The Public Relations BlogPR TrendsNew TechnologiesConsciousness as an Illusion: Rethinking True AI

Consciousness as an Illusion: Rethinking True AI

If consciousness is an illusion, true AI might be close.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer


Disclaimer: I’m a PR pro­fes­sion­al who enjoys think­ing, read­ing, and learn­ing about top­ics far bey­ond my aca­dem­ic background.

I think of con­scious­ness as an illusion.

This brief blog post explores the his­tor­ic­ally pro­voc­at­ive idea that human con­scious­ness might be an emer­gent illu­sion rather than a dis­tinct, tan­gible entity. 

Based on the grad­a­tions of con­scious­ness, its poten­tial as an emer­gent prop­erty of com­plex neur­al inter­ac­tions, and its implic­a­tions for the free will debate and arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence, I sug­gest we rethink the nature of self-aware­ness and its place in the nat­ur­al world.

Here we go:

A Critical Indistinguishability

The nature of con­scious­ness has long been a sub­ject of philo­soph­ic­al debate and sci­entif­ic inquiry. Traditional views tend to treat con­scious­ness as a con­crete aspect of human experience. 

However, an altern­at­ive per­spect­ive sug­gests that con­scious­ness might be an emer­gent illu­sion — a byproduct of com­plex neur­al pro­cesses. This hypo­thes­is chal­lenges our fun­da­ment­al under­stand­ing of con­scious­ness and its role in human cog­ni­tion and behaviour.

A crit­ic­al aspect of the illu­sion hypo­thes­is is the dif­fi­culty in dis­tin­guish­ing between the exper­i­ence of being con­scious and the belief that one is con­scious. This indis­tin­guishab­il­ity raises ques­tions about the object­ive exist­ence of con­scious­ness as a sep­ar­ate entity.

What we per­ceive as con­scious­ness may simply be a con­vin­cing illu­sion craf­ted by our cog­nit­ive pro­cesses, a notion that blurs the line between real­ity and per­cep­tion in under­stand­ing self-awareness.

Consciousness as Result of Limitations

The phys­ic­al devel­op­ment of cog­nit­ive abil­it­ies sug­gests that con­scious­ness oper­ates on a slid­ing scale. 

A grown human pos­sesses a high­er aware­ness than a new­born, sug­gest­ing that the acute­ness of con­scious­ness is pro­por­tion­al to cog­nit­ive devel­op­ment. This grad­a­tion sup­ports the the­ory that con­scious­ness emerges gradu­ally and is not an abso­lute state, fur­ther lend­ing cre­dence to the idea of it as an emer­gent property.

However, the emer­gence is not neces­sar­ily cor­rel­ated to increased com­plex­ity. The phys­i­cist and Nobel prize win­ner Sir Roger Penrose poin­ted out that con­scious­ness might not res­ult from com­plex­ity. If it were, even a num­ber would become sen­tient, only if it were large enough. In that sense, all infin­ite num­bers would be conscious.

Instead of com­plex­ity, the illu­sion of con­scious­ness could res­ult from two sep­ar­ate yet deeply inter­con­nec­ted sys­tems in the brain: the con­scious and sub­con­scious systems.

The brain func­tions as two sep­ar­ate sys­tems, pro­cessing and inter­pret­ing many neur­al sig­nals. It could be that the inter­play between these two sys­tems con­trib­utes to the emer­gence of what we per­ceive as consciousness. 

So Renner’s [i.e. Physicist Renato Renner at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH)] team designed a kind of ‘lobotom­ised’ neur­al net­work: two sub-net­works that were con­nec­ted to each oth­er through only a hand­ful of links-net­work would learn from the data, as in a typ­ic­al neur­al net­work, and the second would use that ‘exper­i­ence’ to make and test new pre­dic­tions. Because few links con­nec­ted the two sides, the first net­work was forced to pass inform­a­tion to the oth­er in a con­densed format. Renner likens it to how an adviser might pass on their acquired know­ledge to a stu­dent.”
Source: Nature 1Castelvecchi, D. (2019). AI Copernicus “dis­cov­ers” that Earth orbits the Sun. Nature, 575(7782), 266 – 268. https://​go​.gale​.com/​p​s​/​i​.do

Altering — or fully access­ing! — these sub­con­scious pro­cesses could poten­tially dis­rupt, dimin­ish, or dis­solve the con­scious exper­i­ence, high­light­ing its emer­gent and con­di­tion­al nature.

Consciousness, Determinism, and Free Will

Viewing con­scious­ness as an illu­sion has sig­ni­fic­ant implic­a­tions for determ­in­ism — and the free will debate. 

The illu­sion hypo­thes­is sug­gests that the dis­tinc­tion between free will and the illu­sion of free will may be more semant­ic than sub­stant­ive. This per­spect­ive aligns with a determ­in­ist­ic view of the uni­verse, albeit one that allows for ele­ments of ran­dom­ness and uncer­tainty, which could still play a role in shap­ing con­scious experience.

The hypo­thes­is that con­scious­ness is an emer­gent illu­sion chal­lenges many con­ven­tion­al views on the nature of self-aware­ness. It opens new aven­ues for under­stand­ing the human mind. 

While this per­spect­ive is still sub­ject to debate, it offers a com­pel­ling frame­work for rethink­ing one of the most pro­found aspects of human exist­ence — our consciousness.

