Self-Programming - Dilbert Blog


Two concepts that are exceptionally hard to define are consciousness and free will. Any attempt to define them becomes a murky soup of other words that are themselves hard to define. So I offer you a practical definition for both.

Suppose we define a creature to have consciousness and free will if it demonstrates the ability to use the external world to reprogram its own brain toward specific ends. By this definition, reading a book in order to change one’s mood or gain data would be an example of both consciousness and free will. But a monkey using a stick as a tool to get bugs would be nothing more than eating. The monkey is not trying to become a smarter or happier monkey; he’s just feeding his body.

My problem with free will has always been that brains are subject to the same cause and effect as all other matter. Even if you allow for some randomness at the subatomic level, and even if you allow that randomness to bubble up to the big world, it’s still barely different from a lawnmower hitting a rock. A lack of predictability is different from being free to choose.

By my new definition, humans are truly different from the animals in terms of consciousness and free will because we make the most use of our surroundings as an interface for reprogramming ourselves. No animal has the equivalent of a gym or a school or a barber shop.

Some animals use their environment for playing. A dolphin might surf the waves behind a cruise ship for no other reason than to have fun and reprogram its own mind into a good mood. I’m willing to call that a limited example of both consciousness and free will.

I started thinking along these lines because I view all of my own activities in the context of how they will reprogram my moist robot brain. I ask myself how any action I might take will change either my mood or my knowledge. That’s my most basic filter. I include any health-related or career-related of family-related choices to be part of reprogramming my brain. I rearrange matter in the external world in order to program my own brain.

It made me wonder if other people see the world the same way. If you look at a stack of weights in a gym, do you see heavy objects that would be unpleasant to lift, or an interface for reprogramming your own mood?