Posted by: davidlarkin | November 1, 2008

Inexpensive Halloween Zombie Costume



A friend having coffee at Starbucks this morning told me he was going to a Halloween party tonight. He is a professor at Arizona State University and is equipped with a Ph.D in philosophy. He asked if I wanted to see his Halloween costume. I answered “Sure,” and he handed me this card:

Zombie expert, David Chalmers, a long-haired philosopher of consciousness and mind at the Australian National University, formerly at the University of Arizona until a few years ago, writes that there are three types of zombies:

Varieties of zombies

There are actually three different kinds of zombies. All of them are like humans in some ways, and all of them are lacking something crucial (something different in each case).

Hollywood zombies. These are found in zombie B-movies. Their defining feature is that they are dead, but “reanimated”. They are typically rather mean, and fond of human flesh. The zombies pictured on this page are mostly Hollywood zombies (though I’m informed that the one at the bottom is really a ghost demon). An expert tells me that the name should be “Pittsburgh zombies”, since the most important zombie movies were made in Pittsburgh, but somehow it doesn’t have the same ring.

Haitian zombies. These are found in the voodoo (or vodou) tradition in Haiti. Their defining feature seems to be that they lack free will, and perhaps lack a soul. Haitian zombies were once normal people, but underwent zombification by a “bokor” through spell or potion, and are afterwards used as slaves.

Philosophical zombies. These are found in philosophical articles on consciousness. Their defining features is that they lack conscious experience, but are behaviorally (and often physically) identical to normal humans.

from Zombies on the Web

Chalmers has also written in his book, The Conscious Mind, that he believes that a thermostat could have consciousness. He has an interesting personal website with a generous supply of information and resources. He is the philosopher who first referred to the qualitative experience of “consciousness” as the “hard problem” in the scientific study of consciousness, in his paper Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness.” See also, Thomas Nagel’s seminal 1974 paper on this hard problem: “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?”

Based on their writings, it is evident that a large portion of cognitive scientists and philosophers of mind are materialists who are, therefore, scientific determinists. They necessarily believe that the brain is a machine, and the actions of humans are determined by the interaction of particles of matter in fields of force in accordance with laws of nature. The rigid true believers look at consciousness as an epiphenomenon, mere froth on the wave of neuronal activity, with no causal powers or connection with an amorphous immaterial soul, mind or person. For a scientific determinist then, there is no functional difference between a zombie and a human with consciousness.

Those who believe in free will must recognize a difference between a zombie and a conscious human if they believe that free will entails conscious decision-making. I believe that such free will requires an immaterial source of creative will, but that discussion is beyond the scope of this post. It may be a matter of aesthetic posturing that the promoters of scientific determinism, who may fairly be identified with neo-Darwinists, make noises like they are exercising free will, but underneath they are identical to zombies, though they do not carry cards like my philosopher friend. For me and those who consider their actions to be often a matter of free will, we often make real decisions and create actions for which we are morally responsible because of our free will choices requiring creative consideration before action, rather than mere conscious observation of the effects of our personal neuronal chain of cause and effect governed solely by scientific law and no free personal choice.

UC Berkeley philosopher John Searle believes that consciousness is a purely biological phenomena, a feature of the organic brain. In disputing the idea of a machine with consciousness, he proposes a scenario where science has discovered a way to fix the brain by implanting silicon chips to replace bad brain tissue. He imagines a person with a degenerative brain condition who little by little has his brain replaced by silicon chips until the last remaining brain tissue is replaced by a silicon chip and the persons consciousness goes to black. If he continues to be conscious without sensation, it is a black emptiness. If he ceases to be conscious, and his body remains functioning, he passes the Turing test because we continue to communicate with him as if he had human consciousness, but he is a zombie.

Searle’s thought experiment also leads to the Ship of Perseus puzzle. If consciousness is a feature of the organic brain, and the brain cells are replaced by silicon chips, does the person with the silicon brain remain the same person he or she was when there was an organic brain composed of living cells instead of inanimate silicon chips. The ship of Theseus first surfaces in print in Plutarch (Vita Thesei, 22-23):

The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius Phalereus, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their place, insomuch that this ship became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical question of things that grow; one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same.

