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Do Zimboes dream of Electric Sheep?

The act of reading is inextricably linked to the intertwined structures of language and consciousness ...

We are conscious beings; as mammals, when we experience the world around us we weave a narrative account of our existence that gives us a retrospective timeline in which to anchor our viewpoint and sense of unitary identity. We possess a theory of mind which allows us to ascribe intentionality to other organisms - "the dog bit the postman because it was frightened (and fear provokes a fight/flight response)" - a valuable survival ability during our prehistory on the plains of Africa. And we possess language with syntax and deep semantics and grammar, a possibly-unique and very powerful capability that allows us to encode behavior and insights and transfer them from one mind to another.

Cognitive philosophers have, over the years, chewed on the concept of consciousness until it is grey and mushy about the edges -- but with little digestive success. One thought experiment they use to examine this phenomenon is the idea of the zombie. In cognitive science, a zombie is a philosophical thought experiment: a human being with no interior state, no sense of identity, no "I". Philosophical zombies do not, as far as we know, exist, but they possess a number of interesting attributes; they presumably eat, sleep, breathe, and respond to stimuli, but possess no personhood. If you ask one who he or she is, or what they are experiencing, they won't be able to frame a reply that encodes any sense of identity: they observe but they do not experience.

To probe some questions arising from philosophical zombies, Daniel Dennett proposed a new category: the "zimboe". A zimboe is a special type of zombie which, when asked, will deny that it is a zombie. That's its sole specialty. It's like an empty house where the lights are on and nobody's home, but the absent householder has left a tape-recording of a dog barking or a baby crying playing on a continuous loop to convince burglars that it's a bad prospect. If you ask a zombie about themselves they can't tell you anything. If you ask a zimboe about themselves they will spin a convincing yarn, but it's a lie -- they don't feel anything. Detecting a zimboe is next to impossible because they claim to be conscious; we might be surrounded by them, or even married to one, but we might never know.

When we read fiction or autobiography or any other narrative text that encodes a human experience as opposed to some assertion about the non-human universe, we are participating in an interesting process which Stephen King described as the nearest thing to telepathy that humanity has yet developed. An author has encoded their interior experience, serialized it as text, and handed it to the reader in some kind of package. The reader then inputs the text and, using their theory of mind, generates a simulation of the interior mental states the writer was encoding.

What happens when a zimboe reads "Sense and Sensibility with Zombies?"

The lights are on, but there's no consciousness present and therefore no theory of mind to be deployed to generate an emulation of the interior states of Jane Austen's characters. You can quizz the zimboe about their reading matter and they can answer factual questions about the text, but they can't tell you why Elinor and Marianne are feeling any given emotion, because they lack the theory of mind - the cognitive toolkit - necessary to infer interior states and ascribe them to other entities.

We may therefore expect zimboe lairs to be curiously deficient in the kind of reading matter that provokes emotional engagement and long interior arguments with recalcitrant fictional protagonists who need to recognize the error of their ways, pull their heads out of their fictional asses and sort themselves out.

And, more fundamentally, we may infer the existence of a cast-iron test for whether a person is a person or a zimboe ... because zimboes can't write fan fic. Not even bad fan fic. They probably can't write any kind of fiction at all, or even reliably recognize the distinction between fiction and narrative fact.

Zimboes don't dream of electric sheep. And, come the zombie apocalypse, we can use this fact to defend ourselves from them ...

114 Comments

1:

Maybe though if zimboes are created, bespoke beings, then perhaps one could include the "self-critique.lib , actualized-self.lib".

To wit, if your goal in a zimboe is more human than human, then a la Blade Runner you're going to give them fake memories, and the auto-critique of being able to concieve of a more perfect world than exists (as in, the world where they're doing whatever they were built to do their zimbo-est in, to the zimbo-est of their ability, more than they are at the moment).

2:

I suspect any introductory English teacher could cite many students who can't pass your Zimboe Test. There are other people who seem unable to demonstrate that they model the minds of others in all but the most robotic way. Members of certain political establishments, for example.

3:

Ah. But do Zimboes need consciousness to have a theory of mind? Wouldn't it be possible to develop software to analyse fiction and, e.g., guess at subtext?

4:

Also, couldn't Zimboes memorize crib books about "great works" and then paraphrase them back?

5:

Deoending on what I'm reading, I might (but would not always) fail the Zimboe test. I'd submit therefore that the test itself is as much a test of the author's ability to make the reader empathise with the characters as of the reader's native empathy.

6:

Going off at a tangent for a moment, this whole argument seems to be a restatement of those for and against the existence of the soul. The idea that you don't have a soul if you don't 'get fiction' is rather worrying, because there are people who don't and this argument is coming close to denying that they are human.

Back to the subject, the zimboe appears to be an attempt to posit a p-zombie that cannot be detected. And yet, the fiction test is an attempt to detect them. So a perfect zimboe must be a being that can write fan fiction, because otherwise you do have a test.

(And for an encore, given the diameter of a pin head and a maximum packing density for angels that does not cause collapse into a singularity, how many ...)

7:

This is an interesting piece... but I think it's slightly at odds with the definition of Zombie and Zimboe that Dennett uses (though it's been a while since I read those particular essays). The more typical usage of zombie in philosophy is that they experience no qualia or consciousness but their behaviour is indistinguishable. The zombie is in normal philosophical usage behaviourally indistinguishable from human by definition.

Dennett's PoV is that the traditional philosophical zombie is incoherent as a concept. He attacks the zombie with the zimboe. The zimboe explicitly has awareness of second order states -- that is basically belief about the beliefs and mental states of others. Dennett argues that it must have in order for its behaviour to be indistinguishable from others. (My behaviour would be different if I lacked theory of mind). Dennett then argues that the zimboe must also be able to turn this belief about states of minds on its own minds and uses this to argue it must be conscious (because it has a theory of its own mind). He then argues that all zombies must be zimboes or their behaviour could be distinguished from humans (by their lack of theory of mind -- so I guess that is the Pride and Prejudice version of the V-K you describe).

Here is the quotefrom Searle (Chinese Room Searle) introducing the concept -- the thought experiment is replacing your brain with silicon piece by piece so that each piece has the same function. He has 3 possibilities of which 1 is no difference and 3 is "Curare" (basically paralysis indistinguishable from death -- to your doctors not you). Zombie is 2:

“As the silicon is progressively implanted into your dwindling brain, you find that the area of your conscious experience is shrink-ing, but that this shows no effect on your external behavior. You find, to your total amazement, that you are indeed losing control of your external behavior . . . [You have become blind, but] you hear your voice saying in a way that is completely out of your control, ‘I see a red object in front of me.’ . . . We imagine that your conscious experience slowly shrinks to nothing, while your externally observable behavior remains the same”

What you write is an interesting piece but it doesn't seem to use the term in the normal way. But perhaps I am taking it far too seriously. Either way, I enjoyed reading it.

8:

I think that you yourself may be experiencing a little metaphysical dyspepsia, Charlie... p-zombies are defined to behave exactly like real conscious human beings, without possessing the quality of actually being conscious. They can write fan fiction as well or poorly as the rest of us; it's just that with them, however they claim to do so, there's no internal conscious experience occurring.

As for zimboes, they're p-zombies that not only claims but also believes that it is in fact experiencing internal consciousness.

9:

Your zimboe sounds rather like someone affected by one of those diseases where you lose your memory, but don't notice, and confabulate nonsense to fill in the gaps. Which raises an interesting objection: very few people would fail to observe that there's something wrong with our confabulator, although what they diagnose is another question.

However, by definition, the confabulator is unaware themselves that they are confabulating. Surely the test is whether there is any input to the zimboe that would cause them to recognise inconsistency in their internal state.

Taken together, this implies that a major function of consciousness is diagnostic, and reminds me both of the Dunning-Kruger effect and also James Nicoll's suggestion that it could have arisen in evolutionary terms from the need to detect a signal-faking predator...like a vampire, rather than a zombie.

10:

Literature is such a narrow bandwidth carrier, such a poor conveyor of the thought state of those other minds that you talk of, that by necessity the ability to construct narrative of the character says more about the reader than it does the author.

It's a narrow keyhole, through which the butler sees a much more entertaining scenario than the reality describes.

Now, does the ability to construct a model of behaviour that fits those few poor facts describe some 'humanity'? Is the chinese room really a determinate of real intelligence, or just a sop to those that don't want to really question what's going on?

Is empathy intelligence, or just good model building?

