Conscience in Islam is defined as something that every human has been endowed with, and this makes it fair-game for Allah to judge at the end of times. Similar emphasis on conscience exists on some branches of Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism.
But what is conscience? It is often described as a spontaneous moment of recognition, an emotional whir that manifests at particular events that the human agent perceives bifurcate towards right and wrong.
There is a set, Ω, of possible worlds in the predicting mind, and instead of reasoning about the probabilities of finding oneself in a specific world, given certain actions, the person trusting conscience will do what is compelled by a seeming god-given or nature-given intuition.
This sense of knowing right from wrong is a double edged sword. It can shield one from siding with Big Brother, religious dogma, or non-memetic genetic drives that lead to wrong. But it can also be the very same kind of inner-voice that tells the Chinese government official that he is right to torture you for having committed the crime of threatening the order with public dissent.
Instead of trusting our intuitions, we should look at the valence object, ω, that we wish be produced and calculate the probability that this object will appear given a certain action, P(ω|a).
Valence objects are subjective slices of now as defined by neuroscience and cognitive science. The problem facing us is that we do not have a catalogue of all valence objects. To catalogue them, we will need to capture both their physical isometry (neuroscience scan→bio-quantum-chemistry model→fundamental physics model→math structure) and their judged value after direct apprehension.
Right now, we are not even at the high-level biology understanding of valence objects in our day-to-day lives. We are not far beyond the literature/poetry level. There exist words that we combine to refer to what is good and what is wrong, but it is impossible to specify to another brain how to simulate the experience we wish to create for them past a certain rough-grain threshold. The qualia contents must be unzipped, transcribed, and translated in the self-reflexive entertainments of the other’s mind.
The future naturalists, those who stand a chance of becoming Darwin, are those who will venture into the sea of the mind to build a taxonomy, to anchor the hues of consciousness with scientific and mathematical tools. Once the nature of valence objects is described and explained, there will no longer be a need for ethical systems of old. There will only be a navigation problem, with fixed stars in sight.
None of this is to say that the symbols should be confused with the objects. An ISBN represents a book but is not a book. A catalogue of experiences specified by highly-precise physics is not the experiences. The experiences actually need to be instantiated on the necessary substrates in the 4-d flesh of the universe.
It would be great if there should be principles, mathematical symmetries perhaps, that underly pleasures and pains, and are generalizable across species. This way, “magnets*” in morphological space could be placed on the path of living beings without having to eliminate them all for the sake of a monotone hedonium nuke. *[Concrete examples of magnets would include neurosurgery, brain-computer interfaces, genetic engineering and virtual reality environments.]
But what if eliminativists are right and we cannot trust our own introspection whatsoever? In that case, I agree that a science of consciousness and morality would be doomed. But the hard eliminativist position which claims that we are deluded about our own experience and so our judgements cannot be trusted as more than relativistic noises, is, to put it mildly, absurd. One wonders how the hyper-skeptical eliminativist deduces anything about anything – even that there is such a thing as a natural world requires that judgements about experience be made.
There are no doubt going to be dishonest reports about the contents of conscious experience that will cause problems in the first stages of developing this science. For example, sometimes people give dishonest reviews about how enjoyable a book was for nefarious, profit-seeking motives. Or someone can claim, and later come to believe, that a meal was more enjoyable than it really was, simply because of their kindness and conflict-avoiding disposition. This seems like an insurmountable obstacle for qualia-science only to those eliminativists and reductionists who are but dualists at heart.
If we accept that valence is a natural phenomenon, then clearly this can be assigned values. RGB and “how much pain do you feel on a scale of one to ten?” actually refer to natural objects in the brain synonymous with conscious percepts. There is no extra illusion (what a sophisticated dualist calls it), or soul (what a naive dualist says.) There is just the universe in its totality, with certain chunks of it feeling like something unto themselves, and others not. The recollection cannot be perfect – for by necessity, it is its own region of the universe. But the claim that all information is lost from one moment to the next will be cast to shame by the foundational structure of reality itself. Hence, with meticulousness and by working from low hanging-fruit like orgasms, which are widely-regarded across the entire animal kingdom as enjoyable, for obvious evolutionary reasons, we will then isolate the substructures of the experience that are common not only to all reproduction-oriented pleasures but that also appear when eating a good meal (and are less apparent when only faking.)
An optical illusion is no less real than anything else. The optical illusion is a structure nested in the workings of brain. Consciousness is the same. It really exists, but that doesn’t mean we can assume it is foundational to any arbitrary external object in Reality. Knowing this, we must also be wary of most panpsychism.
And because we know that much of the reality that we come into contact with is of this optical illusion kind – a phenomenologically real percept but, map-wise, a deceiving percept – we must not assume that qualia is simple to capture. For instance, some misguided people have construed a thought experiment which supports eliminativism by suggesting that we can be confused about qualia based on our expectations. It goes like this: A woman is sitting at a researchers office with her back exposed and is told that she will be prodded with a hot utensil. The utensil is actually placed in a freezer and is instead very cold. When it is pressed against her back, the back feels cold qualia but she interprets it as hot qualia, therefore even if qualia exists, we cannot know about it empirically.
This thought experiment is non-sense because the woman felt hot qualia, period. There was no cold qualia regardless of our own outside intuition which knows the utensil was cold. Consciousness is a creative process that is being hallucinated in the brain, and only sometimes is accurate at representing the environmental inputs. Qualia has nothing to do with externalities which are not part of the internal simulation. So as long as we can understand the topology, information-processing events, molecular snapshots, and so on, a map corresponding to the internal simulation can be built, and the good configurations identified for future precision-targeting.