Re: Qualia and the Galactic Loony Bin
Sat, 19 Jun 1999 09:40:42 -0700

Harvey Newstrom, <>, writes:
> Basically, the flaw in the sub-divided brain example are these:
> - It cannot sense anything. Humans have to decide on what sensory input
> will be defined.

But our own brains sense things only through neural input. The fact that some or all of that input may have been decided by other people doesn't change that. Weren't the brains in The Matrix sensing things? In that movie, computers defined what the sensory input would be. When you watch TV, a producer decides what (part of) your sensory input will be. None of these things seem to prevent you from being conscious. That is the real issue here: is the brain conscious? Is there "someone" there feeling something in this experiment?

> - Disconnected neurons cannot really communicate. Humans agree on what
> communications would have gone between neurons, and they provide the
> messages.

Yes, in the final stages of the experiment this is the case. See my reply to Damien where I discussed the earlier stages, where at first the brain was intact. Would you agree that at that point it was conscious? How about when first split into two pieces? Still conscious?

> - It is not running in real time. Humans set a time, devise all input for
> millions of neurons, and then everybody scatters and prepares to stimulate
> their neuron-in-a-box at the same time.

This wasn't really made very clear in the experiment. I think actually it may have been running in real time, although it may not have been running 100% of the time. That is, it might be "inert" (sedated) for most of the time while a new experience was prepared, then when it was readied the neurons were all fired at the proper rate for real-time experiences.

> Such a brain is not perceiving anything. Its neurons are not communicating.
> It is not having sequential thoughts that flow from one to another. Non
> sequiturs could be programmed just as easily. If the humans make an error
> in calculation and program someone else's brain pattern, it would go into
> this scheme just as well as the original brain's.

The latter part is probably true, but the question is how you get from there to the conclusion that the brain is not perceiving, if by that you mean that it is not conscious.

> Basically, the humans are slowly modeling a brain's activity on paper.
> Rather than the brain functioning on its own, and the humans seeing the
> activity, it is the reverse. The humans are determining the activity, and
> then pretending that the brain is functioning thusly.

Well, not on paper, on neurons. But in a way, that's what our own brains do, they model an abstract pattern of information processing on neurons.

> It is a trick to explain this to such a level of minutia that people become
> confused as to whether the brain really is still functional. This is an
> argumentative trick that prevents objections from properly being addressed.
> The brain is obviously dismembered and not functioning. It is an elaborate
> puppet that is made to do what the very large committee of puppeteers
> scripts it to do. Nothing more, nothing less.

It may well be that some aspects of the scenario confuse important issues. But I think it does try to address the matter of connection as I described. As for the fact that the experiences are pre-programmed, it doesn't seem to me that this would necessarily prevent the brain from being conscious.