Re: Qualia and the Galactic Loony Bin

James Rogers (
Tue, 22 Jun 1999 23:47:40 -0700

At 10:10 PM 6/22/99 -0700, wrote:
>There are two possibilities: consciousness disappeared gradually, a little
>at a time with each step, or consciousness disappeared suddenly, all there
>at one step and then some crucial piece of the brain was divided and
>consciousness vanished.
>As for the possibility that consciousness gradually fades away, this has
>problems of its own (Chalmers discusses this "fading qualia" example).
>If it is literally a matter of fading, where smells get less intense
>and reds become less red, then the person should notice this and comment
>on it. It is hard to see why he would not say something if he noticed
>his sensory impressions changing.

A somewhat tangential thought, is what does this mean for people who lose their "sense of x" as a result of damage, disease, or at birth? A person blind from birth will never have a sense of "redness" and a person who loses their sight early in life loses it as well. Nonetheless, I don't think this is synonymous with loss of consciousness. In the pathological cases, there are people who undergo severe sensory loss and consequent loss of qualia with time, without any externally obvious change in their consciousness. I am not sure the two are separable in theory.

Or are we arguing the distinction between having the capability of qualia and no possibility of such altogether (vs. two qualia capable systems, one with qualia and one without)? To argue from a capability standpoint would seem to require a causal basis.

>Perhaps instead it is a more subtle change, where the person just
>gradually becomes dead but keeps gesturing and walking around and talking
>about how intense his qualia are, never noticing that he is fading away.
>But the intermediate point where he is sort of a semi-zombie is a very
>bizarre state to imagine someone in. If people can't notice that they
>are only semi-conscious then maybe we are all in that state already.

I actually find this to be very plausible. As has been pointed out, there is no way for an external observer to tell the difference between a person and a zombie.

Intuitively, if a zombie is indistinguishable from a person, then consciousness must collapse to something computable.

This stuff makes my brain hurt...

-James Rogers