Quick Paradox: You Can’t be Grateful to Be Alive

May 8, 2015

How about another philosophical puzzle? Last time I claimed that zombies can't want to stop being zombies. Today's proposition is that you can't be grateful to your parents for giving birth to you. Also, God-believers can't really thank God for creating them. Such a sense of gratitude just doesn't make logical sense.

See, in order to feel gratitude, you must exist in a particular state, and then you must benefit from someone's help in moving to a better state. Thus, you see improvement, and that's where the feeling of gratitude comes from. Again, you must see improvement, and then you feel gratitude to the person who caused your improvement. But this model breaks down when we talk about being created.

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Paradoxical Zombie Pirates of the Caribbean

Apr 13, 2015

Much as I love the Pirates of the Caribbean (the first movie), its plot is based on a self-contradiction. See, the pirates are zombies who can't feel anything, yet they are relentlessly driven to find the last piece of Aztec gold to lift their curse. It's a contradiction because they "feel" a great need to overcome their lack of feeling. They desperately want to start wanting again.

At one point, Elizabeth is about to drop her gold medallion over the side of the ship, and she lets it slip a bit, and the pirates all moan in protest. They clearly feel great distress at the thought of that precious medallion being lost beneath the waves. So here's the question: Why do they feel such distress about the medallion when they cannot feel any distress at being stabbed by a knife? Or also: Why would they feel pleasure on acquiring the medallion when they cannot feel pleasure from biting into an apple?

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Chinese Room Step 4: Wanting to Pursue Your Goal

Apr 1, 2015

What good is it to have causal powers in the real world if you don't want to do anything? Yes, that's the missing element in John Searle's Chinese Room thought experiment. Even though the Chinese Room can produce grammatically perfect Chinese responses that make sense, it still isn't alive or intelligent unless it wants something, unless it is pursuing some goal.

Let's suppose the Chinese Room has a second kind of instruction book. The first instruction book just tells about Chinese characters, grammar and usage, but this second instruction book will tell about goals and strategies. The second instruction book is an electronic IC chip just like the first, but this second chip has its myriad circuits and logic gates organized in a way we can summarize as "Don't turn me off!" That's the top goal.

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Chinese Room Step 3: Pumping Out Electricity

Mar 25, 2015

We're still analyzing John Searle's Chinese Room thought experiment, and now we're ready to cut straight to the explanation. The answer is that the brain is not just digital, but also analog. The brain's inputs and outputs are electrical currents, after all. That electricity can carry symbolic information, like a digital signal, but in addition to whatever signal it carries, the electricity is also real analog electricity. And it can make muscles move.

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Chinese Room Step 2: Nobody is Outside!

Mar 18, 2015

The Chinese Room thought experiment postulates real-live Chinese people outside the room, but who are those Chinese people? And how do they know Chinese? Just by magical spirit-consciousness? That's no explanation at all.

In fact, the Chinese people outside the room also look like homunculi, just like Searle-in-the-room. And a homunculus argument is a fallacy, of course. So if you're serious about analyzing this thought experiment, you must get rid of all the homunculi. If you're serious about understanding how the mind works - or how a digital computer can never be a real mind - then you must get rid of all the homunculi.

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Photo of the Week

Waterwheel at Big Thunder Mountain in Tokyo Disneyland - Sept. 5, 2014

Waterwheel at Big Thunder Mountain in Tokyo Disneyland - Sept. 5, 2014 (Enlarge)

Recent Entries:

  1. Quick Paradox: You Can’t be Grateful to Be Alive    (May 8, 2015)
  2. Paradoxical Zombie Pirates of the Caribbean    (Apr 13, 2015)
  3. Chinese Room Step 4: Wanting to Pursue Your Goal    (Apr 1, 2015)
  4. Chinese Room Step 3: Pumping Out Electricity    (Mar 25, 2015)
  5. Chinese Room Step 2: Nobody is Outside!    (Mar 18, 2015)
  6. Chinese Room Step 1: Drop the Homunculus    (Mar 11, 2015)
  7. China Brain Initiative Sounds Self-Defeating    (Mar 4, 2015)
  8. Why Not Go for a Head-Transplant?    (Feb 26, 2015)

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