I'd suggest the ability to come up with something new, not just replay the tropes from experience, is a better predictor of humanity than any philosophers thought experiment.

Don't just claim you are human, prove it. Show me something new, something creative. Dreaming of sheep is replaying old memories - show me spacecraft, tablets, new stuff, instead.

11:

This does feel like a misreading of the concept of zimboes. They are best understood as a reductio ad absurdum of the idea that consciousness is an epiphenomenon, with no causal powers of its own. Zimboes can write just the same fiction as the rest of us. Ask them about the most delicate modalities of sensation and they'll write you a little poem. But they obviously can't refer to their own states of consciousness in order to produce this linguistic behaviour, so some other mechanism must be at work. This means that they are physically distinguishable from non-zimboes after all, contrary to hypothesis. Thus epiphenomenalism is refuted.

12:

"Just good model building"? ISTM that model building is a fundamental part of human intelligence, whether it involves building models of spatial structures, of the behavior of physical objects, or of the internal states and possible behavior of other intentional beings. A major part of our evolutionary success is our ability to predict the effect of our own actions on the world around us. We may may not be very good at it, but we're better than any other living organisms we know about.

13:

I've often thought that since the existence of zimboes proves the existence of the soul (or some other form of spiritual secret sauce), that there ought to be a market for a bottled version, to be used by zimboes to become like the rest of us. Now we know that ordinary (non-zimboe) humans have an excess of this non-substance since the amount we have to use ebbs and flows over the course of our lives, so we should be able to milk it from people with an excess, bottle it, and sell it for outrageous sums to zimboes who have developed the sermblance of envy for this quality and the semblance of wishing to quench the semblance of that desire.

14:

After a few beers and a couple of glasses of sangria, I don't really care if Charlie's definition of a zimboe doesn't quite match the original. He tells a great story, thereby proving, by his own definition, that he is not a zimboe.

Of course, it's possible he is spreading disinformation so that we are lead astray and don't identify him as a advance scout in the coming zimboe apocalypse.

15:

My child development stuff is really rusty, but I seem to recall children to some point would all be zimboes by this definition? They're unable to put themselves in another's place as they haven't developed the skills yet.

I also read a pretty wide variety of books for a variety of reasons. Most books and authors I'm likely to read and reread will put me in situation where I'm happy to construct a model of the character and thus demonstrate I'm not a zimboe, or perhaps delude myself that I'm not a zimboe in the hope of deluding you. But I've certainly read books where I just zip through, I don't care about the characters, I don't bother to consider what they're thinking about and I just read, move on and that's it. Do I become a zimboe for that book before recovering?

Or was it written by a zimboe? With apologies to any John Steinbeck fans, I had to read Of Mice and Men at school and I hated it with a passion, couldn't relate to any of the characters (can't remember their names now and won't look them up, I hated it that much) and gave up trying - so at the risk of offending those who will claim Steinbeck is a great of American literature, I'm inclined by Charlie's criteria to judge him as a zimboe attempting to pass as an author.

And, of course, we have things such as The Blair Witch Project. Or the much better Trollhunter. Clearly fiction, although their medium is film rather than the novel, Dracula would be a novel where the same conceit is applied though, but they're all presented as a factual record in one way or another. Perhaps Bram Stoker was a zimboe? Although most people that have actually read Dracula can feel for Mina I think, even a century and more removed from her society, so perhaps not.

16:

We have computer programs that do a reasonable theory of mind and simulation of interior mental states, the most famous being Eliza. In RFC 439, "PARRY Encounters the DOCTOR" two of these artificial theories of mind collide with entertaining result. Are they people rather than zombies?

17:
Going off at a tangent for a moment, this whole argument seems to be a restatement of those for and against the existence of the soul. The idea that you don't have a soul if you don't 'get fiction' is rather worrying, because there are people who don't and this argument is coming close to denying that they are human.

I don't think so: I think this argument is a way of side-stepping the problematic concept of "soul", by teasing out more testable features such as Theory Of Mind, etc.
For example, I personally think that evidence goes against the religious (or at least Christian) idea of a soul: eg. changes in moral behaviour following brain damage: was the immortal soul changed? etc.
But we can at least do experiments on whether a child / dog/etc. has a T.O.M.; classic experiments show they develop at around age 2 in children. I certainly don't consider children before that age to be "not human". Now, whether we call animals that show sophisticated TOMs as 'human' is a more interesting debate ...

18:

@root:
You can quizz the zimboe about their reading matter and they can answer factual questions about the text, but they can't tell you why Elinor and Marianne are feeling any given emotion, because they lack the theory of mind - the cognitive toolkit - necessary to infer interior states and ascribe them to other entities.
---
I can do, on a descending scale of intensity, irritation, anger, wry amusement, and ROFL. Mostly I just cruise along in neutral; days or weeks may go by before I notice a "emotion event."

To hear some people talk, they live their lives in a perpetual emotional storm and ridiculously complex interpersonal entanglements. Their point of consciousness rattles around their head like a marble in a blender.

Some people act like it. Maybe it's true. I can accept that there are people who can perceive and reliably identify "green" and "red", but I can't see those, either. I see people torn up over some emotional reaction to things that I perceive as utterly trivial. It may be real to them, but I can't devise a test for it. Are their emotions real, or just in their imagination? Does it even matter? Apparently it does to them; I've known two who decided suicide was the way out.

Flip it the other way; all these people letting their emotions hang out; are they real, or are they just behavioral constructs they use among their social groups?

19:

Combining the zimboe with the idea of a piece of written fiction being a form of telepathy (I think that would thoroughly bamboozle my old English teachers: their theory of mind seemed rather old when they were teaching me), I lurch wildly into the thought that some of the books with Tom Clancy's name on the cover might have a reason for being different.

I'm thinking here of some of the "Net Force Explorers" franchise, YA novels where the young people have some of their adventures in virtual worlds. Some of the novels are written by Diane Duane, a name known to the residents of this locality, and the writing is bloody good.

Details of the series, identifying the writers who did the work, are the wikipedia page.

Does Diane Duane have a different Theory of Mind to Tom Clancy? She certainly writes some stunning descriptions of places in the virtual worlds, making you think you really are there. That suggests she is a better telepath, at least.

She describes things with all her senses applied. I cannot pin down the particular book, but there is a scene on an airfield, something rather like Edwards AFB, with an experimental plane which no longer exists.

That has lurked in my mind during some of my writing, with advanced aircraft on runways in exotic places.

I am not that good a writer.

20:

Indipendently if your zimboes definition is the correct one or not, according to previous commenters, my mother during her work as a remedial teacher for children with a troubled family background encountered some people that could have been your definition of zimboes.

Not so much the kid themselves, but their parents.
There was a case that blowed my mind, a family when, when the kid was tasked in finding something written in his home for an assignment, was unable to produce anything more than products labels: in his home there was no books, not even a technical manual or a recipe book, no magazines or newspapers, not even a sport news paper.
And please note, it was not a poor family: they where blue collars, but specialized blue collars with high income.
The poor kid, even if not stupid at all, was almost feral in his behaviours.

I remember that case well because at the time I was only a few years older than him, when he came to our home for remedial teaching, but I had discovered books years earlier, and loved them, and I was quite astounded in observing such a different life, and the related apparent incapacity of imagining anything outside his own immediate needs and the quickest way to satisfy them.

21:

It is almost impossible for me to model another person's internal state, which is why for a long time I could not understand the concept of "role-model": "Yes, this person is a doctor and a fighter pilot -- what does it have to do with me?" Finally someone explained to me that she (and presumably other neurotypical people) make use of role-models by asking themselves "What would [my role-model] do in this situation?" It finally made sense to me, but also explained why I never had, or could have, a role-model -- the question "What would X do?" is unanswerable to me, except in most trivial situations.

Yes, I have Asperger's Syndrome. However, inability to evaluate or model other people's internal states does not preclude me from having internal states.

22:

There's an interesting thought experiment:
There's a massive disaster coming that's going to destroy the planet. Luckily for us humans, there are some friendly aliens around who decide to save us all. They offer each person a choice as to how they want their new world to be populated. (We posit that there are a potential 7 billion plus worlds, possibly in virtual reality. My telling of the thought experiment differs in some regards from the original, specifically in that the original only focuses on one person.)

