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But we will have no way to know whether their behavior is more than a clever trick—more than the pecking of a pigeon that has been trained to type "I am, I am!" We take each other's consciousness on faith because we must, but after two thousand years of worrying about this issue, no one has ever devised a definitive test of its existence. Here's my best guess: we alone evolved a simple computational trick with far reaching implications for every aspect of our life, from language and mathematics to art, music and morality.Ravens from Kwakiutl, Tsimshian, Haida, or Tlingit territory sounded different, especially in their characteristic "tok" and "tlik." I believe this correspondence between human language and raven language is more than coincidence, though this would be difficult to prove.In the not too distant future, we will be able to construct artificial systems that give every appearance of consciousness—systems that act like us in every way.Interspecies coevolution of languages on the Northwest Coast.During the years I spent kayaking along the coast of British Columbia and Southeast Alaska, I observed that the local raven populations spoke in distinct dialects, corresponding surprisingly closely to the geographic divisions between the indigenous human language groups.
Most cognitive scientists believe that consciousness is a phenomenon that emerges from the complex interaction of decidedly nonconscious parts (neurons), but even when we finally understand the nature of that complex interaction, we still won't be able to prove that it produces the phenomenon in question. The trick: the capacity to take as input any set of discrete entities and recombine them into an infinite variety of meaningful expressions.And yet, I haven't the slightest doubt that everyone I know has an inner life, a subjective experience, a sense of self, that is very much like mine. Thus, we take meaningless phonemes and combine them into words, words into phrases, and phrases into Shakespeare.