Category Archives: Food For Thought

Hot Wheels

This city’s structured like spaghetti tossed  on a plate.

I was just looking at all the cars from way up there on the 14th floor. Something about the bird’s-eye-view always animates them while their drivers disappear, merging into some vague collective system of humanity. Thousands of these humming creatures, weaving through serpentine curves and plummeting down twisted slopes, racing into tunnels and soaring over bridges. Round and round they spun, rolling throughout the days, generating power for the machine. I wondered if they’d ever stop.

Most were black or silver (gray‘s euphemism). Most were sedans. Four wheels, four doors. I picked one to trace down the highway and I thought of the man behind its wheel. He’s hurried out of the office now, riding home to sit, have a drink or two, and watch prime time television with a micro-waved supper. He owns a brown cat named Angus and an old pair of white sneakers, and he believes in ghosts, sort of. Next week he’ll be carried off to attend a meeting, to lift at the gym, to buy a new laptop.

The aerial perspective reminded me of my old Hot Wheels race track that my brother and I used to play with, only our cars were better. They could fly anywhere off that track if they really wanted to and they all had unconventional superpowers. Among the crew of vibrant hues were an electric green monster truck and one little purple light-up ambulance. We even had this funky Oscar Meyer Weiner mobile that came out of my father’s old matchbox set from the 60‘s. It was usually the bad guy.

“Time for Dinner!” Mom would shout up the stairs.

Spaghetti again?


-Wasting time thinking about things that a science major should be thinking about- except I don’t do it right.-

Suddenly there’s this big brick wall blocking my view of what‘s ahead. How do I know which way to go? If I go left around it, I may never experience those potentially enchanting escapades I‘d face if I went right. But maybe if I do go right, I’d hit even trickier obstacles than this.

Wait, I’ve got it. I’ll just change my wavelength.

Ya know, ‘cuz of λ=h/mμ. I’m made of matter. I’m just a complex collocation of countless atoms. And all material particles with a definite position simultaneously have a nature about them that can diffract around objects. Think of a beam of light- it’s both a stream of photons and a moving wave. (Personally I wasn’t taken aback when the universe described me as an itinerant disturbance.)

What’s the difference between me and light then? Why is it incredibly difficult to advance in two different directions?

First off, I’m slightly larger, therefore, my wavelength’s a tad smaller. While the oscillation of electric magnetic field remains in the nanometers, I’m probably around 10^-35m. But luckily the equation’s based on momentum. Planck’s constant seems dishearteningly infinitesimal, but I can’t fret yet because there’s still velocity to consider. Wavelength gets smaller when you go faster, thus to be comparable to an electron and go both left and right around this barrier, I just need to move very, very… very slowly. Like the speed it would take to cross the nucleus of an atom in a billion years. Whatever. They’ve always said I was stubborn.

But a couple million years into my dual-journey, I begin to lose interest. I’m missing out on all the fun that the particle people are busy having. So I give up and take a casual stroll to the beach instead.

Unfortunately I forget to wear sunglasses and the fierce brightness of the day forces me to squint hard as I wander past the ashy and littered remains of bonfires along the shore. Soon a shabby white wooden bench near a loading dock beckons me to rest for a little while. I close my eyes to hear squawking gulls and boat bells and laughing children and lots of flip flops flopping on the boardwalk. Sounds. Pressure waves in the atmosphere. Suddenly there’s this deep, blaring horn proclaiming that the native inhabitants have finally returned.

Wait, how did I know that? How can a mere shift in air transform itself into the incredible conscious notion of an immense ship approaching? I tried to recall the last hot date I had with my textbook stack.