Each person can have either a world populated by real people, their real friends, family, etc., but must accept a poorer standard of living than they are used to. It won't be an awful existence, probably, but it's not going to be great.
Or, they can have a world populated by, well Charlie calls them Zimboes, that emulate friends, family, etc. Except they are perfect zimboes, that can write fan-fiction, can articulate empathy for characters in stories, and most importantly, can act as a real person does, and as you would expect your loved ones to. But, they aren't actually conscious, and they don't have a "soul" or anything. But, you get to live choose a better life, with a great amount of consumer goods, or whatever else makes you happy.

(Your friends and family are not harmed in my retelling, as if you choose not to live with them, they'll get their own world. The original doesn't mention what happens to them if you don't choose to live with them, but to rather live in luxury with zimboes.)

Which do you choose?

Also, @Bellinghman, it's a well known fact that six angels can dance on the head of a pin.

23:

In certain types of acute psychosis, people can and do experience a zombie state. As someone with personal experience of this it is a, shall we say, somewhat interesting experience possessing no concept of self.

It's interesting to note that memory formation goes to hell so reading the observation notes that were made at the time I was acutely psychotic and being held in one of the observation cells at St Leonard was disturbing as I have almost zero recollection of most of what was observed and what I do recall bears no relationship to what was observed.

Anyone in such a zombie state effectively satisfies the legal requirement for insanity and due to the onerous requirements for a defence of insanity to be satisfied you'd almost by definition have to be a zombie.

As for zimboes and theory of mind, certain developmental disorders and (such as autistic spectrum disorders) and mental illnesses (such as schizophrenia) can feature weakened or absent theory of mind abilities. I have a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome and do have some issues with theory of mind abilities and I also share a house with a schizophrenic for whom the meds blatantly don't work and whose theory of mind abilities appear to be absent without leave.

24:

Rather obvious hole in the experiment: What happens if YOU choose to live with your real friends/family, but THEY (or some of them) do not?

My answer is -- I would pick the zimboe world, hands down.

What exactly is supposed to be the point of the experiment? Or is it that people's answers are unimportant, and the whole point is in making one think?

25:

So where would people with autism spectrum disorders fall ?

26:

I'm really not sure I should be responding to this, but here goes. I'm not a philosopher, but I have fun with the Buddhist/Taoist end of playing with the interior of one's psyche. Since neuroscientists seem to be having some productive fun (and results) running meditating monks through fMRI machines, rather than experimenting on the philosophers at the other end of campus. So here's an alternative take:

Can an enlightened being write fiction? Enlightenment here is the state where someone has not only realized that the ego (the I inside our heads) is an illusion, but has reorganized his or her consciousness around that realization, giving rise to immense compassion for those who still suffer with an ego.

So will a buddha write fiction? The answer may be no, in that I don't know of anyone professing enlightenment who makes a living writing fiction. It seems unlikely that someone who has dedicated their lives to eliminating suffering through eradication of their ego will want to promote the egos of others by deliberately feeding them illusions.

However, I don't know of any reason buddhas can't write fiction, because enlightenment doesn't preclude creativity in any way. Plenty of enlightened people write books, for example, many of them teach, and many of them seem to have delightful senses of humor. If they're not writing fiction, it would be due to lack of motivation, not lack of ability.

I'm stuck with the problem of the philosophical zombie. It doesn't seem to have any useful reality. Real analogs of the proposed condition, such as enlightened meditators, don't seem to have all the criteria for being philosophical zombies, and that calls the whole concept into question. Enlightened beings are certainly sentient and have interior lives, but they don't have egos. Does a buddha dream of electric sheep? Almost certainly. But she might wake up wishing she could alleviate Mr. Dick's sufferings, rather than writing fan fiction about it.

27:

Since similar thoughts/questions about autism have come up, I'll skip mine for the moment.

Less seriously; when in someone's home for the first time, I check out their books. You can tell a lot about someone from their reading habits.

If they have no books, I probably don't want to know them. Doesn't mean that they don't read, but don't care enough about what they do read to have copies. Yes, I know there are other possible reasons for their lack, but I'm assuming they're reasonably well-off and educated.

If they have shelves full of military histories, I probably don't want to know them. That, to me, implies a likely conservative mindset that I'm not likely to relate to. There are variations here though; do they focus on WWII or American Civil War? Which which side of the conflicts? Etc.

Are their shelves full of bestsellers, Oprah's Book Club selections, or 'Classics'? Possibly they read whatever they're told they should, without much thought. Well, at least they read. I guess.

So, if they have lots of books that I've read, or are interested in, there's a chance I'll get along with them. Though not a guarantee.

28:

There are interesting examples of unconscious humans in the form of sleepwalkers. If the stories are to be believed. They have driven cars, cooked food, written letters, made art, and even murdered. All without the bottleneck of consciousness getting in the way.

29:

If they have no books, I probably don't want to know them. Doesn't mean that they don't read, but don't care enough about what they do read to have copies.

Or their library is now in electronic form…

I have a fairly extensive CD collection. I've just finished boxing it up, as I've ripped it all to iTunes, and can now play it over my stereo using Apple TV. So if you came over to my house you'd think that I didn't care for music, while a few weeks ago you'd have seen 1400 albums.

30:

I think you may be missing the point of zombies or zimboes or what ever. They are supposed to behave exactly the same as normal people from the outside.

Picture a monster that eats your mind, runs it in a simulator, and brute forces what to say to get you to do something. The monster itself is a simple for loop, it has no experience other than that of the minds it eats.

You could even go without simulation - you can technobabble some quantum multiverse hack where with small quantum probability the monster tells you a quantum-random phrase, and with high probability, extracts the phrase that worked from the random phrases slice of the multiverse.

Though, the original is even worse - the zombie is made of exactly same meat, it is entirely physically indistinguishable. It's a very, very nasty idea. Nazi grade nasty, and I am not using that word lightly. You could write some good dystopian fiction where professional bullshitters (aka philosophers) had more of impact on the world and people are being arbitrarily sent to labour camps, with the justification that they are zombies.

31:

One of the noteworthy things about Tolkien's elves is that though they are poets (reportedly, by Tolkien, very great poets, though Tolkien's translations don't fully convey this), there is no account of any elf ever making up a story. All their epics and ballads and lays are histories. I've wondered if this is an aspect of Tolkienian elves not having free will, which itself seems to be a mutant version of the traditional soullessness of the Fair Folk.

32:

Can't recognise... protagonists who need to recognize the error of their ways, pull their heads out of their ... asses and sort themselves out.

...or even reliably recognize the distinction between fiction and narrative fact.


So Republican supporting Faux News viewers, then?

33:

Or their library is now in electronic form…

In the future that will be truer, though until there's a way to have large format art books (and older books) in eformat, there ought ot be some books visible.

As for music; yeah, you can't go by that anymore. I still have plenty of vinyl and CDs out (a lot of Baroque, Bowie, and all variety of alt/punk), but mainly listen to it on the ipod.

34:

" ejklake" nailed it.

This does feel like a misreading of the concept of zimboes. They are best understood as a reductio ad absurdum of the idea that consciousness is an epiphenomenon, with no causal powers of its own.

I believe the question posed is misleading.

Consciousness likely arose gradually and is based in our brain architecture. Not having any would imply fundamentally different brain. Such as seen in severely mentally retarded people - who can't spin a convincing yarn.

So a zimboe, someone convincingly denying they have consciousness is an impossibility.

Also ..
42% of US college graduates never read another book. No doubt similar percentages apply elsewhere.

Just sayin'.

35:

Well, getting into Tolkien's head is always problematic. Did he have an interior life? That said, my impression was that the elves were more the equivalent of angels, rather than the Other Crowd. AFAIK, angels are not thought to have free will. Rather, they do the will of God (and here we're talking about Catholicism, which was Tolkien's reference frame). Of course, angels reputedly have sex either, so the analogy is very imperfect. Still, I get the impression that when you hybridize RC angels and mythologized Vikings and Finns, you get something very much like Tolkien's elves.

36:

Thomas Aquinas disagrees with you, and explains in what sense angels have free will. (Hint: Lucifer was an angel.) Though whether Tolkien had read Aquinas is another question.

However, it's quite clear that elves are not angels. Gandalf is an angel; Saruman is an angel; Sauron is an angel; the balrog is an angel; the other three wizards are angels—beings that are naturally disembodied and that are able to take on bodies through conscious choice or with the aid of higher powers. But elves are naturally embodied. They're the other Children of Iluvatar, along with men. Of course, one of them, Elu Thingol, married an angel, Melian, who bore him a daughter, Luthien, and thus introduced an angelic strain into elvenkind (and through Luthien's great-grandson Elros Tar-Minyatur into humankind); but Melian was an exception, and as such reaffirms that there is a general distinction (the proper meaning of "the exception proves the rule").

