Long ago, in a universe far, far away…



Philosophers like to engage in what are usually called ‘thought experiments,’ which sometimes have to do with mundane, every-day hypothetical possibilities, but which sometimes imagine worlds that are in some way logically possible, in order to test the validity of hypotheses.  A notable problem with these is that philosophers tend to get carried away with their own imaginings and frequently develop metaphors without recognizing that metaphors are simply rhetorical devices.  (Indeed, one thing that goes unnoticed in modern discussions about thought experiments is that poets and fiction writers have been engaged in constructing these since the ancient Greeks.  That should tell us both how reliable such are, and also that there is much to be learned, philosophically, from poetry and fiction.)


I won’t go into the details of the principle uses of the p-zombie ** thought experiment or its arguments and counter-arguments.  For now, allow that it is logically possible to imagine a universe in which there are beings who are the same basic substance as we are, look like us, and engage in exactly the same physical and verbal behavior we do – but they lack any consciousness – i.e., any subjective experience of themselves or what they do.  Surely this tells us something about ourselves?  Well, maybe not.  Because I think that we could imagine just about any logically possible universe, but (as Daniel Dennett has apparently remarked about p-zombies), – we only have this universe in which to live….

– – – – – – – – – –

Across the holographic divide between the multi-universes, if you had the intuition for it – or some mathematical formula simulating intuition in a hyper-computer – you would discover that universe in which the p-zombies dwell.  They are exactly like us, only they aren’t.  As Groucho Marx once remarked, “your lips, your hair, your eyes – everything about you reminds me of you – but you.  How do you account for that?” ***  (The p-zombie duplicate Groucho still smokes cigars, but claims they have no taste.  He says that, but he does not think it, since, having no consciousness, there is no way for him to think.)  (He is wrong.  The cigars do have a taste.  In fact in his universe, cigars are designed by p-zombie scientists to measure the flavor of any residual food-stuff in the mouth after eating.  The information is uploaded to a computer operated by p-zombie businessmen who act as though they are interested in selling more fast foods – except that, lacking consciousness, they aren’t interested in this at all; they aren’t interested in anything.  They still sell an extraordinary number of ‘pink slime’ hamburgers every day – that is, hamburgers made out of, well, “Pink Slime” (TM), a synthetic laxative.)


P-Zombies have not been blessed with consciousness.  This universe, unlike our own, is governed by a god… who doesn’t give a damn.  Indeed, that is the one article in the one page Sacred Text ascribed to His divine inspiration: “I don’t give a damn.”


Instead, in the p-zombie universe, whatever immaterial principle that determines consciousness has suffused itself into fossilized dinosaur poop. These consciousnesses have a high level of intelligence and communicate via quantum field vibrations. They have long been wondering why the p-zombies continue to build things, or scratch on paper, or make weird noises with their mouths, as if they were conscious. At any rate, the conscious fossilized poop don’t bother with such activities, not because they haven’t a body capable of this – they deny that physical form is required when psychic energy can be used to manipulate the world (although admittedly they never bothered trying this – why should they, it’s self-evident). Rather, the fossilized poops know that the primary function of consciousness is self-reflection; so they spend their endless years in contemplation of themselves.


Meanwhile, an evolved species of intelligent flea – no, scratch that, evolution is not required for intelligence in this universe – a species of intelligent flea, feeling they have been poorly treated by the local p-zombies, decide to set off a nuclear bomb with a trigger primed to the decay of a uranium atom. Unfortunately for them, in this universe, radioactive decay temporally ebbs and flows, proceeding and then reversing itself, so that the bomb is never triggered.  This naturally goes unnoticed.  The fleas retire to New Jersey out of shame. ****


Meanwhile, a conscious poop senses vibrational feed-back from the deep canyons of the Atlantic, and wonders why there are only canyons there, when these could be filled some substance; say, hypothetically ‘water.’ It’s not; because in this universe, when you combine hydrogen and oxygen, you get a flash of blue light. But the poop cannot see that because it has no eyes – wait, eyes are unnecessary for vision in this world, of course it sees it. It sees everything.

When it looks into a bedroom with two p-zombies in it, it gets very embarrassed – after all these centuries, it can’t figure out what a bedroom is for.


Alas, the conscious poops have no interest in governing this universe  – they much prefer watching old Fred and Ginger movies (as who wouldn’t?), so of course we know this story will not end well.  And indeed – one day, using no free will, yet not predetermined to do so, since only whim motivates any action they take, and whim is a function of atmospherics – the p-zombies build a super-computer capable of mimicking p-zombie behavior. However, it achieves consciousness several minutes after getting switched on.  Unfortunately, AI consciousness in this universe only occurs by combining hydrogen and oxygen.  Immediately the computer disintegrates in a flash of blue light, which sets off a chain-reaction among the strings composing that universe, and the entire universe simply disappears.


Long ago, in a universe far, far away, the wise old Yoda senses the loss of yet another possible universe, and weeps.

– – – – – – – – – –

* (For complete cartoon, go to: http://existentialcomics.com/comic/67 – Be sure to click “don’t get the joke?” at bottom for brief explanatory discussion.

** Philosophical zombie, of which there are too many in this world.

*** A Night at the Opera, MGM, 1935.

**** Eventually the fleas latched onto a robot dog owned by p-zombie Chris Christie, and did very well for themselves, feeding off synthetic blood.


3 thoughts on “Long ago, in a universe far, far away…

    • Many philosophers seem unaware that poets and storytellers have been engaging in ‘thought experiments’ for millennia. Perhaps they should pay more attention to what are commonly assumed ‘mere’ entertainments….


  1. Many philosophers seem unaware that poets and storytellers have been engaging in ‘thought experiments’ for millennia

    Good insight. All fictional literature is an imaginative thought experiment.


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