Zombies and Elies

The mind-body problem has occupied me since I was very young, but only recently did I finally read Eliezer Yudkowsky's Zombies sequence. His main argument is that zombies (who are exact copies of ordinary humans except they lack consciousness) are implausible because, being copies of humans who talk about consciousness, they too talk about consciousness, but since they lack consciousness they must do it because of some other reason.

This argument is not new to me. Many years ago I read it in a book by Avshalom Elitzur. Online, I found a more recent article by Elitzur, "Consciousness Makes a Difference: A Reluctant Dualist's Confession". Elitzur's take on the subject is different from Yudkowsky's, but both of them use the this basic building block, which makes epiphenomenalism quite implausible indeed.

Recently I came back to this problem following a discussion about mind uploading after a long time of dismissing it as hopeless and useless. I am no longer willing to dismiss it, since:

  1. Even if it is confusing and inconsequential, I should at least be able to form a consistent opinion about it rather than just avoid thinking about it altogether, or worse, allow myself to hold conflicting views that are not strongly based on anything.
  2. I no longer believe it to be inconsequential. In fact, I can hardly imagine a more important question. Should I pursue mind uploading? Should I fight aging and death? What should I aspire for in life? Joy? Altruism? Solving the deepest mysteries of the universe? Or perhaps none of this matters at all? These questions all depend, in some way, on the nature of identity, consciousness and its continuity, and free will.

Currently, I am not sure what I believe. Emotionally, I feel that my consciousness and its continuity matter, but this is not surprising since given that I am conscious, it seems evolutionarily preferable to hold that belief. Rationally, I can't justify this view. This internal conflict does have negative consequences on my life, and I hope to explore it further in future posts.

Back to zombies. I agree with Yudkowsky and Elitzur that zombies are unlikely. Hence, a perfect-enough copy of me should not be less valuable than me. Hence, mind uploading is a valid way of self-preservation. However, this brings up another question: given that there is nothing special about the particular self, why bother preserve it in the first place? Why not preserve a superior brain? Why preserve anything at all?

Perhaps this is why I keep my irrational attachment to my consciousness and the current substrate of my brain. The alternative is quite frightening to consider.


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