Pattern recognition and consciousness

The human ability to recognize patterns in the surrounding world is based on our ability to observe this world with interest. Observations will thereby find their way in our memory and may encounter similar ones made in the past. They will be grouped, generalized and might grow into a pattern. New, similar but not identical observations can be directly recognized as belonging to the same pattern. If we reflect about the pattern, try to describe it or relate it to different patterns, they may gradually generate a concept. Concepts are the building stones for understanding. Understanding is needed to act in an intelligent way.

This process demands consciousness, although most steps are made in a sub-conscious way. The first and the last step, however, have definitely to be made consciously. It demands will power to raise interest as well to think about patterns such that concepts will emerge.

Dennet [1] argues that consciousness cannot be observed by external means. It is not possible to observe it by sensors. Consequently, it is, according to him, for scientific purposes not a factor in the world. Searle [2] explained the difference between conscious and unconscious procedures by his famous Chinese Room example. The Chinese Room can be understood as an automatic, mechanically reasoning system that relates incoming questions to answers found in a huge database. The discussion whether our recognition ability is based on a mechanical system like a computer boils down to introspection: do we recognize our consciousness ourselves (Searle) or is it just an illusion (Dennet). The discussion between these two philosophers is interesting to read [3].

Both, Searle and Dennet are materialistic philosophers (physicalisme). They thereby have to deal with the hard problem of consciousness: why and how humans have qualia or phenomenal experiences. This is problem is solved, or merely avoided by Kastrup [4] who uses consciousness as the foundation of his idealistic philosophy: everything is in the end, in one way or the other, consciousness.

In the light of the above, automatic recognition systems can be considered either as an advanced version of the Chinese Room, or as simulations of conscious behavior, or as artificial conscious devices. The answer of this question is not very relevant. The creation of such systems, however, brings us two types of fruits. From a scientific point much is learned on how we observe and reason. In addition, devices are created that may support human activities. It should be admitted that also here holds that not all fruits are healthy and tasteful.

Pattern recognition and consciousness are two sides of the same medal. They cannot be separated. They mutually support each other.

  1. Dennett, Daniel C. Consciousness explained. Penguin uk, 1993.
  2. Searle, John R. “Minds, brains, and programs.” Behavioral and brain sciences 3.3 (1980): 417-424.
  3. Searle, John R. The mystery of consciousness. New York Review of Books, 1990.
  4. Kastrup, Bernardo. The idea of the world: a multi-disciplinary argument for the mental nature of reality. John Hunt Publishing, 2019.
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