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Travis Scrimshaw

Mr. Evan Fletcher


December, 2006


The question of what creates consciousness has always been on the front lines of debate, and one aspect of the debate is over the belief that a philosopher’s zombie could exist. A philosopher’s zombie is defined to be a creature which exhibits the exact same mannerisms, idiosyncrasies, colloquialisms, etc. that any person would have, but does not contain a consciousness. A more informal definition is a creature which acts the same way as another human being, yet is indistinguishable from anyone else without extensive testing, reacting by a pre-determined set of algorithms. Therefore, if the world was filled completely with philosopher’s zombies, then free-will does not exist, so if even one person has a free-will, than self-consciousness has some effect.

In order to make a distinction between similar terms, the following will contain a few terms and their respective definitions. The concept of the consciousness, in saying something has a consciousness, will be defined to state something has both self-consciousness and a free-will, in addition to having the ability to be conscious, since something can be unconscious for a duration of time. If something is conscious, it has the ability to receive some type of input, and it also has the ability to react and produce an output based upon either one specific input or a series of inputs. Finally, self-consciousness will mean that something is capable of determining that the thing itself is

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Now, a paradox may be seen in the case of self-consciousness, that one needs to be conscious of the conscious mind, an will escalate in this matter, however, this is not the case. As previously stated, self-conscious being is only able to establish that it is conscious, which implies that there is a distinct separation between the conscious mind and the self-consciousness. Using a standard desktop PC (personal computer) as an example, when it is turned on, it becomes conscious, through discreet channels, of the inputs that is applied to it through devices such as a keyboard or mouse, and even the lack of signals is a type of input, that the PC is to do nothing. However, a single processor is unable to determine if it itself is operating without checking something, such as a previously completed computation, stored in a separate location, meanwhile terminating its reactions to the inputs. It would take a secondary processor to determine if the primary one was operating and still process the inputs given to it.

To observe the greatest distinction between the conscious and self-conscious, as well as the effect that self-consciousness has on the system as a whole, one only needs to travel to Zombieworld, a place in which all of its populace are philosopher’s zombies. In this place, there is not one creature that is self-conscious. They are highly advanced computers, which can process large amounts of data relatively fast, as well as store all relevant data needed, and proceed to function in this way. From an outsider looking down on this place, it would resemble their world as long as something had put it in motion, such as winding-up a watch, or starting a chain of dominos by pushing over the first one.

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“You have a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly. So you could have a beginning of a disintegration that would have the most profound influences.” (Dwight Eisenhower, April 7, 1954) These were the words which first named the domino theory, given by President Eisenhower at a press conference applying to the Indochina region pertaining to Communism [Wikipedia, 2006]. Applying this theory to the region, it was feared that once Korea, later Vietnam, fell to Communism, then the surrounding region would become Communist states as well. This parallel has the relationship with Zombieworld; it being that there is a specific sequence of events that occur which will produce a desired outcome.

Taking one specific zombie in Zombieworld as an example, Jeff Corwin, he operates in a pre-determined way based upon a set of dynamic information in a given scenario. The input is the visual, audio, touch, smell, taste, and memory of past events, which is then sent through an algorithm which will tell Jeff what to do in that given place in space and time. Using the computer analogy already established, the inputs, such as touch, are sent through connectors, nerves, to the processor, the brain, which sends the output back through the proper channels. Therefore, placing a zombie who needs to get from point A to point B in a static maze will run through a predetermined path. This is also where dynamic memory comes into play, for the zombie will have to remember which directions it underwent.

Since the maze is static however, it cannot accurately model a real-world environment, where the routes and surroundings are constantly changing.

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Applying the path-finding zombie, Jeff into a dynamic maze, the walls of the maze will change based upon a set of functions, which are pre-determined and predictable. Jeff will remember what is supposed to be when having to reverse directions and find an alternate path, and he will note what changes have occurred. Once enough of these changes have occurred, Jeff can figure out the way in which the maze changes and figure out a way out, once again, only using a set of functions. While this maybe a very simplified model of the real-world environment, the basis, procedure, and outcomes are the same for Jeff, for each part of the maze is another zombie with their own functions, and the juxtaposition of functions will still result in one, even though more complex, function. When any one element of this system changes, that element will eventually affect all of the other elements directly or indirectly, just like ripples in a pond.

A stone falls into a pond where the water was perfectly still and flat, which causes ripples to emanate out from the point of contact, leading to all points of the water to move in one way or another, no matter where in the pond the stone hits. In order to apply this to the Zombieworld, in the pond system no energy is gained or lost, and the result would be that the pond could never return to being completely still. The reason this constraint can be made is because the world is that the energy lost by the zombies will be regained by actions such as eating, keeping the system going. Yet there is one element missing, the stone that was initially dropped into the pond to create the ripples, and this in Zombieworld is either free-will, that a zombie made a decision to initially do something to start the system from its absolute zero, i.e. no energy in the system, or an outside source of energy, such as (a) God(s).

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Free-will will be defined to be that part of consciousness which from an outside standpoint to be random and having infinite number of desired possible outcomes. While Jeff might have this free-will, he is unable to notice that it was not what was normally suppose to occur. If a person has self-consciousness, they are able to tell this because they are aware of what their conscious would have normally done in that particular circumstance. Therefore, if even one person is self-conscious, than free-will must exist, and in such, nothing has a pre-determined outcome. The proof is with quantum physics, in that everything has (seemingly) infinite possible outcomes, yet they don’t collapse until one of them is measured, i.e. an event occurs in time. [Stapp]

The second part of Eisenhower’s quote on Domino Theory is also related to consciousness because if Domino Theory occurs in life, it leads to the disintegration of self-consciousness and free-will. However, the validity of this theory is brought into question in the consciousness debate by the fact that there are first-person experiences or qualia, and in history by the countries surrounding Vietnam did not fall to Communism as expected. So, by that one person knowing that they are conscious proves that not everything in the world is computable, nor predictable with certainty, that a person having consciousness has an effect through free-will.

Scrimshaw Bibliography

Henry Stapp - Quantum Mechanical Theories of Consciousness

Dwight Eisenhower - news conference on April 7th, 1954 -

Wikipedia – Domino Theory – Dec 7, 2006 -

Professor Evan Fletcher – IST 8A – Fall, 2006