Elves seem to embody what Tolkien thought of as the other set of options for rational beings. They are immortal within the duration of the created universe, but have no prospect of outliving it, as men do; they have no free will, but act within the pattern of creation; and thus, perhaps, they have no creativity, as it may be the power of men to act as subcreators that enables them to leave the circles of the world. In a way, LotR is a kind of metaphysical (and linguistic, of course!) science fiction.

Admittedly, Tolkien's invention came up with things that his rational mind then wrestled with for a long time. There's a reason that he's a rewarding author for pagans, and for materialists like me, as well as for Christians.

37:

Well, yes. My version is a bit flawed in that regard. The original just asks if you would prefer to live a life of luxury with "zimboes" (or whatever they are called), or a life of not-luxury with real people. I think even in the original you wouldn't even know after you picked the zimboe option, that they weren't real (i.e. you would forget).

38:

Peter Watts covered this territory in detail in Blindsight, with the Vampires(and the aliens)being non-sentient, but more intelligent due to not having to waste processing power on consciousness.

39:

So a zimboe, someone convincingly denying they have consciousness is an impossibility.

I think you misunderstood the concept of zimboes. They do not "convincingly deny they have consciousness" -- they falsely claim to have consciousness.

40:

The career of Fëanor in the Silmarillion sure seems to contradict that "elves have no free will" thesis. Or maybe it is the exception that proves the rule. A much more convincing case is that Tolkien's female characters are these zimboes...

41:

There was a story in Asimov's SF magazine about 6 years ago concerning the discovery that a subset of the population - otherwise appearing as "normal" - could not collapse the wave function by observation. In other words, they were zimboes. I was hoping for an eventual novel but never saw it. Can someone identify the story and author?

Better yet, write the novel!

Thanks!

42:

The problem is development, and that means the both the zombie and zimboe concepts are incoherent.

If you don't have an awareness of internal states, then you can't develop a model of internal states in others. It would be coherent if you merely postulated a range of value in such awareness, in fact it probably matches "reality", but no zeros and no infinities allowed, or the concept becomes incoherent. And problems start appearing well before the prohibited values. Someone who is more aware of "internal" states than of "external" states will tend to rapidly slide into solipsism. Someone who is more aware of "external" states will tend to slide into Behaviorism. (Both types clearly exist in the "real" world, but this doesn't make them desireable, though the Behaviorist is probably more dangerous, unless in a position of ultimate power. With enough power an insane solipsist is the more dangerous. They're more likely to do a "Samson" and "pull down the temple".)

43:

A bit off topic, but in Tolkien's cosmology, only Men and Eru have free will. Even the Ainur are just manifestations of Eru's will. Everything else is part of the Music of the Ainur, which was made materiel by Eru's will.

His gift to men was to unbind their fates from the music, which is probably why no one knows how it will end. When they die, they escape the universe, and will participate in the Second Music.

The elves and other races are bound to Arda for its entire existence, though eventually their immoral souls burn away their physical form. Those that die may be reborn, but they can't escape the end.

What happens to them after the end of the Music was never revealed by Eru. As manifestations of his mind and will, presumably they will be reunified with him.

44:

I really am not seeing that. Not for Luthien, who decides the marry the man she wants over her father's disapproval of interracial couples, and then defies Morgoth himself to help Beren collect her bride price. Not for Galadriel, who clearly is tempted by the One Ring and struggles with herself to refuse it. Not with Eowyn, who rides off to war in defiance of her duty and her uncle's command, seeking death in battle. Tolkien doesn't have a lot of female characters, and it's easy to see them all through the lens of Arwen, who really doesn't seem to do much in the srruggle against Sauron—but I think it distorts a lot of the others.

45:

>Still, I get the impression that when you hybridize RC
>angels and mythologized Vikings and Finns, you get
>something very much like Tolkien's elves.

IMO when you hybridize radio-controlled angels and mythologized Vikings and Finns, you get something that requires a control that's waaay too complex to actually use. You might also get a bunch of unhappy Vikings and Finns.

Even though they'd be fun to fly around, I agree that they would not have souls.

(Yes, I know what the OP meant by "RC", but I think this interpretation is more fun.)

46:

I travel a lot. I mean, I've lived in six countries (and seven places, with probably eight moves...) since 2007 (not counting living in places for a few weeks but returning to my main place of residence). Where I am now will be the longest in one place since I left home.

Funnily enough, I don't have many books in my present place of residence. Yet, I am widely read, and actually own a large number of books. I also have more novels on my computer than in physical form where I am.

Also, a perfectly valid reason not to have many books (even assuming a well off, well educated person, with a stable location): they use a library to store their books for them.

I believe that libraries are basically much better (for society, rather than for publishers or authors) than private individuals buying copies of many books in many cases.
1) One can read many more books than it would be reasonable to purchase. (Whatever one's income level -- particularly relevant for those who don't earn as much.)
2) One can read outside of one's comfort zone without purchasing (and potentially wasting money).
3) It means houses etc. can be smaller, as there is a dedicated place for books (etc.) outside the house.
There are other arguments as well.

Some people will want to own copies of particularly treasured, or often used books, and of course, that's perfectly sensible and fine. I own a number of books that I know aren't in the library system where I grew up. There are also places where there aren't decent library systems, or where the library mostly stocks material in a language a person can't read.

My point really is that just discounting someone because they have few books is not really a good idea without knowing why.

47:

Better yet, write the novel!

Uh oh. Are you saying you can't write the novel yourself?
Just kidding.

from the OP:
They probably can't write any kind of fiction at all, or even reliably recognize the distinction between fiction and narrative fact.

I was given some tests when I was around 8yo. One question was if I knew the difference between fiction and non-fiction. The testers seemed surprised that I was always clear on the difference, but then I'd mention that I spent a lot of time in the bookstore that my father worked in at the time.

48:

I'm not discounting anyone. As I said my comment @27 wasn't to be taken too seriously, and that there are plenty of reasons for someone not having books. It was strictly a personal observation, and as I imply @47, I grew up around a lot of books, and it seems odd to me when I'm in a place where there are none. See also fuzzyillogic@20 about the student in a home without books.

49:

You're probably more right, although Lucifer was reputed to copy, not create, and Sauron and Morgoth corrupted, rather than creating de novo (except for that stupid One Ring). I'm not sure how one squares the idea of a Father of Lies with the idea that such a being can't create, that true creation belongs to God, but there you have it. I'm definitely not a RC theologian, radio-controlled or Catholic, and I think the argument about whether lies and BS are acts of creation or not is a dangerous one here, given what OGH does for a living.

Going back to an older concept of spirituality, elves are an animist concept, the idea of a person embedded in natural phenomena. I'm having fun rereading a book on Okinawan religion (Women of the Sacred Grove) which takes this to the extreme in saying that kami (the rough equivalent of the Other Crowd or of spirits) are embodied in human actions. They don't exist as indepedent beings precisely, but are called into being through specific human interactions with reality, such as a prayer to ancestral spirits or ritual acknowledgement of a sacred space. There's a lot of insight there, that spirits exist only because of our human tendency to anthropomorphize everything, and that they're not wandering around independently of us. And AFAIK, in Okinawa, we embody our own kami, which some would call our souls. Sometimes we host other spirits too.

Where Tolkien makes things weird is when he gives an animist concept a physical being. It's fun to play with on an intellectual level, but it's hard to make it work without contradictions, such as the half-elves, or the idea that beings of one creation can choose the doom of another.

And I'm still not sure where the Dwarves and Hobbits fit into all this.

50:

"Picture a monster that eats your mind, runs it in a simulator, and brute forces what to say to get you to do something. The monster itself is a simple for loop, it has no experience other than that of the minds it eats."

Reminds me of Piper Kaufman from Intragalactic

"Science Officer Piper Kaufman
An expert in xenobiology, especially parasites. One day, she got a little too close and her brain was gruesomely devoured by a newly-hatched alien worm which commandeered her body to survive. The resulting entity has a huge guilt complex as a result, not to mention crippling body image issues. Piper also doubles as the ship’s doctor."

http://intragalacticcomic.com/characters/

Heteromeles said

"Enlightenment here is the state where someone has not only realized that the ego (the I inside our heads) is an illusion, but has reorganized his or her consciousness around that realization, giving rise to immense compassion for those who still suffer with an ego."

