RE: The Totally Blind Zombie Homunculus Room

From: Stathis Papaioannou <>
Date: Wed, 29 Nov 2006 21:01:04 +1100

I think I am missing the main point: is the room + Marvin meant to be a zombie
or not?
> Date: Mon, 27 Nov 2006 17:20:19 +1100
> From:
> Subject: The Totally Blind Zombie Homunculus Room
> To:
> This discussion is a hybrid of a number of very famous thought
> experiments. Unlike those thought experiments, however, this experiment is
> aimed purely and only at scientists. The intent is to demonstrate clearly
> and definitively the nature of subjective experience (phenomenal
> consciousness) and its primal role in a scientist's ability to function as
> a scientist.
> Imagine a room. Its walls and celing and floor are matt black. There are
> no doors or windows. All over the walls are digital displays which
> announce numbers in warm, friendly colours. Up against all four walls and
> up to international standard control desk height (roughly 750mm) is a
> sloping console. Covering the console around all four walls are
> pushbuttons. The number of displays is equal to the number of sensory
> nerves entering a typical human brain from the peripheral nervous systems
> including all sensory input. The number of pushbuttons is equal to the
> entire set of effector nerves emanating from a typical brain. This total
> number of displays and pushbuttons is in the millions.
> There is a comfortable chair upon which is seated the room's sole
> occupant, Marvin the human. Marvin is normal except for never having been
> outside the room and having never otherwise acquired any knowledge of
> anything other than that of the room and its contents. He knows absolutely
> nothing of any sort of external world or any other people. He has no clue
> about the external world except for what he can surmise from the displays
> and buttons.
> Marvin, like all healthy humans, has an experiential life which is the
> collection of private phenomenal scenes delivered by his brain material.
> These are operating normally except that Marvin has been deprived of all
> the phenomenal content (experiences) that he ever could have received had
> he been allowed outside the room. He has had a lifetime of experiences,
> but all of them have been confined to depicting the room.
> Marvin is a scientist. He studies the science of not-room. His life
> consists of experiments which involve the pressing of buttons and the
> recording of patterns in the displays. Over time an enormous volume of
> data begins to show patterns for which Marvin constructs models. The
> models are generalisations of the behaviour of the displays after buttons
> are pushed in a certain way. He tests and refines the models and has
> developed a form of symbolic representation of the behaviour of the
> displays. Certain features on the display occur regularly enough that
> names have been given to notional not-room phenomena. One is called the
> tronelec. The mathematics of not-room includes a lot of rules about the
> behaviour of tronelecs. In time Marvin realises that his exploration of
> not-room can be done according to routine rules and he sets about a
> systematic, exhaustive assay of the entire range of possible
> button/display relationships.
> Everything is going nicely but then one day a well known pattern does not
> occur the way it used to. After a while the old pattern resumes. The whole
> mathematics of not-room is undermined. It takes a long time for Marvin to
> construct a new model that accounts for the novel behaviour. A new entity
> called gytravi is needed. Then things settle down and routine systematic
> exploration resumes.
> In time a massive collection of not-room entities and behavioural rules is
> constructed and begins to repeat itself. So much so that Marvin, after
> checking and rechecking, finds that the model seems to have stabilised.
> At this point we stop to survey the situation.
> The first thing to note is that the room is an empirically verified
> physiologically accurate representation of the sensory circumstances of a
> human brain. Nervous activity effect/affect is replicated by
> buttons/displays and all signals are standardised. There are no
> experiential qualities (perceptual sensation qualities) associated with
> this nervous activity. This is a physiologically verified, well
> established empirical fact. Indeed the room is a little too kind - If you
> discarded all the buttons and displays, then that is a more
> physiologically accurate circumstance .
> The main point is that this collection of totally sensationless signals is
> exactly what is available to a human brain and through which all sense
> measurement arrives. Consider the room without a Marvin in it. Based on
> what evidence is there any reason to even conceptualise the existence of
> an external world? Nothing in that room gives any indication of it. There
> is no a-priori knowledge of not-room. No possible way to interpret any of
> the signals. All there is is correlated behaviour - the behaviour of
> displays correlated with other displays and buttons, none of which have
> any other discernable impact. The room is quintessentially a zombie in the
> sense it has no experiential life at all despite being wired as
> extravagently as a complete human.
> Marvin thinks of himself as a scientist. Exactly what is he a scientist
> of? His science is, he thinks, the science of 'not-room'. But is it? All
> he has is a very sophisticated model of display/button correlations. His
> science is not about 'not-room' at all! His science is the science of room
> display/buttons. He has absolutely no justification to any claim about
> anything going on anywhere else, although that is how Marvin thinks of it.
> His science is very very predictive of button/display behaviour. As to the
> reality of the model he has developed? He has no way of contextualising
> any of the abstractions he has created with the actual state of affairs in
> 'not-room'.
> Absolutely anything could be out there driving the displays and Marvin
> will never know. Indeed worse than that, there may be an infinite number
> of different ways that not-room could present the same display values and
> Marvin would never know. The display data is fundamentally, intrinsically
> ambiguous. Even if the displays and buttons were nicely grouped and
> labeled all that would happen is that there would be expectations of
> related behaviours in a group, which Marvin does not have to name himself.
> It could even be named 'sight', 'sound' and so on and Marvin may
> understand what that might mean, but it delivers no claim to any
> definitive or unambiguous knowledge of not-room.
> And that, fundamentally, is the real nub of the matter.
> What is outside the room? It doesn't really matter. It could be an
> elaborate multistory building with a ratsnest of electrical
> interconnections done with a computer. It could be a control room in the
> head of a giant robot. It could be literally wired up to a human body with
> no brain. It could be a spaceship. None of that matters except in the
> details. Marvin can never know because he has no experience available to
> even imagine it.
> To finish off the room scenario we now take Marvin out of the room. In his
> place we leave a machine that is based on his systematic scientific
> behaviour. It runs with clockwork and pneumatics from punched cards. None
> of the displays are needed, none of the buttons are needed - they are all
> directly connected to the new machine. The massively complex model marvin
> has constructed, which has nothing whatever to do with 'not-room' except
> in the most indirect of abstracted ways, goes on being verified and
> occasionally amended using more rules for amending the model, also devised
> by Marvin. The model can never say anything about any changes in
> 'not-room'. All it can sense is novel (unexpected according to the model)
> behaviour in the sensing displays, which is an entirely different thing.
> The main message to take from this is that this bizarre concoction is the
> necessary circumstance that would exist in a human if it weren't for what
> phenomenal consciousness provides a human scientist.
> >
Be one of the first to try Windows Live Mail.

 You received this message because you are subscribed to the Google Groups "Everything List" group.
To post to this group, send email to
To unsubscribe from this group, send email to
For more options, visit this group at

Received on Wed Nov 29 2006 - 05:03:11 PST

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Feb 16 2018 - 13:20:12 PST