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In the interview with author Meghan O’Gieblyn (“The line between human and machine begins to blur,” Ideas, Oct. 10), she makes this observation: “I think the question of what’s conscious and what’s not is going to become very blurry.” In terms of artificial intelligence inching in the long term to consciousness, agency, complex cognition, and even self-optimization, she’s right.

A core question this awareness leads to is: Do consciousness and mind require a biological component? The answer, in certain respects, is no. Human consciousness and mind are the direct product of, not spookily separate from, the material brain: neuronal, synaptic, and other activity. The notion that the mind and body are separated, with the mind ethereally floating apart from the brain, has been punctured before, by both neuroscientists and philosophers of the mind.


As for the supposed need for a biological component, I contend that the substrate for consciousness and mind — biological or machine — is a contrivance; it doesn’t matter. The human species has a carbon substrate, of course, which tends to get correlated with consciousness and mind. But correlation isn’t necessity. Entirely other substrates, such as those that are machine-based, might be sufficient for development of consciousness and mind.

These realizations may sometimes vex theologians and others with a human-centric interpretation of the universe’s cosmology, but it doesn’t particularly vex secularists with a naturalistic philosophical bent.

Keith Tidman

Bethesda, Md.