Are You a Doll?

Let’s try a thought experiment (I don’t actually believe this, but it’ll be interesting to entertain the idea):

You wake up in the morning. You have thoughts, feelings, emotions. You know, at a level impossible to question, that you exist as a thinking being. If you try to question that you are a thinking being, you fail, because in questioning that you are thinking, you are thinking, because questioning is a kind of thinking. Thus, you must be a thinking being.

You see your neighbors, your friends, and you think that they, too, are probably thinking beings.

But they’re not.

See, a few of your friends have been replaced with perfect replicas of a human being: mechanical dolls. They are machines made out of the same organic material you are, so cunningly created that they could not possibly be distinguished for an organic human like you. Moreover, their brains have been woven out of the same neurons, but there’s a difference:

While they react properly to all stimuli, due to a very sophisticated program, they never have thoughts, feelings, or emotions of their own. They only seem to. They see you make a frowning face, and the program goes, “if expression(other) == frown :: expression(self) == sympathy.” But they don’t feel it.

Could such a world exist? Could there be a world in which some people have been replaced with physically and behaviorally indistinguishable replicas of real people? I’m not asking if you think we live in such a world (I hope you don’t), but could such a world exist, or would such a world be self-contradictory?

It seems, to me, that such a world could exist. (Even though it doesn’t)

What does that imply?

It implies that internal experience is real, otherwise, the appearance of internal experience and the actuality of internal experience would, by Leibniz law, be the same thing. But they don’t seem to be. It rubs against at least my intuition that they could be.

Do you agree?

Yes, this post was an excuse to bring up not only the philosophical zombie, but remind you of this wonderful song from the 90s.


One Response to “Are You a Doll?”

  1. I always felt that the core issue underneath the outer drapery of the philosophical zombie is:

    When I ask you, “could such a world exist?”, will you respond,
    “Yes, it’s physically possible for such a thing to occur (even though unlikely to an extreme)”
    “No, such a thing is too unlikely (even though it breaks no laws of physics)”

    Both sides generally agree that:
    1.) Physics says “Of course, why not?”
    2.) Biology says “Why the hell would organisms waste all that glucose?”
    3.) One of the above points takes precedence over the other.

    That said, some disagree on that third point, feeling that the “precedence” is merely a subjective attribution, added to a discussion of natural laws by querulous human thinkers, who generally tend to add their own evaluations to things they’re philosophizing about — though such additions don’t necessarily add any more information about said natural laws. In fact, such additions frequently end up resulting in subtraction — by helping people decide which points to disregard, when working memory capacity is too limited to consider all the relevant facts — or when one can’t effectively resolve a paradox.

    (But are those two possibilities actually any different? I don’t know, to be honest.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: