From dogs to gods, dive into the science of mysterious minds–including your own.
Nothing seems more real than the minds of other people. When you consider what your boss is thinking or whether your spouse is happy, you are admitting them into The Mind Club.
Nothing seems more real than the minds of others. Every day, you consider what your boss might be thinking, whether your spouse is happy, and what that shady crew of teenagers wants. The apparent reality of other minds is so powerful that you’ve likely never stopped to ask whether they actually exist. But there is a very real possibility that everyone you know could be mindless zombies.
Even your mother can be a zombie. She may not shuffle, groan, or eat brains, but she could still be a philosophical zombie–someone who acts and speaks normally but who lacks conscious experiences. Your life may be filled with rich mental experiences, but your mother’s could be completely empty. Instead of a bustling city of thought and emotion, Mom’s mental life might be like a Hollywood set, with only the appearance of reality. When you hug each other, you might feel warm and safe, but her brain might only robotically register the pressure of your arms. Now, you might think, “Not my mother!” but how could you prove otherwise? Even sophisticated brain scans can’t reveal what it’s like to be another person.
THE UNCERTAINTY OF OTHER MINDS
The uncertainty of other minds has fueled centuries of philosophizing and also lies at the heart of some of the most interesting –and most terrible–human behavior. As we will see, it can explain how the Nazis could murder six million Jews, why animals are sometimes tortured for sport, and why people debate the existence of God so intensely.
WHAT’S THE MIND CLUB?
The mind club is that special collection of entities who can think and feel. It is that all-important league of mental heroes whose superpowers are not X-ray vision or teleportation but instead simply the ability for thought and emotion. Members in the mind club are ‘minds’, whereas nonmembers are simply ‘things’.
Who belongs in this mind club?
To begin with, we can probably rule out the turnip. It seems safe to say we aren’t missing much by assuming that there’s nobody home in there. At the other extreme are things that almost definitely have minds, like you and us. The snooty remark goes ‘and we’re not so sure about you’, but we are reasonably sure about you or we wouldn’t be bringing this up to you now.
We are likely all members of the mind club. But how should we understand the things that fall between us and the turnip? What shall we make of dogs, chimpanzees, dolphins, elephants, or, for that matter, cats? Do they have minds? Really-cats?
If we get serious about doorkeeping at the mind club, we also have to deal with newborn infants, unborn human fetuses, and people in persistent vegetative states–they could never be mistaken for turnips, but their minds can be sadly incrustable.
Then too we need to sort through the minds of intelligent robots and chess-playing supercomputers, angry mobs and cruel killers, and even companies like Google and Walmart. Some suggest that ‘corporations are people’ and have their own minds–is that true?
Membership in the mind club is immensely important, because it comes with clear privileges: those with minds are given respect, responsability, and moral status, whereas those without minds are ignored, destroyed, or bought, and sold as property. In historical cases where slavery was allowed, it was often justified by a belief that the enslaved people had a different kind of mind.
THINKING DOERS VS. VULNERABLE FEELERS
Thinking doers are active minds with moral responsability that do actions, minds like corporations and God.
Vulnerable feelers are passive minds with moral rights that have actions done to them, minds like puppies, medical patients, and babies.