I won't claim to be enlightened, but I've been doing some meditation and had some experiences along those lines, but I've often wondered if the compassion is a temporal effect. After all going from "My ego is an illusion, pity the people still trapped in the illusion" to "My ego is an illusion. So is everyone elses. No need to feel compassion here..."

Off topic, just wondered what the official buddhist line is.

To make it topical, do we treat zimboes differently if we can identify them? They still cry and scream when we kill them, don't they??

51:

Hi Charlie, I'm a chip designer for the Human Brain Project, and if I wasn't completely shattered after the kick-off of the project this week, I'd be inventing a low-power Exascale vector processor: that'll have to be a job for next week.

What this project does do is permit me to mix it with Nobel prize winners, cognitive scientists, philosophers, medics and so on, that I'd not normally meet in a work setting.

My starting point is to get a philosopher to "define terms", and consciousness is possibly the slipperiest of the lot. In the hands of a medic it means "wakeful" as opposed to "asleep". Ditto our Cognitive Psychologist friends.

Some philosophers will use it to mean "sense of self", but as we are beginning to understand some of the lower level details of the brain your average philosopher starts to retreat.

So, we now know that humans (and other mammals) have a self-image of the body, mapped into the neurons in a fixed area of the brain. The interest here is that VS Ramachandran exploited this effect to help victims of phantom limb, using mirrors. This works because "hand/eye" coordination is matching the vision sensor data against the "homunculus" of neurons in the brain. The use of a mirror tricks the brain into believing that the left hand is the missing right hand and allows you to scratch the itch you've had for the last twenty years.

There are particular features of the homunculus -- which Ramachandran will talk about in small groups -- that he is less explicit about at large-scale events. Firstly the scale is variable depending on the number of nerve endings (genitals are much much larger than their size would otherwise suggest); also the lips and fingers are very close together (for feeding, probably), and it is this that causes the limbless to have problems. You have an irritation of the lips and this triggers a few of the nearer neurons which have been mapped to the missing limb (probably finger tips).

My question is this: could not the higher level self-image be something similar? If it is, would this not make us all zimboes? (I'm much less sure at this stage, because it is seldom clear _exactly_ what we are all talking about.)

(videos from our kick off are at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LQ-5Rq3Alus
I'm in SP9 as Furber's right hand man. My proudest moment: Obama's Inauguration speech this year using some of the words I used to justify HBP. One of Ramachandran's friends obviously liked "The Human Genome Project cost £3 billion, there is now an industry capitalized at £792 billion." so much he recycled it as: "For every US tax dollar spent on HGP, there has been a return of $243". )

52:

Potential zimboes: the mentally ill, children, people of radically different cultures to one's own, people experiencing transient physical illnesses or drug effects, Asperger's sufferers, people whose cognitive development was harmed by poverty. Women/men? How many men/women have claimed to struggle to understand them?

Isn't this a case that the whole philosophical zombie concept is bankrupt? It's just another version of the libertarian I-am-an-island cockery, applied to philosophy rather than economics or law, and tellingly emerging in the same universities at the same time.

It's time to kill the zombie. Head shots!

53:

Erm... . Don't those zombies sound a bit like the Space Nazis from Iron Sunrise?

54:

My understanding (and note that I'm not much of a meditator either, is that Buddhists are talking about an experience of panpsychism. Basically, the idea is that awareness is a fundamental property of all sentient beings, and perhaps it is even the "observer" that makes quantum physics occur.

Therefore, rather than being a special property of the "I" inside your head, you're simply one instance of a consciousness that's pervades the universe.

Compassion in the enlightened probably arises from this fundamental realization, and if so, it's no more artificial than one's compassion for one's finger. Note that this is different from a person having problems defining with boundary issues. It's simply the realization that the thing that you thought to be most precious about yourself is actually the most universal thing about you.

That's why I'm not sure whether an enlightened person would want to write fiction. If, in their view, it promotes a painfully fallacious view of the world, why do it?

The other point here, and this is rather more central, is that enlightenment is the closest phenomenon we have to the idea of a person without an "I" inside his or her head, and it's rather different than Hollywood (or even traditional Haitian) views of what a zombie is.

55:

I see a comparison here with sociopaths / psychopaths; the description from "The Sociopath Next Door" simplifies some, but simplifies down to "These people do not have a conception of conscience".

That's part of zimboe definition; limited to conscience, as opposed to generally theory of mind, but I think it opens a window to seeing how people with the greater disability would behave.

Similarities with Solipsism Disorder and Depersonalization Disorder seem strong as well.

56:

I always thought "role model" meant somwone who got to do fun things that others wanted to do; whether discovering new things about the universe or racing motorcycles or whatever.

The concept that "What would (role model) do?" is actually a strategy rather than a joke is bizarre.

Especially because (role model) is by definition smarter/richer/better resourced/more famous than the person asking the question.

57:

I find your discussion of kami interesting. It's been borne in on me over recent years, as I've thought more about Tolkien, and read some Tolkien criticism, how very animist Middle-Earth is. We have, for example, the mountain Caradhras, which has a spirit that hates and resents two-legged being and gives the Fellowship all kinds of grief. (The movies made that the work of Saruman, but that's a distortion; in the book it's just that Caradhras itself is hostile.) I'm working on a roleplaying historical fantasy world now, and I'm trying to build it around pervasive animism in the Tolkienian mode, but without the Catholic subtext.

So far as Lucifer is concerned, it's important to recognize the difference between two different senses of "create." The theological sense applies only to God; God creates the world and us by constantly willing us to exist, and if God stopped doing so for an instant, we would all be annihilated, like the image of this text if your computer crashed. The mundane sense is not creation in the theological sense; it's taking stuff that God is already creating and rearranging it—what Tolkien calls "sub-creation," perhaps because he was too good a Catholic to describe anyone but God as creating.

The storytelling Tolkien and the philosophical Tolkien aren't always on the same page. The Silmarillion makes it clear that the dwarves are not properly Children of Iluvatar; they were made in the form of elves and men (but imperfectly) by one of the Valar, who could only animate them by giving them instructions—but the One had enough compassion to give them animation of their own, and adopt them. On the other hand, hobbits give every appearance of being a fourth race, but here and there Tolkien hints that hobbits are really men. Just short. But I really prefer them as a distinct race.

Tolkien actually seems to have thought about the philosophical issues of Middle-Earth quite a lot. His Letters contain some surprising passages.

58:

Slightly OT:

Any mention of John Searle makes my hackles rise. His Chinese Room is ridiculously misleading. He describes it as a look-up table going from input to output. Not possible: there are over 20,000 different symbols in written chinese, so by the time the input has reached 20 characters, there are more possible values in the lookup table than protons in the visible universe (~ 10^80). And it would collapse to a black hole well before then.

So it's not just more of the same if...then...else with no qualitative change - just as the NSA et al running algorithms on what they monitor to decide whether we get a one-way ticket to a law-and-civilization free zone is not just more people using abaci.

Back to John Searle - he later claims that he can memorise the rules and perform perfectly. If so, then it would be interesting to drop him into backblocks monolingual China and see how the locals react to the man whose perfect calligraphy translates as something like "I have a brain lesion that interferes with my hearing and speech. Please take me to the local Communist Party HQ so that I can..."

OK, ridiculous, but if you grant him the ability to simulate an entire chinese mind within his own, then why assume that he still has control and can stop it?

59:

I'll read it again later, but this piece reminds me too much of Peter Watts' Blindsight. In fact, I'd call it a distillation (except that the zimboes *aren't* detected, specifically because nobody thinks to look for art).

60:

Any mention of John Searle makes my hackles rise. His Chinese Room is ridiculously misleading. He describes it as a look-up table going from input to output. Not possible: there are over 20,000 different symbols in written chinese, so by the time the input has reached 20 characters, there are more possible values in the lookup table than protons in the visible universe (~ 10^80). And it would collapse to a black hole well before then.

He doesn't actually reduce the problem to a dumb lookup table; he posits a rule based system broad enough to encompass any sort of software. I don't find his argument convincing. It's just a long appeal to intuition that explicitly rejects any testable predictions -- though maybe philosophers are supposed to confine themselves to things that are not testable.

Others have indeed tried to argue that "in principle" you could pass the Turing test with a simple but vast lookup table. It's actually even worse than "the visible universe has insufficient mass to build the lookup table." Suppose you're using an abstract Turing machine with an infinite tape. You can execute any procedure that terminates in a finite number of steps -- 10^80, 10^10^10, it doesn't matter. Can you now trivially pass the Turing test? The answer is still no, because even if you have arbitrary storage space, you still don't have an algorithm to generate the ouptut side of the conversation. And there won't be enough humans living between now and the heat death of the universe to fill the output table via a cosmic scale Mechanical Turk.

Positing a pre-filled conversation lookup table that covers all possible finite conversations is just a subtle begging of the question. It's like saying that Turing machines can trivially produce future best selling novels: just use a lookup table that maps a date and a position on the best seller list to a manuscript. But that doesn't specify an algorithm of any sort for producing manuscripts! Given an oracular answer, you can use a Turing machine to store the answers and associate them with questions. Great. Why am I bothering with puny Turing machines if I have an oracle? This is different from having a well defined algorithm that nonetheless cannot run to completion within the physical constraints of our universe, such as producing all the decimal digits of Graham's number.

61:

A rule-based system, sure. But he's only able to follow those explicit (remember, he doesn't understand _anything_ about what he's doing) rules at about 1 per second. So before he could come up with his first answer, his lifetime would have run out (jury out on whether the Sun would be a red giant or white dwarf by that time ;-)

My main problem is that he's trying to make you ignore the complexity of what would have to be going on inside a brain or a Chinese Room full of quantum supercomputers (or...) in order to come up with intelligent output.

Speed and generations of engineering improvements and generations of smarter and more human-friendly software + hardware is the difference between an abacus and an addictive fondleslab. (with or without +5 Glamour)

Subetext: I think we may be in violent agreement ;-)

62:

Some chatbots have been written to enlist human aid in building those lookup tables. While human discussion is not predictable, there are attractors in the phase space (for example, Godwin's Law); even very dumb chatbots can get along for some time parroting back plausible but low-information responses. Eliza did decently well and it was written in a few kilobytes! More modern bots can hit a conversational dead end and prompt the user for something that might be a reasonable answer - or log feedback about good or bad responses on the fly; this obviously has the weaknesses of any wiki, but allows self-correction and arbitrary expansion of the lookup tables.

A theory of mind is not necessarily part of, or necessary for, consciousness. Small children seem to acquire consciousness before they have a theory of mind. Cats appear to have theories of mind regarding other cats and the food apes, whether or not they care. And the big river corporation's computers have expensively programmed and highly buggy theories of mind about its customers despite having no self awareness.

"You have purchased 'Mermaid Boobies.' You might like 'Fifty Great NASCAR Explosions,' 'Blessed Penguins: a History of Nursing in the 19th Century,' and 'Mermaid Boobies.'"

63:

Big River meets FanFic:

You have purchased Hogwarts: A History. As a muggleborn, we think you would also like Bloody Revolution: A History, Terror: A History, Das Kapital, Mao ZeDong's Little Red Book, The Anarchist's Cookbook, Assassination: A History, and the collected works of Beedle the Bard.

64:

MHP @ 4
But they would not be able to come up with an ORIGINAL response, or one you were not expecting.
( c.f. my hypothesis re Elgar's "Enigma" f'rinstance )

65:

skiooing everything else .....

Could a Zimboe write poetry?
NO

I think that might be a definitive test??

66:

Having read Dennett...

Zimboes are supposed to be operationally indistinguishable from people - to the extent that - if there was a drug that extinguished the distinguishing spark of consciousness from a person and turned them into a zimbo; if a person was suffering sufficiently that they were beleived when they said they couldn't take it anymore and they were going to take the drug and become a zimbo on Monday, then even if a caring friend slipped them the drug on Saturday to spare them the ongoing suffering, they would still take the drug on Monday.

The term zimbo seems to be meant as a reducto ad absurdam of the concept of a philosophers' zombie and not a serious suggestion.

NB: In one of Dennett's books, you can find the statement "We are all zombies" with the footnote: "It would be a desperate act of intellectual dishonesty to quote this out of context!"

67:

WTF is a theory of mind, anyway? Like, scientific theory? A way of predicting the behavior of others? Then there is no single theory of mind, there is an infinite set of them.

68:

As far as I can tell, a theory of mind is a collection of heuristics used to predict the future behaviour of self-directed entities (other people, animals, etc)

(IMHO) The classes of theory of mind have been pruned by multi-generational natural selection to those useful (ie, at least as good at getting alleles into the future) for predicting the behaviour of humans and other animals (in the past ;-).

So it is distinctly plausible that human TOM's are clustered around a local optimum that is rather pessimal when compared to the (hypothetical) general case/solution.

69:

@46:
I believe that libraries are basically much better (for society, rather than for publishers or authors) than private individuals buying copies of many books in many cases.
---
That would certainly change the writing and publishing businesses; talk about market shrinkage...

The problem with libraries is they're limited to what the librarians choose, not what you or I choose. I worked in the library when I was in high school; one day we were told to remove all the novels by Samuel Clemens and a couple of other authors, since it had been decided that the authors were "racist." And thus the school was cleansed of the badthink of "Huckleberry Finn" and "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court."

My local public library caters to a much different demographic(1) than mine. I don't have any use for cookbooks, travel books, NYT bestseller fiction, or romance novels, which comprise virtually all of its selection.

It has maybe 100 science fiction novels; I have over 3000. It has maybe 10 engineering books, I have about 300. I also have more general science and history books than the library.

I check the shelves once every few years to see if there's anything new, but I mostly use it for the Inter-Library Loan service.


(1) library demographic: children, either parked there while their parents shop, or using the encyclopedias for schoolwork. 90%+ of adults are the damp women with their hair up. Adult males are almost always "senior citizens." Everyone else together fits into the low single digits.

70:

@56:
I always thought "role model" meant somwone who got to do fun things that others wanted to do; whether discovering new things about the universe or racing motorcycles or whatever.
---
I think the word for that is "celebrity."


@56:
The concept that "What would (role model) do?" is actually a strategy rather than a joke is bizarre.
Especially because (role model) is by definition smarter/richer/better resourced/more famous than the person asking the question.
---
A role model is someone who exhibits proper behavior, for current/local values of "proper."

Suppose someone bumps into you on the sidewalk.

If your role model is Miss Manners, you might say "Excuse me" or "my goodness", step to one side, and continue.

If your role model is Nigel the tommy-boy, you'd signal your pack and beat the aggressor into a bloody pulp.

71:

@60:
Can you now trivially pass the Turing test? The answer is still no,
---
A substantial number of humans can't pass the Turing Test either, at least by Turing's original definition. I get business mail that looks like a cross between a stream-of-consciousness brain dump and the output from the old "Eliza" program. Asking for a clarification just sends you down the rabbit hole.

Even worse, look at transcripts of spoken conversations sometime. Try "The White House Transcripts", which contains conversations in the Oval office during Watergate. Even given that tone and inflection probably carried a lot of the original information, it sounds more like a bunch of people talking to their phones instead of each other.

72:

OK. :) I certainly grew up around a lot of books as well. But they belonged to my family (parents) rather than to a business. We also visited the library very regularly (at least once every two weeks or so). There was no way we could have afforded all the books my siblings and I (not even counting my parents) borrowed and read.

@TRX 69:
Of course, in your case, it does make more sense to buy more of you own books. (And to lobby for more books for the library at the same time. Also, I am reasonably certain that ILL requests are recorded, and taken into account when purchasing is done.) However, for the other users of the library (who actually do make great use if), why should they buy all of those books individually when it they can pool their resources, and buy even more?

73:

So role models are needed to enforce societal/subcultural norms? Seriously?

Are you saying that $RANDOM_MINION is a role model rather than Stalin/Pol Pot/Jim Jones?

Or, to rephrase, is this a mechanism for imitating/following $BOSS and not $ULTIMATE_BOSS ?

I'm only familiar with the What would $BLAH do question in the context of stupidity like WWJD-type stickers etc.

74:

The person who gave me that definition of "role model" was, as far as I could tell, entirely serious, and her role model was Xena the Warrior Princess. Her philosophy when unsure about a course of action was "What would Xena do?"

75:

Kill everyone blocking her way? Demonstrate the "Veins Gush, Arteries Spurt" difference to Gabrielle? Pander to the lesbian demographic? (note: I never watched it, so I'm noy being at all serious)

I mean seriously, WTF?

76:

Funnily enough I was asking the better half about Xena the other day; best I could glean was she was fair minded and ate with her friends, or shared her food or saink...

I was never given any role model; but I guess if I could choose, then maybe someone out of Stargate, Daniel for speaking so fast and not wasting a moment. Or perhaps Teal'C... but then again this make sme think of recently in watching that new Star Trek flick, which hmm was just recycled 1960's ideologies with some future bits tacked on (did it fail Bechdal Test? lol), the only character whom made any sense at all was Spock. The rest were probably zimboes...

77:
We have computer programs that do a reasonable theory of mind and simulation of interior mental states, the most famous being Eliza

Eliza didn't have a theory of mind - it was driven from very simple pattern matching on the input text.

The fact that it can so often fool folk is a sign of how easily we can ascribe a ToM to other things - it's very much hard wired into how we approach the world.

Fun story. About 20 years back I was working at a company where we all had to make our own "internal" web page. I made mine look like a live chat with me, but the back end was a lightly customised off-the-shelf Eliza bot (as I recall I added more cursing, and occasional questions like "Have you checked the intranet?").

One member of staff was still fooled more than a week after it went live...

78:
WTF is a theory of mind, anyway? Like, scientific theory? A way of predicting the behavior of others? Then there is no single theory of mind, there is an infinite set of them.

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_mind ;)

Basically having a ToM is when you ascribe mental states to others - and predict their behaviour based on how you think those mental states will make them behave.

79:

This is a bad definition. An abacus can be used to predict behavior. Does it mean an abacus has a theory of mind?

80:
Isn't this a case that the whole philosophical zombie concept is bankrupt?

That's essentially Dennett's point with his zimboes. It's a reductio ad absurdum on the default p-zombie position that you can have folk that are indistinguishable from those who are conscious without there being anybody at home.

It's just another version of the libertarian I-am-an-island cockery, applied to philosophy rather than economics or law, and tellingly emerging in the same universities at the same time.


Nottingham University was a hotbed of libertarianism? Who knew!

81:
This is a bad definition. An abacus can be used to predict behavior. Does it mean an abacus has a theory of mind?

Sorry - I'm not explaining it well. Let me add emphasis:

"when you ascribe mental states to others - and predict their behaviour based on how you think those mental states will make them behave."

It's not just the prediction, it's the prediction based on ascribing mental states to others.

82:

It's not just the prediction, it's the prediction based on ascribing mental states to others.

You can use a computer to predict behavior of people using a model that ascribe mental states to them. Like, you can predict that when someone stubs one's toe, she gets angry. Anger is a mental state, after all.

You will get surprisingly good predictions from this simple model. It's a theory of mind all right. :-)

83:
You can use a computer to predict behavior of people using a model that ascribe mental states to them. Like, you can predict that when someone stubs one's toe, she gets angry. Anger is a mental state, after all.

Ah - in that case yes! I took "abacus" as a literal non-turing complete abacus rather than a computer ;-)

84:

I'm pretty sure you can implement Turing complete programs on paper or wet sand (or in your own head), it will just take longer than on a computer, because you will have to calculate everything by yourself. :-)

But the question remains - does a computer with an extremely simple model that predicts behavior, have a theory of mind? Usually when we think of a theory of mind we imagine something more complex.

85:

My understanding of Dennett's argument is that it is partially an argument against those philosophers and cognitive scientists that, protests aside, essentially believe in an "essence" of consciousness that is more than just the processes of the brain, whether it be a soul or they call it something else. The idea that there is an essential "I" or self "inside" the mind rather than a variety of processes that give us the illusion, subjectively, that we are conscious (and I know "subjectively" as a word becomes problematic but...language is hard here).

When I read all of this a few years ago, the implication seemed pretty clear that Dennett was arguing, in this context, that we are ALL zimboes. We think we have a consciousness, unitary or otherwise, and will express ourselves as having one to others, but that it is an illusion of self papering over a variety of mental processes, which act independently, like the ones of vision and its interpretation.

86:
Compassion in the enlightened probably arises from this fundamental realization, and if so, it's no more artificial than one's compassion for one's finger.

But I don't harbour any compassion towards my finger... Given a good motivation, I'd have it amputated without a thought.

Buddhists are usually pacifists, but when they're not...

87:

Compassion in the enlightened probably arises from this fundamental realization, and if so, it's no more artificial than one's compassion for one's finger.

But I don't harbour any compassion towards my finger... Given a good motivation, I'd have it amputated without a thought.

Buddhists are usually pacifists, but when they're not...

I must correct that. If you have to have a good motivation, you're amputating your finger mindfully, not mindlessly. I think most enlightened Buddhists would agree that, with the proper motivation, amputating a finger would be the proper course of action.

If I recall properly, Thich Nhat Hanh has given lessons in mindfulness to Midwestern police officers (their female chief is a Zen Buddhist). The lesson wasn't about never using their guns, it was about being very mindful, because they carried guns and might be in situations where they had to use them, and to make sure they only used them when it was required. This is something we can all agree on, I think? This is about the compassionate use of force, which is to use it only when it's necessary (as when it's necessary to amputate your finger). This is different than believing that feeling compassion for others is a good thing, and hopefully it helps make the point.

Anyway, this is the action of people who try to see the illusion of ego and rise above it, and I still think it points to a general unreality of the philosophical zombie concept. Could a person without ego act more ethically than one who has one? Yep.

88:

Tolkien suffered the same problem as Milton - namely being a deep religious believer while their muses apparently weren't. Thus Tolkien's problems with an Adversary apparently creating life (orcs, giants; as has been pointed out, if orcs are twisted elves, the Halls of Mandos must have some serious truth-and-reconciliation counsellors on staff), and Milton making Lucifer a Byronic hero rather some time before the term was coined.

89:

We think we have a consciousness, unitary or otherwise, and will express ourselves as having one to others, but that it is an illusion

Heh.

Who exactly has the illusion?

90:

albill writes .. about Dennett.

Firstly, I am not a philospher, I just get to subject their theorizing to scientific scrutiny.

The version of philosophical zombies with which I have come into contact the most are those defined in terms of "qualia". (The wikipedia article on qualia is as good a place to start, as any).

Let's pick "redness" as our qualia of choice. So -- in words for simple people, like me -- although we can define "red" as electromagnetic radiation in the range 620-740nm, the _quale_ (singular of qualia) is the effect it has on us.

Some of these effects might be quite simple: a red room seems warmer than a blue one, or a red sky at sunset on the North Cornish coast (or Big Sur) might have an emotional effect.

Now, my materialist view of all this is that during our upbringing we have associated warmth with fires, and this explains the association of red and warmth. Remember that the neurons in a brain are exceptionally good "temporal coincidence detectors".

Similarly, if I am permitted a romantic interlude, sunset over the western coast is an association between the view and sharing it with a loved one. Just another "temporal coincidence" detected, then.

There are also lower-level effects here. I remember being on a jaunt to "The Other Place" (= Cambridge) which involved a jolly pub lunch. For the first time, my ploughman's included yellow sweet pepper. I was unable to eat any for the next ten years as a very low level area in my brain had now associated "yellow pepper" and feeling very woozy and slightly sick. Notwithstanding the four pints of Abbott ale also consumed during that lunch. So this effect is not easily overridden by higher-level conscious thinking.

Now, to return to vision, Colin Blakemore's most famous experiment involved constraining kittens so that they only ever perceived vertical lines in their vision, during a critical stage of their visual development. Even though they had perfectly functional eyes, they could not then "see" (or rather their visual cortex had not developed the need circuits to recognize) horizontal features of their environment.

In short, all animals need to develop in an environment that provides the right stimuli at the right time or they fail to recognize these features, and cannot be subsequently taught.

Finally, I think I might be related to a partial philosophical zombie: along with a third of the male population, my dad had red/green colourblindness!

(In case it's not clear, I think the idea of "qualia" is about as useful as philogisten. We should be exploiting our new knowledge about the ways these effects actually happen, rather than having our thinking boxed in by ideas that are two and a half millenia out of date.)

91:

Sdrian Howared @ 77
The fact that it can so often fool folk is a sign of how easily we can ascribe a ToM to other things - it's very much hard wired into how we approach the world.
Delicate subject that .....
Because that is how people automatically ascribe actions of [ Insert name of $BigSkyFairy here ] to "cause" things.
Which ain't so, of course, but ...
It is, to those aware of it, a dreadful trap of human thinking & mind/brain processes.
So - be careful!


92:

Oh @ @ 77-80 et seq
And what ToM are you going to ascribe to, say Cats?
Who can definitely manipulate "their" humans - even if it is only a mutually learnt set of conditoned-responses (maybe) ??

93:
But the question remains - does a computer with an extremely simple model that predicts behavior, have a theory of mind? Usually when we think of a theory of mind we imagine something more complex.

