Re: The Totally Blind Zombie Homunculus Room

From: Mark Peaty <>
Date: Tue, 05 Dec 2006 00:43:28 +0900

Nice try Colin! :-)
and very thought provoking, as are all the contributions of yours which
I have read on various discussion groups.

Here though I think your assumptions are driving your conclusions and
you beg some of the questions you seem to be assuming that you are
I don't see this as either a sin or a crime, so long as it is
acknowledged. This is because I assert that we MUST assert what we
believe about the world, because if we didn't we couldn't function at
all or, alternatively, neither self nor other could honestly infer that
we did believe anything about the world; it would just be a form of

 From what you write it is not at all clear what 'Marvin' really is
although I suspect he comes from the same cell line as Professor Mary of
'black and white' fame. [Although perhaps that should be 'cell block'
... yes? :-]

By calling Marvin 'human' you muddy the waters I think: the ghost slips
into the 'machine' unnoticed.

I see several issues:

    * Marvin develops 'models' as algorithmic summaries of all the
      patterns of changes in the displays and presumably these include
      optimal patterns for button pushing also because his 'human
      sensory emulation' room also includes emulations of damage warning
      devices [pain] and homoeostatic normalisation warnings [hunger,
      thirst, bladder-full, etc.] and these models have handy summary
      labels [afferent] and short cut keys [efferent] -
          o because effectiveness and economy of effort are
            intrinsically rewarding and are prerequisites for the
            achievement of Marvin's scientific aims;
    * Marvin's models of the 'not-room' come to embody a pronounced
      distinction between patterns of correlations best labelled as
      'flexible unity which is extension of the buttons' versus 'bundled
      large scale unity of many surprising things which is yet diverse
      and distant' -
          o because, if the information of the input displays and the
            effect of the buttons both truly emulate information
            entering and leaving the human brain case, there are
            correlations between sight and sound of self-body, touch
            sense of skin and tongue on the one hand and proprioceptive
            sensing on the other which endow self-body information with
            distinct and persistent identity which is profoundly
            contrasted with non-self-body world information;
    * AND you are being unfair to '1Z', as a result of you begging the
      question of the nature of phenomenal C rather than him being

  What you show in this tale of Marvin's room is that OUR phenomenal
experience is the outcome of consistency and persistence; 'habit' in
other words. This is shown in Marvin's case because, once 'the model has
stabilised', the invariance embodied by and within it has the same
dependability as the inner shape, colours and textures of 'the room'. If
Marvin is truly like the rest of us, apart from the rigours of his
particular fate, then his interactions with 'the model' will become to
him like extensions of his mind and body. He will become an homunculus,
forgotten within his greater self!

I like this story because it brings out the interdependence of sameness
and habit on the one hand and novelty and exploration on the other. As I
have asserted many times before, the most succinct explanation of
phenomenal experience is that it is what it is like to be the updating
of the model of self in the world [UMSITW].
IOW the incorporation of novelty into our sets of tested beliefs.

This is how I relate to your assertion that the ability to do science is
the true indicator of consciousness.
Mark Peaty CDES

Colin Geoffrey Hales wrote:
> 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 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.

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Received on Mon Dec 04 2006 - 10:43:55 PST

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