The wave of the ferry’s blast traveled into the external acoustic meatus, down into the tympanic membrane and set up a vibratory force that crossed the ossicles to the oval and round windows, generating energy for the endolymph, mechanically distorting microcilia, converting chemical energy into electrical energy, which traveled across the cochlear nerve to the ponto-medullary junction, from there to the superior olivary nucleus, ascending bilaterally up the brain stem through the lateral lemniscuses to the inferior colliculus and the medial geniculate nucleus, across the thalamic radiations to the posterior temporal lobes to begin auditory processing, continuing on to activate the medial hippocampal structures which modified the new memory of the sound being consolidated there by linking its relationship among other environmental elements through efferent connections to the somatosensory cortex. It’s only the basic outline of such an intricate process O.O

.A silver glimmer of something sticking up from the ground catches my eye. Reaching over to pick it up I discover an old wristwatch that had been abandoned in the sand…

So the noise will be remembered with the scent of sea mist mingled with yesterday’s scattered embers on the rocks. For a mindful moment I strike up the kick and thrill in all those days of thunder and can’t decide whether I want to climb the dunes facing the vast open water, or drag heavy feet across scorched pavement to reach the highest ones overlooking the parking lot. For now I’ll only listen to the music of crashing waves. Too bad I can’t diffract.

Daydreams After Work

“You’re a nerd,” 14 had said. “and you don’t have any money.”  He scuffled to the back corner of the Skinnerbox chamber and sniffed a piece of crumbled chow.

“Yeah? You’re exactly the same as all your beady-eyed comrades here.”

“I’m a Wistar. We’re better than the other rats.”

“Fine. But why can’t you stop yourself from pressing that lever? I mean, haven’t you ever wanted to take over the world or something? I bet you could if you just read the experiment’s abstract.”

“Because it feels right. Besides, I’ve heard it ends with a dash of pentobarbital. Even after Solomon mastered all the facts he kept singing that stupid song by Kansas. I like my cage. The bedding’s comfy.”

I twist the intracranial electrode tube and 14 vigorously squirms. His skull is exposed- crimson-brown scar tissue crusted around the edges. I push his head hard against the glass and try to be quick.

“Sqeee! (What the hell was that for!?)”

“Sorry, I’m not too sure.“ I muttered. “Nothing’s fair you know.” 14’s nipping at the canula protruding from his brain with little yellow incisors. Then we chat on lighthearted subjects: an upcoming comedy, the tantalizing hint of first snow, what we want for dinner. In an hour he’s left in the dark of a research room tinged with the heavy fragrance of metals and plastics, wood shavings dipped in ammonia. The sign on the door says: “Do Not Disturb! Rats at work.”

I finished early this Monday. I head outside into the real world to catch the train back, points-purchased diet soda in hand. My muscles ached slightly. With a few unruffled steps I felt like getting lost on purpose, but I knew this place too well now.

Something about the cold began to elicit a mentally taxing catalog of future obligations. I discontentedly compared them to the third grade responsibilities that I had once scrawled on a sheet of pink construction paper with a broken crayon:

1. Finish times-tables homework
2. Walk Jenna everyday!!!!
3. new N64 game on Kenneth’s birthday
4. Animal report
5. get Valentimes candy for class

Suddenly a flash of white swiftly scurries past my ankles on the pavement. “OMGOMGOMG Hurry the F*** up!” it screamed. So I follow 14 into a questionable crack in the subway wall. I know there’s a place called Wonderland in northern Boston.

We emerge onto a large field. Remember the end of Disney’s Dinosaur? Lush with life, an eternal spell of pure rapture and satisfaction; the feeling after the final final exam. It’s 75° and the sun’s beaming bright. Look at that golden radiance! She’s one lucky lady alright, never daunted by the guise of transience. “14, this quiet reverberating jolt down in my very core tells me that I’ll survive the scrutiny of time, in my platypus costume.”

“See, you forgot everything already!”

“But I’ll remember the moment I did.”

Why you did?” 14 looked impatient.

“You mean why I ate Reese’s Puffs -mixed- with Cookie Crisp for breakfast instead of just plain ol’ oatmeal?

“You’re an idiot.”

“Touché. Once I learned- spread your head, but thick on the tiniest piece of bread, your pick; they don’t all need to know the cogs are spinning anyway. Though I wish they would slow down more often. Maybe they never cease because I overestimate the strength of idle rust. Thoughts to action, to behavior, habit, personality, finally to something higher (though I doubt you have one). Well, I wouldn’t want to become corroded. It’s neuroplasticity. We program our cells. Ourselves?” I sprawl out on the grass, hands behind my head. I might’ve seen a pterodactyl.

“C’mon get up! I’m gonna be late!” And he’s off again.

