Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Zombies (Rambling Freak Out)

In a previous post I used the term "philosophical zombie", and received the following response:

There's no such thing as a philosophical zombie.
Get over your self, and maybe you'll start understanding how everything (neuroscience, science-based philosophy, reality) fits together perfectly.
Hint: it's all a bunch of patterns. Random signals are useless for survival.

Gareth McCaughan also kindly sent this link:

Hmm. Zombies.....

I agree that every bit of science I know fits together perfectly. It comes close to explaining everything I see, including other people. There are occasional gaps, such as how the first self-replicating entity got started, but I can imagine what the answers might look like.

There are other gaps, such as "Why is there anything here at all?", which it doesn't attempt to address, but which I don't find interesting enough to worry about.

It doesn't even have a go at explaining who I am.

I found Zombies: the movie, the other day. It's very funny, but I don't see the point it's trying to make.
At the end, one of the characters seems to realize that he doesn't exist.

Here are some random disconnected thoughts about what I feel:

I don't necessarily believe that my past self was conscious, even though it wrote about being so. How would I know? I wasn't there.

I do believe that as I'm writing this there is something "behind my eyes", watching the process.

I'm not sure that that thing can even influence my brain. Maybe it just watches. The fact that my brain occasionally seems to write about it implies that it can influence the world.

But that's the thing I call "me". Not my body, and not my brain, both of which, it seems, could (and do) work perfectly well without me.

When people don't understand what I mean, or try to explain it as some sort of physical process in the world, then I think they must be different from me, and that's why I've always believed that not all (or possibly even not most) other people have this thing.

I've believed this since school. I remember the thought coming to me when I was in an art lesson in the second year, during a discussion with a girl about the inconceivability of death (which strikes me now as no more inconceivable than sleep, but which seemed an absolute impossibility then for some reason).

I have no idea how this thing can influence the world, or how a brain uninfluenced by this thing could have had this thought or written these words. The whole thing is mad.

There are two pieces of evidence in favour that I can see. One is that very few people seem to understand what I mean. The other is that I can't describe it. When I read what I write about it, it seems like the proverbial blind man trying to describe the colour blue.

When I read what other people write about consciousness, they don't seem to mean the same thing as me.

I'd love to know what's going on. If there's an explanation in terms of matter I'd be amazed, but really really happy.

I'm not yanking your chain. I don't know any philosophy. This is what it feels like to be me.

But when I heard the term 'philosophical zombie' a couple of years ago, it gave me hope, because it sounds like the sort of thing that someone who felt like me would think of, so maybe I am not alone.

Although, if other watchers can talk to me like that, that implies that they can influence the brain as well as being influenced by it. Which makes them a proper part of the universe, rather than something watching.

Oh God, can a philosophical zombie conceive of the idea of a philosophical zombie?

I know I'm flailing here. There's not even any attempt to construct an argument, just some random phrases.

Shoot me down. I will enjoy thinking about what you say.

Now I've gone back over what I've written and re-read it, and there doesn't seem to be any evidence in it at all that the writer was conscious. It's just the flailing of a human brain trying to understand itself.

But I'm conscious. I am here! Watching! Now!

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