An alternative scenario would be some yet-unknown emergent consciousness from the sum of the silicon parts that emerges as a new person or merges with the biological consciousness at some point and remains the same person, arguably. In his entertaining novel, Prey, Michael Crichton’s human-manufactured nano-robots come together with an emergent consciousness like the combination of human cells comes together with a consciousness.

Entrepreneur developer of voice recognition software and futurist Ray Kurzweil apparently believes in some sort of emergent consciousness from non-biological sources. In his entertaining and informative 2005 book of technological prophecy The Singularity is Near, with confident prose expressing his upbeat faith in science, Kurzweil spends some quality time introducing his prophecies of genetic science with a page or so describing how he has chemically rebuilt his body. The guy is a dynamo. He is around 60 years old. His self-designed program includes 250 supplement pills a day and half-dozen intravenous therapies each week, basically nutritional supplements delivered directly into his bloodstream, thereby bypassing his GI tract. The section, titled “Designer Baby Boomers,” immediately precedes the section titled, “Can We Really Live Forever?” He apparently believes that we will be able to keep our bodies alive long enough for technology to reach the point where we will upload our brain scans into robots and our souls will follow, although he doesn’t see any difference between our brain software and consciousness, or the soul. Time will tell. 250 pills a day is a lot of pills. I hope 250 pills kill for him the increasing creakiness and aches and pains I am feeling these days, as well as the earlier tiredness I feel in the evening.

Designer Baby Boomers

Sufficient information already exists today to slow down disease and aging processes to the point that baby boomers like myself can remain in good health until the full blossoming of the biotechnology revolution, which will itself be a bridge to the nanotechnology revolution (see Resources and Contact Information, p. 489). In Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever, which I coauthored with Terry Grossman, M.D., a leading longevity expert, we discuss these three bridges to radical life extension (today’s knowledge, biotechnology, and nanotechnology). I wrote there: “Whereas some of my contemporaries may be satisfied to embrace aging gracefully as part of the cycle of life, that is not my view. It may be `natural,’ but I don’t see anything positive in losing my mental agility, sensory acuity, physical limberness, sexual desire, or any other human ability. I view disease and death at any age as a calamity, as problems to be overcome.”

Bridge one involves aggressively applying the knowledge we now possess to dramatically slow down aging and reverse the most important disease processes, such as heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and stroke. You can, in effect, reprogram your biochemistry, for we have the knowledge today, if aggressively applied, to overcome our genetic heritage in the vast majority of cases. “It’s mostly in your genes” is only true if you take the usual passive attitude toward health and aging.

My own story is instructive. More than twenty years ago I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. The conventional treatment made my condition worse, so I approached this health challenge from my perspective as an inventor. I immersed myself in the scientific literature and came up with a unique program that successfully reversed my diabetes. In 1993 I wrote a health book (The 10% Solution for a Healthy Life) about this experience, and I continue today to be free of any indication or complication of this disease.

In addition, when I was twenty-two, my father died of heart disease at the age of fifty-eight, and I have inherited his genes predisposing me to this illness. Twenty years ago, despite following the public guidelines of the American Heart Association, my cholesterol was in the high 200s (it should be well below 180), my HDL (high-density lipoprotein, the “good” cholesterol) below 30 (it should be above 50), and my homocysteine (a measure of the health of a biochemical process called methylation) was an unhealthy 11 (it should be below 7.5). By following a longevity program that Grossman and I developed, my current cholesterol level is 130, my HDL is 55, my homocysteine is 6.2, my C-reactive protein (a measure of inflammation in the body) is a very healthy 0.01, and all of my other indexes (for heart disease, diabetes, and other conditions) are at ideal levels.

When I was forty, my biological age was around thirty-eight. Although I am now fifty-six, a comprehensive test of my biological aging (measuring various sensory sensitivities, lung capacity, reaction times, memory, and related tests) conducted at Grossman’s longevity clinic measured my biological age at forty.” Although there is not yet a consensus on how to measure biological age, my scores on these tests matched population norms for this age. So, according to this set of tests, I have not aged very much in the last sixteen years, which is confirmed by the many blood tests I take, as well as the way I feel.

