Replay World

Suppose you had a “China-World” made up of multiple, self-aware, interacting “China-brains.” The operators of the China-World’s “neurons” fire a constant time after they observe neighboring neurons firing, making the whole process deterministic, start with the same brain-state and you’ll get the same series of firings, producing the same “people” experiencing the same “feelings.” The functionalist view says that the China-brains are conscious.

Suppose, then, that you attached to this system a computer and recorded the brain state at every “step.” Then, in what I’ll call “Replay-World,” you tell the operators to ignore neighboring neurons, firing instead when the computer tells them to fire. The computer then gives the operators a sequence of neurons firing corresponding to the recording. So, the operators of the China-World behave exactly as they would if you gave them the same starting state, the same “people” seem to experience the same “feelings.” Are the minds in Replay-World conscious? Or are they philosophical zombies?

Consider that in Replay-World, no actual computation occurs within the “brains,” if consciousness requires computation, Replay-World can’t contain conscious minds.* Likewise there is no casual link connecting any of Replay-World’s “brain-states,” you could just as easily play it backward as forward, and the minds inside Replay-World would seem to experience time as being reversed. We don’t consider that the man on the TV showing apparent self-awareness is a conscious being who will die if you turn the TV off, similarly, we’d be able to shut down Replay-World by telling ourselves that its minds are no more conscious.

If you accept that the original China-World beings are conscious and the Replay-World beings are not conscious, you have another quandary: from the inside, it looks exactly the same. In both worlds, there can be minds asking the question “am I conscious;” with one being right and the other wrong. You could even switch back and forth. When one of the Replay-World mind wakes up, you tell the operators to go back to the original protocol, so that as he is contemplating the question of philosophical zombies in the mourning he will be truly conscious, but as he is reconsidering it later that night you switch it back. Thereafter, he can no longer think about it, though will think he is thinking about it.

Another possibility is that there is no quandary here because there is no difference between China-World and Replay-World, because neither are really conscious in the sense that there is an “inner person” having experiences, instead, there are simply thoughts in the brain that bounce off of one another and form into a belief that it is conscious, which exists just as much in either scenario. There isn’t much difference between different parts of the brain communicating and deciding they are conscious and different beings communicating and coming to some shared conclusion about their world. Eliezer Yudkowsky made the point that if you accept philosophical zombies as being mistaken about their consciousness, you cannot maintain a special right for us as individuals to maintain that we are not mistaken, we could be philosophical zombies too.

If we are philosophical zombies, then the whole zombie-argument falls to the ground, there is no reason to suppose a “higher consciousness” that we do not possess but that some hypothetical being might.

*Though you could say that the movement of the mind from one China-World-state to another is a type of computation, done outside the China-World-system, as the computer is summoning the memory of the given states.

One thought on “Replay World

  1. fixeddisdain

    So much for the zombie argument, the subject of so much sterile philosophy.
    Your China/Replay analogy reminds me of Dicks story “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? whose title hits on that theme.

    The “zombie” arguments invariably leave out the particulars about brain structure. Natural language is simply not meet in analyzing mental organizations.
    I experience partial seizures which highlight the often modular nature of consciousness. it has given me one super-power: A free PhD. Among the extremely bizarre behaviors is glossolalia, babbling in a pseudo language without meaning. In other words, I temporarily I transform into an academic philosopher.


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