Implications for Artificial Intelligence

Many of us believe that AI poses an exist­en­tial risk for human­ity. Conscious AI could rep­lic­ate and evolve bey­ond humanity.

For more than three thou­sand mil­lion years, DNA has been the only rep­lic­at­or worth talk­ing about in the world. But it does not neces­sar­ily hold these mono­poly rights for all time. Whenever con­di­tions arise in which a new kind of rep­lic­at­or can make cop­ies of itself, the new rep­lic­at­ors will tend to take over and start a new kind of evol­u­tion of their own.”
Source: The Selfish Gene 2Dawkins, R. (2023). The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary Edition-with a new Introduction by the Author: Dawkins, Richard: 9780199291151: Amazon​.com: Books.

If con­scious­ness is indeed an emer­gent phe­nomen­on, it has pro­found implic­a­tions for the devel­op­ment of arti­fi­cial intelligence. 

The illu­sion hypo­thes­is sug­gests that AI may not need to cross a defin­it­ive sin­gu­lar­ity threshold to achieve some form of con­scious­ness. As an emer­gent phe­nomen­on, each exper­i­enced con­scious­ness is uniquely exper­i­enced, ren­der­ing arti­fi­cial con­scious­ness many unique exper­i­ences of consciousness. 

Thus, if the illu­sion hypo­thes­is is cor­rect, true AI could be achieved by allow­ing AI sys­tems only par­tial access to themselves. 

Signature - Jerry Silfwer - Doctor Spin

Thanks for read­ing. Please sup­port my blog by shar­ing art­icles with oth­er com­mu­nic­a­tions and mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sion­als. You might also con­sider my PR ser­vices or speak­ing engage­ments.

PR Resource: How AI Will Impact PR

The AI revolution in PR.
The AI revolu­tion in PR.
Spin Academy | Online PR Courses

The AI Revolution: Transforming Public Relations

There are sev­er­al ways in which arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence (AI) is likely to impact the pub­lic rela­tions (PR) industry. Some poten­tial examples include:

  • More decision-level tasks, few­er pro­duc­tion-level tasks. AI-powered tools are used to auto­mate tasks such as media mon­it­or­ing, con­tent cre­ation, and social media man­age­ment. This could free up PR pro­fes­sion­als to focus on their work’s more stra­tegic and cre­at­ive aspects.
  • Improved ana­lys­is and bet­ter strategies. The devel­op­ment of AI-powered sys­tems that can ana­lyse large amounts of data to identi­fy trends and insights that can inform PR strategy and decision-making.
  • Using PR pro­fes­sion­als as AI train­ers. Using AI-powered chat­bots and vir­tu­al assist­ants to handle cus­tom­er inquir­ies and provide inform­a­tion to the pub­lic allows PR pro­fes­sion­als to scale PR training.
  • Better pub­li­city through inter­con­nectiv­ity. The cre­ation of AI-powered plat­forms and net­works that can facil­it­ate con­nec­tions and col­lab­or­a­tions between PR pro­fes­sion­als, journ­al­ists, pub­lics, influ­en­cers, and oth­er crit­ic­al stake­hold­ers in the industry.
  • Earlier detec­tions of poten­tial PR issues. AI-powered tools can help PR pro­fes­sion­als identi­fy and mit­ig­ate poten­tial crises by ana­lys­ing data and provid­ing early warn­ing sig­nals of poten­tial problems.
  • Increased edit­or­i­al out­put. In organ­isa­tions where the com­mu­nic­a­tions depart­ment is driv­ing the con­tent strategy, PR pro­fes­sion­als will have plenty of tools for increas­ing both the qual­ity and the quant­ity of the out­put. 3Silfwer, J. (2023, March 20). The AI Content Explosion. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​a​i​-​c​o​n​t​e​n​t​-​e​x​p​l​o​s​i​on/

Overall, AI’s impact on the PR industry is likely to be sig­ni­fic­ant, with the poten­tial to revolu­tion­ise many aspects of how PR pro­fes­sion­als work and inter­act with stake­hold­ers, influ­en­cers, and pub­lics.

Read also: PR Beyond AI: A New Profession Emerging From the Rubble

Logo - Spin Academy - Online PR Courses
1 Castelvecchi, D. (2019). AI Copernicus “dis­cov­ers” that Earth orbits the Sun. Nature, 575(7782), 266 – 268. https://​go​.gale​.com/​p​s​/​i​.do
2 Dawkins, R. (2023). The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary Edition-with a new Introduction by the Author: Dawkins, Richard: 9780199291151: Amazon​.com: Books.
3 Silfwer, J. (2023, March 20). The AI Content Explosion. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​a​i​-​c​o​n​t​e​n​t​-​e​x​p​l​o​s​i​on/
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at Spin Factory and KIX Communication Index. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Cover Photo

The cover photo isn't related to public relations; it's just a photo of mine. Think of it as a 'decorative diversion', a subtle reminder that there is more to life than strategic communication.

The cover photo has



Subscribe to Spin Control—it’s 100% free!

Join 2,550+ fellow PR lovers and subscribe to Jerry’s free newsletter on communication and psychology.
What will you get?

> PR commentary on current events.
> Subscriber-only VIP content.
> My personal PR slides for .key and .ppt.
> Discounts on upcoming PR courses.
> Ebook on getting better PR ideas.
Subscribe to Spin Control today by clicking SUBMIT and get your first send-out instantly.

Latest Posts
Similar Posts
Most Popular