These results are not accidental; I have been very aggressive about reprogramming my biochemistry. I take 250 supplements (pills) a day and receive a half-dozen intravenous therapies each week (basically nutritional supplements delivered directly into my bloodstream, thereby bypassing my GI tract). As a result, the metabolic reactions in my body are completely different than they would otherwise be. Approaching this as an engineer, I measure dozens of levels of nutrients (such as vitamins, minerals, and fats), hormones, and metabolic by-products in my blood and other body samples (such as hair and saliva). Overall, my levels are where I want them to be, although I continually fine-tune my program based on the research that I conduct with Grossman.” Although my program may seem extreme, it is actually conservative-and optimal (based on my current knowledge). Grossman and I have extensively researched each of the several hundred therapies that I use for safety and efficacy. I stay away from ideas that are unproven or appear to be risky (the use of human-growth hormone, for example).

We consider the process of reversing and overcoming the dangerous progression of disease as a war. As in any war it is important to mobilize all the means of intelligence and weaponry that can be harnessed, throwing everything we have at the enemy. For this reason we advocate that key dangers-such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, and aging-be attacked on multiple fronts. For example, our strategy for preventing heart disease is to adopt ten different heart-disease-prevention therapies that attack each of the known risk factors.

By adopting such multipronged strategies for each disease process and each aging process, even baby boomers like myself can remain in good health until the full blossoming of the biotechnology revolution (which we call “bridge two”), which is already in its early stages and will reach its peak in the second decade of this century.

Biotechnology will provide the means to actually change your genes: not just designer babies will be feasible but designer baby boomers. We’ll also be able to rejuvenate all of your body’s tissues and organs by transforming your skin cells into youthful versions of every other cell type. Already, new drug development is precisely targeting key steps in the process of atherosclerosis (the cause of heart disease), cancerous tumor formation, and the metabolic processes underlying each major disease and aging process.

The Singularity is Near, Viking (2005) pp. 210-212.  Kurzweil’s life extension is driven by his prophetic technological beliefs that in the future Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) will surpass human thinking and merge with humanity.  There will be no distinction between biological beings and robotic beings, and we will upload and download our conscous thinking process as software to be modified, saved and stored in our personal database, presumably synchronized with our operating system in our refurbished bodies, like an iPod. I can imagine the glitches that might occur where we accidentally and automatically download old or corrupted information from our mother database in the middle of something important and are transported to another dimension of thought and memory, or simply freeze, requiring restart. We’ll need a button for that, perhaps fittingly placed in the belly.

Wikipedia has a nice summary of Kurzweil’s predictions.  Here are his predictions for 2099:

  • The human brain has been completely reverse engineered and all aspects of its functioning are understood.
  • Natural human thinking possesses no advantages over computer minds.
  • Machines have attained equal legal status with humans.
  • Humans and machines merge together in the physical and mental realms. Cybernetic brain implants enable humans to fuse their minds with AI’s.
  • In consequence, clear distinctions between humans and machines no longer exist.
  • Most conscious beings lack a permanent physical form.
  • The world is overwhelmingly populated by AI’s that exist entirely as thinking computer programs capable of instantly moving from one computer to another across the Internet (or whatever equivalent exists in 2099). These computer-based beings are capable of manifesting themselves at will in the physical world by creating or taking over robotic bodies, with individual AI’s also being capable of controlling multiple bodies at once.
  • Individual beings merge and separate constantly, making it impossible to determine how many “people” there are on Earth.
  • This new plasticity of consciousness and ability for beings to join minds seriously alters the nature of self-identity.
  • The majority of interpersonal interactions occur in virtual environments. Actually having two people physically meet in the real world to have a conversation or transact business without any technological interference is very rare.
  • Organic human beings are a small minority of the intelligent life forms on Earth. Even among the remaining Homo sapiens, the use of computerized implants that heavily augment normal abilities is ubiquitous and accepted as normal. The small fraction of humans who opt to remain “natural” and unmodified effectively exist on a different plane of consciousness from everyone else, and thus find it impossible to fully interact with AI’s and highly modified humans.
  • “Natural” humans are protected from extermination. In spite of their shortcomings and frailties, humans are respected by AI’s for giving rise to the machines.
  • Since knowledge and skills can be instantly downloaded and comprehended by most intelligent beings, the process of learning is compressed into an instantaneous affair instead of the years-long struggle normal humans experience. Free from this time-consuming burden, AI’s now focus their energies on making new discoveries and contributions.
  • AI’s are capable of dividing their attention and energies in countless directions, allowing one being to manage a multitude of endeavors simultaneously.
  • Femtoengineering (engineering on the scale of one thousandth of a trillionth of a meter) might be possible.
  • AI’s communicate via a shared electronic language.
  • Artwork and music created by machines encompasses areas of the light spectrum and frequencies of sounds that normal humans cannot perceive.
  • Money has deflated in value.
  • Some humans at least as old as the Baby Boomers are still alive and well.
  • Computer viruses are a major threat since most intelligent beings are software-based.
  • AI’s frequently make “backup copies” of themselves, guaranteeing a sort of immortality should the original AI be killed.
  • The concept of “life expectancy” has become irrelevant to humans and machines thanks to medical immortality and advanced computers.
  • The pace of technological change continues to accelerate as the 22nd century nears.