I'd argue "yes" - for some very low-level on the continuum between nowt and homo-saps. Others would argue the opposite ;-)

94:

Zymurgy brings, to its devotees

Inspiration, though it weakens the knees

Many-faced choice of future dreams

Beverages swirl, making p-space vortices

Opaquely many futures dreamed in the glass

Even though it is but darkly known

Seen with vision, perfect at dawn.


[ Read as an acrostic?
And could any program or simulation produce such?
Is this the test? ]
Discuss

96:

I don't think psychopaths are zimboes; they are supposed to be good at manipulating people, no? There's a distinction between "can't model others' minds" and "can model others' minds, but only does so in order to mess with them".

97:

@41 - sounds like the opposite of Greg Egan's [i]Quarantine[/i], where human consciousness has proven to be a scourge of the universe.

98:

ecestari wrote:
Zimboes already exist and permeate society :
http://knowledge.insead.edu/leadership-management/organisational-behaviour/the-psychopath-in-the-c-suite-2393

See my comment #55 -

Sociopath/psychopathic individuals are not a complete set of the missing things to qualify as zimboe. They're missing conscience (but not an understanding of what it is, from seeing it in other people).

That gives us a window and some insight towards what a real zimboe might be - but that does not a zimboe make. Sociopaths are clearly "there enough" to have internal "I-state".

The question then becomes, can one identify or suggest sets of characteristics such that their absence equals zimboehood, and start testing for them. We know how to detect sociopathy; absence of conscience is one potential symptom of zimboehood (but perhaps not). So what would make up good mockups of the totality of what we need to find absent?

99:

As an aside, Dennett uses Zimboes not as a real concept, but more as a foil to argue that the idea of philosophical zombies are not really practical / real, being somewhat logically inconsistent. I think he's coming down to "if the only difference is lack of a soul / equivalent meta-component, and we can't test for one otherwise... Does it exist?"

I'd head in another practical area. If we're defining Zimboehood as most likely being lack of theory of mind and ability to ascribe that in others, etc - then I question whether this is possible.

We see apparent theory of mind behavior in very small children and in many animals. They understand each other and humans as having mental states, and seem to be able to ascribe behavior to that. It's not clear if they're just clever or borderline sentient. Koko and some of the chimps are at the very least in the grey zone. Creativity and theory of mind, in non-clearly-diseased "higher" minds, seem inherent.

I posited above that we might go looking for sets of characteristics the absence of which might be evidence for zimboehood, but that may not be possible. Making the "other things" work may necessarily push past the limit into actual personhood.

One can hypothesize software working on the edges, carefully designed to not have more characteristics than the ones we design in, but that seems difficult to credit. Not impossible, but not convinced it's possible.

100:

I dispute an "interior life" is needed to understand or comment on feelings, because all our "understanding" is, is facts being processed at a level below consciousness -- but at one point, they were learned consciously, just like typing or riding a bicycle. A "zombie", having read a book, could discuss the emotions of the characters and their motivations, likely feelings, etc, just as well as a "human". This gets back to both Descartes and the Turing Test -- we can never know if anyone but ourselves is "real", so anything that seems sufficiently real that there's no way to discern the difference, is. "A difference that make no difference is no difference." If no test can determine the distinction between a being with an interior life and one with a perfect simulation of one, there isn't one. Such a simulation must, by definition, include insight and creativity -- or we'd be able to tell. So, a perfect zombie would write fanfic, for the same reasons non-zombies do -- a sequence of stimuli and responses results in the zombie writing a story.

If you asked me, "How does this character feel?" in regards to a story, and I said, "Well, they're sad, obviously.", could you tell if I said that because I imagined myself in the character's position, and felt sad, or if I worked though a sequence such as "This character is a human. At this point, the character's father died. Humans are sad when parents die, unless there are extenuating circumstances. No keywords or patterns prior to this point indicate such circumstances. Therefore, the character is sad." Because, ultimately, that's all an "interior life" is -- us running precisely that kind of algorithm, just doing it so quickly and subconsciously that we don't realize we're running it.

This is a theme I keep coming back to over and over in my writing... the boundary between a mechanism and a person. (Which has nothing to do with their physical form.) There's a line in the current story I'm working on: "Any sufficiently complex system is indistinguishable from a sapient mind". At some point, there is the emergent property of self-awareness. I would go out on a limb and say that a perfect stimulus/response replica of a human must, to be perfect, include that self-awareness (or so perfect a simulation of it that it makes no difference), because self-awareness is part of what determines our responses to stimuli. We consider multiple alternatives and imagine the future consequences of them. A simulation that included all of the effects of self-awareness would be, de facto, self aware. It would, left to itself, ask questions about its own existence, because that is our response to the stimulus of existing. If a perfect stimulus/response mechanism failed to act in such a way -- to seek stimulus after an interval, to create when bored, to make up a story to explain a phenomenon it couldn't explain -- it would not be perfect. Again, for all I can prove, only I have actual self-awareness. Thus, the argument seems somewhat moot: A planet of zombies would not be distinguishable from a planet of non-zombies, including zombies claiming consciousness to each other, philosophizing about it, writing books and treatises on the topic, etc.

101:

@100:

Did you ever read Richard Bach's Illusions?

...as a twist on Descartre's cogito, sort of.

102:

At this point, it might be worthwhile to go read up on mirror neurons. "A mirror neuron is a neuron that fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another. Thus, the neuron "mirrors" the behavior of the other, as though the observer were itself acting. Such neurons have been directly observed in primate and other species including birds[citation needed]. In humans, brain activity consistent with that of mirror neurons has been found in the premotor cortex, the supplementary motor area, the primary somatosensory cortex and the inferior parietal cortex" (from the wikipedia article.

Basically, a zombie is a hypothetical being that acts as if it has mirror neurons, without actually having mirror neurons. Why do I doubt that such a being exists?

The point here is that the neurologists actually have documentedphysical structures (mirror neurons) that show how an interior life is sensed. Philosophy is no longer needed to explain how this phenomenon occurs.

103:

Three groups of humans lack a theory of mind: economists, sociopaths, and Republicans.

All three are likely to become extinct for obvious reasons.

104:

This was uncalled for.

105:

Everything can be simulated if the rules are known. If you disagree, then we are talking Vitalism.

106:

Intelligent sociopaths do rather well. Certainly, if they did not then evolution would have weeded them out.

107:

This was uncalled for.

It's a little bit of an overstatement, but based on the behaviour of all three groups there's a germ of truth buried in it.

108:

No.

There's a weird notion that evolution will perfect things to their environment. This is not actually the case.

In the case of sociopathy, assuming that there's an evolutionary explanation for it continuing to be a thing assumes a lot of stuff.

Off the top of my head:

That it is heritable.

That it provides a breeding advantage.

That it provides a survival advantage.

But, you know, reproduction does toss out a fair few imperfect creations. People usually don't assume that there's an evolutionary reason people with subnormal intelligence are born fairly frequently, but they seem to not apply the same logic to people with abnormal emotions.

109:

Perhaps because you don't tend to see people with Down's syndrome ending up as CEOs or presidential candidates...

110:

" ... but they seem to not apply the same logic to people with abnormal emotions. " And what do you call, Abnormal as in ' .. Abnormal emotions ' pitiful Human? How does NORMAL emotion contribute to the Dominant Culture that States that Greed IS GOOD!! Will lack of Abnormal Emotion help MY Family Sept and Tribe thrive and grow to dominate the SEVAGRAM? If not then what use is it?

111:


I don’t know about these ' Republicans ' of which you speak - which Republic is this? Ancient Roman ?US of American? - But " economists, sociopaths," seem to thrive and breed at a ferocious rate so their character traits, and the genetic endowment/cultural nutriment from which they spring must have some sort of survival value don’t you think?

112:

Yes, just like the peacock's feathers. Unfortunately it is a liability under changed circumstances ie when they meet the flying tigers.

113:

Hmmmm . . . would the Vile Offspring in Accelerando be zimboes? Zombies? Something else? I'm including the 'cat', of course :-)

114:

Perhaps because you don't tend to see people with Down's syndrome ending up as CEOs or presidential candidates...

Or as tribal warlords.

People are trying to find evolutionary advantage to sociopathy because it happens to be... well... evolutionarily advantageous. Sociopaths, or at least male sociopaths, do have a demonstrable breeding advantage in both modern and pre-modern societies.

Whether it is heritable is an open question.

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