Soon we’re back at the T station. A mother in heels is looking at her blackberry and holding the hand of her snot-nosed whining daughter. Red-cheecked clones in baseball caps guffaw in a circle and a little woman with a sharp face and purple-rimmed glasses sips a steaming Starbucks latte. Farther down there’s a sleeping man curled beneath his belongings- stuffed garbage bags and a broken bottle of whiskey.

“Look look! There! Isn’t it beautiful?”


14 dives straight into a stash of collected empty aluminum cans and old wrappers sitting on the tracks. “My shinies!” He’s rolling in ecstasy. And the T comes rushing along its course with burning yellow eyes, blowing a gust of air that makes the tips of my hair dance like flickering split-end fire on a vacant countenance. I’d like to see if 14 had made it, but that animal report was waiting for me.

I crawl up out of the subway into the city‘s shadows, squeezing through a similarly painted jam of sardined strangers clambering among a conveyer belt of manufactured success. Old lampposts conceive a vaguely ethereal kind of illumination that exhibits a cluster of rowdy kids incongruously shouting as they loiter in empty lots festooned with slapdash graffiti. Comfort in chaos. I can see my breath now and pull my jacket tighter; there’s only a few more blocks. I hope I sleep well tonight.

The REAL heaven

I posted this one day in response to, “Say heaven was in your backard. What does it look like?”

So this blog will host my silly little musings.


I don’t have a backyard.

But for the purpose of my task I will use my old one in our scenario, in an attempt to present my description as accurately as possible.

Now there’s the size. We’ll say my backyard this summer was about 10,000 sq. feet. Height.. Unfortunately living beneath controlled airspace means some likely Federal Aviation Administration regulations, hence the government wouldn’t allow property ownership up to the edge of the stratosphere. Say it’s to the top of the house, which was about 25ft. This makes the total volume of my backyard 250,000 cubic feet.

First let’s talk about heaven for a minute.

There isn’t much empirical evidence available to suggest that heaven actually exists as a separate “realm” from the known physical universe. Or even if it’s only accessible through a physical process unknown to mankind. For this conjecture, I contest that since heaven’s contemporary definition maintains that it exists as a solely ’spiritual’ place, we must first clarify the vocabulary.

To simplify my case, I’ll use the mind-body dilemma. The spirit is the soul. The soul is the mind‘s sense of self. Sense of self is consciousness. Consciousness is an emergent phenomenon, a higher-level property of brain activity. Now I don’t believe in any sense that this renders humanity, beings exclusively equipped with a personal identity, as ontologically insignificant. But we can infer that if the human spirit can be reduced to an extraordinarily complex and highly unknown progression of molecular interactions, we may be justified in asserting that other ‘spirits’ and alleged ‘spiritual’ things are governed by the same laws of physics as man, a so-called ’spiritual’ being.

So the same kind of material in heaven is also throughout the rest of our universe and will subsequently behave the same way.

ISA 66:1 This is what the LORD says: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth

is my footstool.”

Taking this analogy into account, we may deduce that the mass ratio of the kingdom of heaven to earth is roughly proportional to the mass of the average throne and the mass of an average footstool. (We’ll use 50kg and 5 kg, respectively.) Earth, as we know, is 5.9742 x 10^24 kg, this makes heaven ten times larger at 5.9742 x 10^25kg. And now it’s suddenly in my backyard.

At 8439076050000000000000 kilograms per cubic meter, the density of my monster condensed block of divine matter would be analogous to that of a neutron star, a celestial body supported against further collapse by degeneracy pressure due to the Pauli exclusion principle.. which holds that no two identical sub atomic particles may occupy the same quantum state simultaneously. If this fails.. we get a black hole. Hopefully this doesn’t happen.

Gravitational forces are additive of course, so everything will inevitably be pulled towards my super-heated hell (heaven?) of a backyard. The holy might of heaven is intense. Around the world, buildings will collapse, mountains will topple, and volcanoes will erupt. The oceans will flow in and drown all of New York in thousands of kilometers of water. We will see the Pacific literally drain.

Substantial shifting of tectonic plates will create quakes so massive that gobs of lava will burst from the mantle and destroy continents worth of what’s left of civilization. Even the moon isn’t safe. Backyard heaven will cause it to either have an extremely lengthy and elliptical orbit or completely zip off into outer space; but if we’re really lucky it’ll come down to greet us.