Kurzweil may be admired for his aggressive approach to life extension, but his unbridled optimism that he will be able to live this life forever as a hybrid techno-bio-creature of blood, guts, software and hardware, may blind him to the spiritual questions that should be considered and answered before the end of this life.

There have been remarkable advances in the bio-technology of brain-machine interface. The November 2, 2008 edition of CBS’s 60 Minutes had a story on the interface between a machine and the brain of a neuroscientist with ALS. With electrodes hooked to his brain through a cap, he was able to chose letters and communicate solely through his thought. In other words, he was able to make brain waves that were mechanically recognized by a machine and converted to the chosen letter of the alphabet, one letter at a time. Despite the amazing engineering and electrical connection between mind and machine, this advance is not life extension, nor does it approach being able to replicate the creative freedom of thought we experience or the operation of the human brain by means of the estimated one hundred billion neurons in the brain, each with on average 7,000 synaptic connections to other neurons.

Unfortunately for Kurzweil, looking at the state of technology, it is apparent to an honest observer that we will never know in our lifetime if Kurzweil’s man qua robot will ever come to be, and even if it be created, whether the reborn Zurzweil is a zombie, because I sure wouldn’t take a robot’s word for it, would you? I don’t trust them.

Regarding the question whether a machine could have consciousness, or as proposed by a friend, Ben S., whether a machine could have the Lord’s breath, obviously if the Lord so willeth, it could. Disney and Pixar have an ongoing theme of machines with consciousness, e.g., Beauty and the Beast, Toy Story, and most recently Wall-E (In the film Wall-E, the eponymous robot is constantly renewing himself from spare parts he keeps in his cargo container home. Near the end of the film, EVE rebuilds Wall-E, replacing nearly all of his parts, including his main circuit board).

In the Bible, Moses changes sticks into snakes and of course, the angel of the Lord causes Balaam’s ass (the animal “ass” for those unfamiliar with Balaam’s ass) to speak words which imply temporary consciousness, and passing the Turing test.

From Numbers 22:21-31 (King James English version):

And Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab. And God’s anger was kindled because he went: and the angel of the LORD stood in the way for an adversary against him. Now he was riding upon his ass, and his two servants were with him. And the ass saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand: and the ass turned aside out of the way, and went into the field: and Balaam smote the ass, to turn her into the way. But the angel of the LORD stood in a path of the vineyards, a wall being on this side, and a wall on that side. And when the ass saw the angel of the LORD, she thrust herself unto the wall, and crushed Balaam’s foot against the wall: and he smote her again. And the angel of the LORD went further, and stood in a narrow place, where was no way to turn either to the right hand or to the left. And when the ass saw the angel of the LORD, she fell down under Balaam: and Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he smote the ass with a staff. And the LORD opened the mouth of the ass, and she said unto Balaam, What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times? And Balaam said unto the ass, Because thou hast mocked me: I would there were a sword in mine hand, for now would I kill thee. And the ass said unto Balaam, Am not I thine ass, upon which thou hast ridden ever since I was thine unto this day? was I ever wont to do so unto thee? and he said, Nay. Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand: and he bowed down his head, and fell flat on his face.

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