Re: q*****

Dan Fabulich (
Mon, 13 Dec 1999 15:19:01 -0500 (EST)

'What is your name?' 'John Clark.' 'Do you deny having written the following?':

> Dan Fabulich <> Wrote:
> >In fact, many (most?) philosophers of mind who believe in
> > qualia ALSO believe that zombies could exist,
> Many (most?) philosophers act as though we've discovered nothing
> about physics, biology, logic, or computer science in the last 100 years,
> perhaps 200, in fact some think nothing important has happened since
> Aristotle.

Sad, but true. Here, I want to quote a few passages from Waiting for Zed, because it's good stuff, and deserves a second look:

          Alf: With all your talk about parts and
          the way things behave, you're forgetting
          the most important thing. From my point
          of view it really doesn't matter if
          something acts like me or not, the
          important thing is that something feels
          like me. The continuation of my
          subjective experience is what I want to
          survive, it's what people mean when they
          talk about immortality. A computer may be
          able to act just like you or me but be
          unable to feel anything. It could just be
          a mechanical gadget that goes though all
          the proper motions but with no more
          awareness than a cuckoo clock. Can you
          prove it's more than that?

[Does this remind anyone ELSE of the zombie? It does me.]

          Bob: No, I can't prove that consciousness
          would be preserved in a computer, the
          only consciousness I can prove to exist
          is my own, and that proof is available
          only to me. We just have to assume that
          when something--like other people, act
          intelligently--they are conscious.

[Golly, we have to ASSUME it? It doesn't seem as impossible as you made it out to be.]

          Alf: That doesn't sound very scientific.
          Why must we assume something that we have
          not proven?

          Bob: Because nobody can function if they
          really think that they are the only
          conscious being in the universe, we must
          accept it as one of the axioms of
          existence that intelligent behavior is
          impossible without consciousness.
          Basically that's the Turing Test. This
          test is not a perfect instrument for
          studying consciousness and it has not
          been proven to work and will never be
          proven to work, but it's the best tool we
          have and the best we will ever have for
          studying this question.

[The assertion that we can't get by without assuming consciousness exists is false. You can be like me and say that "consciousness" is hogwash all together, that we're "thinking" in the functional sense but not Thinking in the spooky Cartesian sense.]

          Alf: You surprise me Bob, you were just
          telling me how foolish it is to assume
          that a problem has no logical solution
          because if you don't even try to solve a
          mystery your chance of solving it is
          zero, but now you throw up your hands and
          say it's just too hard and we'll never
          find a theory of consciousness. 

          Bob: Not so. I'm sure you could dream up
          a really nifty theory about
          consciousness, I'm sure you could come up
          with lots of them. It's easy to invent
          consciousness theories (but not theories
          about intelligence!)because there are no
          facts they must explain. How are you
          going to tell which of the many theories
          is correct? In the final analysis all
          you'll have to work with are external
          things like actions and the physical
          state of a brain. That works fine for
          examining intelligence but you can't
          prove it's enough for consciousness. As a
          practical matter we must assume that
          consciousness and intelligence are
          inter-linked so if something acts just
          like you it is conscious just like you,
          The Turing Test.

          Alf: I think you're being much too
          pessimistic, I don't see why
          consciousness couldn't be put on a sound
          scientific foundation someday. Before
          long we will be able to record the
          position of every atom in your brain,
          surely that's enough information to
          figure out for certain what consciousness
          is all about.

          Bob: Let's say you have a super
          sophisticated brain analyzing machine.
          One day you feel sad and analyze your
          brain with the machine. You develop a
          reasonable sounding theory to equate the
          state of the neurons in your head with
          your subjective experience. How do you
          test your theory? Well, you try it on me.
          You notice that the state of my neurons
          is similar(but not identical) to yours
          when you felt sad, and from this you use
          your theory to conclude that I am
          experiencing sadness just like you did.
          As proof that your theory was successful
          you point to the fact that I have tears
          in my eyes and made a noise with my mouth
          that sounded like "I feel sad".

          I think this would be very good evidence
          that your theory is correct, but a
>>>       skeptic could correctly point out that
          the state of my neurons were not
          identical to yours, only similar, we are
          after all different people with different
          brains. The differences could be crucial,
          you really felt sad but it's different
          with me, I get tear production elevated
          and the nerves in my mouth stimulate my
          tongue to make a noise like " I feel sad"
          but really I feel nothing. The only way
          to know for sure what it's like to be me
          is to turn your brain into an identical
          copy of mine, but then you wouldn't be
          you, you'd be me.

  -- John Clark, Waiting For Zed

[Ahem. What you've just said here is that there is a problem of other minds, and that everyone else, despite all of your super analyzing equipment, could turn out to be zombies. That's merely the technical term for people who are just like Thinkers in every way, except they have no consciousness. For all you want to poke fun at me for using the zombie example, HERE YOU ARE USING IT. I hope you don't challenge me for quoting out of context or anything.]

The only difference here is that you make an exception for yourself, and all identical copies of yourself. It's THAT idea that I'm trying to deny, on EXACTLY the same grounds as the previous skeptic.

Heck, suppose we made use of the magic copying machine. You could use your super-analyzing equipment and see that your copy had all the same brain states as you, and observe all the same behaviors. But a skeptic could correctly point out that the problem of other minds extents to your copy, as well. How would you prove that he's conscious? After all, your "proof" that you're conscious is available only to YOU.

Don't tell me that we have to assume it. We don't. I reject it, and I'm arguing that you should, too.

> >or, at least, that they are conceptually coherent.
> Huh? If something is impossible yet the idea is coherent in your belief
> system then your belief system is wrong.

Yes. Yes, indeed. But I've just given a name to something which YOU think is conceptually coherent, and THAT'S my challenge to YOU. You claim that it could very well be the case that everyone except you is a zombie, that "a skeptic could correctly point out that" other people "SEEM" conscious in every way, but aren't. I challenge you further that, on the same grounds of the previous skeptic, YOU could be under the mistaken "impression" that you have qualia as well. Before you even start, I know that you "think" that you're Thinking, I know that you "think" you have qualia, it's my assertion that you are "fooled," and that we can't/don't Think at all. Nor do we Think we have qualia, though some of us "think" we do. (again "think" in the functionalist sense, Think in the Cartesian sense)

I don't really think zombies ARE conceptually coherent, to be honest, but that's because I don't think qualia and consciousness are conceptually coherent. If you force me to assume that consciousness is somehow a coherent idea, then I'll be forced to say that we're all zombies, but I take that to be a pretty silly way of saying it.

> Well yes but there is nothing unique in that, it need not have
> anything to do with consciousness. I don't care what it is if you keep
> asking "why" after the statement "X happened because of Z" you will
> after about 6 or 7 questions be talking about quarks and the geometry
> of space- time, and after that all you can say is I don't know.

Ahem. You missed the relevant argument of Chalmers where he backs that assertion up. He does so by using the zombie argument! Here, I'll quote it again, because I'm fond of quotation:

"At the end of the day, the same criticism applies to *any* purely physical account of consciousness. For any physical process we specify there will be an unanswered question: Why should this process give rise to experience? Given any such process, it is conceptually coherent that it could be instantiated in the absence of experience. It follows that no mere account of the physical process will tell us why experience arises. The emergence of experience goes beyond what can be derived from physical theory."

That instantiation in the absence of experience is just the same thing as your man who cries and claims to be sad but feels nothing. That instantiation is a zombie. So don't go running about claiming that zombies are nonsense, because a skeptic like yourself could correctly point out that zombies may not be nonsense at all.


-unless you love someone-
-nothing else makes any sense-

e.e. cummings