Assuming you and I survive the devastation, heaven will eventually sink down into the core and stabilize. Then, we can finally begin to rebuild society only to subsist on a desperately amorphic and molten planet with the normal gravitational pull likened to enduring a space shuttle launch.

(Right after we all lynch you for single-handedly triggering the apocalypse with his ridiculous hypothetical question.)

The Nerve Blog

Mind/Brain articles are now up on this site ^

Everything else here.


What Is Happiness? The Blind Spot of The Mind’s Eye


You have two futures to choose from: 

1) Winning the Lottery  2)Becoming a Paraplegic


 Hm, not too difficult of a question.

 Now comparing both, after which event would you be happier exactly one year later? 

Interestingly, research demonstrates that lottery winners and paraplegics are equally happy with their lives. 

In his best-seller “Stumbling On Happiness“, Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert systematically investigates the reasons why.

 We are victims of something called “Impact Bias“, the tendency to overestimate the hedonic impact of future events. Everyday we consider and predict the outcomes of things (the act Dr. Gilbert coins “prospection”) like elections, romance, exams, gambling, moving to a new town, new jobs, new classes, insults, weight loss, and much more ..  In reality they all have significantly less intensity and duration than we expect.  

In fact, a recent study demonstrating how major traumas affect people suggests that if it happened over three months ago, with only a few exceptions, it has no impact whatsoever on your happiness. It’s as though we’re equipped with a hedonic thermostat that is constantly resetting us back to our emotional baseline.

Why? Because happiness can be synthesized. 

  “I am the happiest man alive.  I have that in me that can convert poverty to riches, adversity to prosperity, and I am more invulnerable than Archilles;  Fortune hath not one place to hit me.” ~Sir Thomas Browne

Gilbert argues that we all have what he calls a “psychological immune system” , largely non-conscious cognitive processes which alter our outlook of the world for the better and shields us from mental pain. 

It kicks into gear in response to big negative events such as the death of a loved one, but not in response to smaller negative events like missing an appointment or your car breaking down. This follows that our daily level of happiness may be much more easily predicated on the little events than on big ones. It may sound absurd on the surface but Gilbert cites study after study validating it’s truth.

Without a highly developed prefrontal cortex like ours, animals are stuck living in the present. The human brain is the unique in that it is capable of imagining the future – and we love to do it. Because we’re granted the power to weigh out all of the possibilities, we can feel pleasantly at ease and in control of situations yet to come.  But we don’t do it without error. In his book Dr. Gilbert explores the psychological delusions that often distort our perception of happiness:

Subjectivity: Happiness is a subjective emotion; it is impossible to compare your level of happiness to mine. Take for example twins Lori and Reba Schappel – conjoined at the head since birth. Sharing a skull and some brain tissue, the two are forever locked face-to-face. But despite their obvious challenges, the women are playful, joyful and optimistic. Dr. Gilbert challenges the reader by asking how we would feel in their situation. Despondent, desperate, and depressed? We cannot accurately judge.

A prominent medical historian wrote “Many surgeons find it inconceivable that life is worth living as a conjoined twin, inconceivable that one would not be willing to risk all – mobility, reproductive ability, the life of one or both twins- to try for separation.” Apparently it is common knowledge that the life of a conjoined twin is so horrible and worthless to make dangerous separation surgeries an ethical imperative.

Imagination works so quickly , quietly, and effectively that we are insufficiently skeptical of its products.

Realism:  When we look at an event either backward into our memory, or forward into the future we fill in the blanks. However, as we envisage the future , the details of those events that we don’t imagine we simply treat as if they were not going to happen.   

Page 97:  “we do not outgrow realism so much as we learn to outfox it, and that even as adults our perceptions are characterized by an initial moment of realism.” … “we automatically assume that our subjective experience of a thing is a faithful representation of the thing’s properties. Only later—if we have the time, energy, and ability—do we rapidly repudiate that assumption and consider the possibility that the real world may not actually be as it appears to us.” … “We believe what we see, and then we unbelieve it when we have to.”

