Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Vampire Mary

In Peter Watts’ superb novel Blindsight, vampires are animals that function intelligently but lack consciousness. The lack of a detour of information processing through consciousness systems allows them to react with superhuman speed to stimuli.

It seems to me to be logically possible to have beings that have no consciousness but have knowledge and intelligence. After all, there are many things I currently know that I am not currently conscious of, and probably a lot of our thinking is unconscious. I don’t see why this couldn’t happen all the time.

If we want to allow this possibility, we have an interesting variant of the Mary thought experiment. Vampire Mary knows all of physics. But she has never experienced anything. Whatever we say about the original Mary and the quale of red, it seems plausible that vampire Mary has no idea what it is like to have an experience of red, or of anything else. And hence experience goes beyond physics.

Plausible, yes, but I am not satisfied with just that...


Walter Van den Acker said...


Is it also possible to be omniscient yet not conscious? Is it possible that God is intelligent yet not personal?

Wielka Miska said...

I'm wondering if logical possibility might be the only kind of possibility that needs to be studied in the case of a machine behaving as if it was a conscious being - metaphysical (or physical) possibility would matter if we were talking about the efficiency of it (in terms of algorithmic complexity), for example quantum computing seems to be a breakthrough, but it doesn't affect the general Church-Turing thesis at all.

And of course it is possible for machines that would behave as conscious beings to exist, at least in principle. For example, is it possible for a machine to execute the same actions that I've executed in the last second? Sure, why not. Is it possible for it to execute the same actions that I have executed in my whole life? Sure, it's just a collection of seconds.

For a period of time I was worried that this might make the passenger hypothesis plausible (meaning that the brain influences the consciousness, but no the other way), but there's a simple counterargument to that - the fact that we are discussing consciousness means that the fact of consciousness' existence and what features it has must have been able to reach the physical world from the mental world.

James Goetz said...

I doubt the long term existence of unconscious vampires because vampires would need consciousnesses of their surroundings to successfully drink the blood of humans.