kwatz as having rejected his own ideas at the end of The Selfish Gene. Ongoing debate exists as to whether this charge is justified. Dawkins and his supporters maintain that Kwatz has fallen into the trap of biological determinism.
Man as a Conscious Robot
Kwatz draws on a broad range of other insights to develop his ideas, concluding that we have no free will and there is nothing at present we can do about this. Kwatz also gives his explanations for the apparent confusion of the human condition, a direct result he claims, of our unfortunate genetic programming, the pleasure/pain response, left over from our unconscious past. The book also develops the idea we all develop a set point of happiness around which we fluctuate in programmed boom and bust cycle of growth and decline. This is naturally both a strength and a weakness, as life is not fated to get radically worse but there are no great hopes for radical improvement either.
The solution proposed by Kwatz to this problem is the development of so-called 'happiness pills'. Although actually encompassing a host of different treatments administered through a variety of methods; all have the same effect of ending the cycle of pleasure/pain response. This cycle, according to Kwatz, is the bedrock on which the tyranny of our genes is built, but also the key to our eventual solution. Our release could feasibly be achieved, the book claims, within our lifetimes or at least the lifetimes of our immediate descendants. It might not be complete freedom but it is pretty close to what we want from being free.
The development of such drugs could be seen as a singularity type event, which given the nature of the material world analysed in Conscious Robots leaves interesting questions on the concept of the determining evolutionary algorithm acting in the material world to produce this post-singularity paradise. The book concludes with these hopeful questions left open to the reader.
- Biological determinism
- Daniel Dennett
- Flat earth
- Genetic determinism
- Richard Dawkins
- The Selfish Gene
- Technological Singularity