Someone might be invited on a tropical cruise but because of a particular bad experience on a boat, or a memory of someone else’s experience (either a true or fictional story), they could have the expectation of a week of sea-sickness, overcast skies, turbulent waters and everyone in a general state of discomfort and dissatisfaction. They might ignore the reality of the beautiful, warm sunshine, sipping margaritas on the deck, and dancing under the stars.

The brain is hard-wired to emphasize the details it observes and remembers, and to not notice what’s missing.

 Presentism: The way we feel at the present moment greatly influences how we feel about the future. After stuffing your face at a holiday banquet, can you accurately envision how delicious the seafood curry will be at that Thai restaurant next week? The brain can only process specific senses one at a time. When visualizing something we use the corresponding area of our brain. Sights, sounds, tastes. This is why we block our ears if we need to remember a melody. The same goes for emotions; we can’t sense two different feelings simultaneously. Just because something makes us grumpy today doesn’t mean it will make us grumpy tomorrow. Obvious on the outset, but unconsciously we usually ignore the rule.

Rationalization: Imagination cannot accurately preditct how we will think and feel about the event once it actually happens. To disambiguate experiences, we create biased facts to explain why we think something will happen.

To put into further context, researchers asked volunteers, “definers”, to write down their definition of talented, and then estimate their talent based on the definition. Other volunteers, “non-definers”, were given the definitions the first group had written and were asked to rate their abilities using them as a guide. Definers believed they were more talented; they had the freedom to define the word exactly the way they wised, usually in terms of something they happened to excel in.

Although the two extra questions on the bottom card —- “Who are we?” and “Why do we do this?” —- provide no information whatsoever, they do give one the sense that puzzling questions have been posed and then answered. The results of the study showed that the people who received the bottom card were, in fact, less curious and less delighted twenty minutes after receiving it than were people who received the top card because only the latter felt that something wonderful and inexplicable had happened.

Gilbert asks “How do we manage to think of ourselves as great drivers, talented lovers and brilliant chefs when the facts of our lives include a pathetic parade of dented cars, disappointed partners and deflated soufflés?” “The answer is simple: We cook the facts.” And if talent has a host of different meanings to different minds, then any experience from getting a promotion or failing a test can have endless reasons for happening.
Corrigibilty:  We often mispredict how things we have already experienced will feel when they happen again. Often we judge the pleasure of an experience by its ending- and ignore the most prevalent emotion during the majority of the event. Take childbirth, in which women usually misremember as being not quite so painful as it actually was. The miracle of holding their beautiful child after just arriving into the world dominates the memory.

And we make this mistake all the time. Gilbert claims we “expect the next car, the next house or the next promotion to make us happy even though the last ones didn’t and even though others keep telling us that the next ones won’t.” The effect works the opposite way too; a recent break-up may have been emotionally scarring enough to make one decide to give up on the opposite sex for a real relationship. Meanwhile they’re forgetting about the happiness the experience brought them during most of the time spent together.
 Gilbert’s argument essentially is that in order to have optimum happiness, we trick ourselves. It’s an innate process that allows us to see the world through rose-colored glasses. “If we were to experience the world exactly as it is, we’d be too depressed to get out of bed in the morning,” Gilbert writes. “But if we were to experience the world exactly as we want it to be, we’d be too deluded to find our slippers.”

 What he wants to ultimately leave us with is this:

“Of course some things are better than others. Winning the lotto IS better than becoming a paraplegic. We should have preferences that lead us into one future over another.

But when those preferences drive us too hard and too fast because we have over rated the difference between these futures, we are at risk. When our ambition is bounded, it leads us to work joyfully.

When out ambition is unbounded, it leads us to lie, to cheat, steal, sacrifice things of real value, destroy. When our fears are bounded, we’re prudent, we’re cautious, we’re thoughtful.

When unbounded, and overblown, we’re reckless and cowardly. Our longings and our worries and both o some degree overblown because we have with us the capacity to manufacture the very commodity we are constant chasing when we choose experience.

The Ghost in the Machine: Consciousness, Computers, and Philosophical Zombies

Can Machines Think?

If you were to have a regular online conversation with one live person and one computer simulating human dialogue, would you be able to determine which dialogue was human?

(This program is called ‘The Turing Test’) To this day, no machine has reliably fooled anyone.  But if one computer was developed to converse in a way that was indistinguishable from a human being, could we say that it has the capacity to think?

We must consider that there are fundamental differences between a mind and a machine. This advanced computer may be able to reply with coherent responses and engage in a discussion only because a human programmed into it a “representation” of human experience (i.e. information about what people do in certain situations). But no matter how much knowledge you provide a program, it will never share the same kind of conscious understanding that makes human beings unique. Though programs possess the rules for language, they do not comprehend it’s meaning.

John Searle proposed a thought experiment called ‘The Chinese Room’ that challenges the idea that a machine with appropriate inputs and outputs can understand in the same way a mind would (the position deemed ‘strong artificial intelligence’). Locked in the room, Searle is given three sets of Chinese writings- a “script”, a “story”, and “questions”. The writings are slid under the door, and Searle is then given instructions in English to correlate the excerpts and respond in Chinese by identifying symbols only by their shapes.

To Searle, Chinese characters are just “so many meaningless squiggles” The responses he gives are impossible to differentiate from those of a native Chinese speaker. In this way the room as a unit functions the same way as a programmed computer, and passes the Turing Test.

"The Chinese Room"

Although the program can manipulate symbols to convey something meaningful to a mind reading its outputs, there is no meaning of the words to itself. There is no intentionality. Human thoughts, unlike AI systems, have semantics.

One may still question, “What about an artificial, man-made machine”, assuming it is possible to produce one with a nervous system identical to ours? John Searle argues that only special kinds of machines, namely, human beings, have the capability to produce what we call consciousness. He maintains that the brain is a “biological phenomenon”, with the “causal powers” to have intentionality. And if we can, as Searle says, “duplicate the causes”, we can thereby “duplicate the effects” . However, philosopher David Chalmers provides evidence against this assertion, demonstrating that conscious experience “is not logically superveniet on the physical”.

There is something “it is like” to have consciousness.

The experience is more than mere brain structure, it is something irreducible- something impossible to understand in terms of our current knowledge of the physical world. Let us take Chalmer’s thought experiment, the example of the “logical possibility of zombies”. These zombies aren’t the mentally inept and flesh-hungry beings we see in the movies, rather, philosophical zombies are creatures identical to ourselves down to the atomic level.

My “zombie clone” processes the same information, and performs the same behaviors as me. She looks out the window and sees green trees and a blue sky and tastes the sweetness of an apple. She can hold an intelligent conversation, reporting the contents of internal states, and perform complicated tasks. However, though she can physiologically perceive the way I do, she cannot necessarily conceive the way I do.

Which is the zombie clone? Can you tell if someone has conscious awareness?

The zombie lacks the qualia, the inexplicable ‘mental feel’, of all these sensations.

The point of the argument is that the possibility of philosophical zombies is “conceptually coherent”, and so the existence of conscious experience is not dependent on thefacts of “my functional organization” or physical structure. An opponent may argue that a thought experiment such as this is an “imperfect guide to possibility”, and therefore not relevant. But we can look at the “phenomenon of a posteriori necessity” to see the connection between the two. We can’t imagine H2O not being water, but we can conceive of water not being H2O- and a zombie world is conceivable in the same sense.

My zombie clone cannot experience qualia. She may know all of the physical principles of light, and every physiological fact about the effects of this 460 nm wavelength hitting the eyes. But the zombie does not know what blue is, the same way a personwho was born blind cannot know. Frank Jackson speaks on this notion in his scenario, “What Mary Didn’t Know”, in which Mary, a neuroscientist/physicist, was raised in an environment completely absent of color.Even if Mary knew every single aspect about the physical processes in the brain of the color red, she would never possess the knowledge of what it looks like. No knowledge of physiology or light frequency would ever allow one to differentiate between the experience of red and the experience of green. The facts of qualia are not physically reducible, and therefore neither is consciousness.

For consciousness to be explained, it would have to entail an entirely new set of laws apart from the known physical laws; it would would have to supervene on some different, unknown properties. As quantum mechanics demanded new sets of rules apart from Newtonian physics without interfering, Chalmers argues that the fundamental laws of consciousness will still be “natural” but different than the physics we know. He states “For physics to explain consciousness would take something extraordinary… but in the end [quantum mechanics] is simply not extraordinary enough.”

“How are we aware we have consciousness?”

“How do we know other human beings are conscious too?”

What Mary Didn't Know

We all have a main intuition within us that “there is something to be explained”. How could we question question the nature of consciousness if it didn’t exist? We obviously must be aware that there is some phenomenon at work. This knowledge however, can only come from ourselves. The idea can only be aquired he through first-person experience- through our own minds.  We can only recognize our own thinking, and sense our own emotions; we can introspect. But we can only derive an idea of another person’s mental state through their actions. We cannot readily observe it from the third-person perspective.

This poses a challenge, since it has been established that we cannot obtain mental facts through objective study, which would include observation of human behavior. Nagel says that if “the subjective character of experience is fully comprehensible only from one viewpoint, then any shift to greater objectivity [takes us farther away from the] real nature of the phenomenon.”  It brings us all the way back to Descartes’ “cogito ergo sum” skepticism.

There is something "it is like" to experience RED

How can we know that the other bodies around us aren’t just “philosophical zombies”?

One might simply conclude that other people have thoughts because they function in similar ways. Some use the argument from analogy to verify the consciousness of animals; since like us, they seem to experience pleasure and pain. Descartes believed otherwise- that animals were only machines as they cannot express anything with syntax (Knowing of the advanced technology of today perhaps would have altered his theory). But behavior is not sufficient to assure the presence of cognition, because the supposition is based on only one case- the individual who speculates the problem of other minds. It is invalid induction; it may just be that you are the only one with a mind, and therefore cannot impose this quality on anyone else.

Descartes says we can only attribute mental states to ourselves, but how do we do this in the first place? Empiricist John Locke says we learn through experience. A child learns the meaning of fear, for example, only when it also learns what it means for someone else to be afraid. To have a mind assumes interaction with other minds.

He says  “When children have, by repeated sensations, got ideas fixed in their memories, they begin to learn the use of signs and speech to signify their ideas to others”.. The meaning of the sensation of fear to the individual is learned when accurately applied to oneself and others. Without other minds, the qualia of the emotion does not have meaning at all.

In order to have communication, people must have the same experience of certain sensations. For example, if I refer to New York City, we both agree on the actual, existing place rather than a mere image of the city in my mind. Locke claims “It is the actual receiving of ideas that gives us notice of the existence of other things, and makes us know, that something doth exist at that time without us”

(Less tangible experiences such as the experience of colors however are a bit more difficult: The word “blue” receives its meaning because of its association with our sensation upon seeing the color, but since, as Chalmers claims, we can conceive of a world in which my sensation of “blue” is really what your sensation of “red” is, we can never prove against this possibility. What remains important for language is our concurrence about distinct experiences no matter how we perceive them individually)

The idea that animals, incapable of spoken communication, are only machines, has been largely abandoned. Looking at the implications of the belief, it would entail that we have no ethical duties towards any non-human creatures. A dog’s yelp would just be an automatic, ‘programmed’ response to pain. Most people immediately reject this notion. We believe that though animals don’t have the intelligence to use syntax in communication, they do have semantics. A dog can has understanding when you show it a leash and intentionality when it barks for a treat. A machine on the other hand, having the mechanized intelligence to form syntactic phrases void of semantics, is just the opposite. Human beings are the most unique case- with the benefits of both syntax and semantics.

The technology of today may make the Turing Test seem quite unsubstantiated, for in this age we have the capacity to create machines that mimic even the most complicated of human behaviors and expressions. Nonetheless it will never be enough. Even if a ‘zombie twin’ was to be artificially created- it cannot be deemed conscious.

The foundation of awareness and understanding- the exact source of what gives rise to qualia- is yet a mystery, and perhaps someday the problem of consciousness can indeed be solved by some extraordinary ‘new physics’, or what Chalmers calls “a very different sort of explanation, requiring some radical changes in the way we think about the structure of the world”.

~can you hold the belief all we areour character, loves, fears, convictions, aspirations, and sense of identity– is in fact just part of a grand biological program- merely a product of many complex chemical reactions occurring in out brain..?~

…Or does the presence of this mysterious human consciousness entail we are something more; something greater, and unknown; The “Ghost in the Machine”