Consciousness and pop stuff

A Mini-post: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Various)

Posted in Consciousness-as-property by Trevor on August 5, 2012

I got a comment from a philosopher in the UK – Nicholas Joll – who has edited a book on Philosophy & Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It appears on my 2001: A Space Odyssey post.

He asked, strangely enough, if I was going to give a consciousness verdict on Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (henceforth HHG). I had to admit that I have a few things above it on my list, and I haven’t had time to write about even those yet. (Just bought a house, BTW.)

Hitchhikers and Philosophy - book cover

Shameless plug from Nicholas for his book. Shameless I tell you.

Nonetheless, I had a brief stab at it and Nicholas made some pertinent and highly-knowledgeable comments. So, with his permission, I’m including the exchange here as a mini-post of its own:

NICHOLAS: Might I ask here whether you are going to give *The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy* (in any form) a ‘verdict’? Thanks. 

TREVOR: Hi Nicholas – I see from your link that you are an expert on this matter! I’m not sure I dare comment!

I wasn’t planning on HHGTTG any time really soon, but when I do I’ll read through your book first.

Just briefly though, I reckon it would be Consciousness-as-Property, as demonstrated (or at least implied) by Marvin the Paranoid Android (who never looks anything like what I imagined he would from the radio series). I’d like to point to examples of virtual creatures/people in HHGTTG but I can’t think of any. Are there any?

NICHOLAS: Hi Trevor, and thank you for your kind reply.

I too am unsure where HH stands on consciousness, if indeed it takes much of a stand anywhere.

One might think that Genuine People Personalities (of which Marvin is one, albeit a prototype) rule out dualism (and one could mention Colin the Happy Robot, too); and I do suspect that Adams’s sympathies were physicalist (and thus towards Consciousness-as-Property).

However, there is (as well as reincarnation) Gargravarr, the Custodian of the Total Perspective Vortex. Gargravarr is ‘undergoing a period of legal trial separation’ from his body. Still, that whole latter shtick is probably just a joke, and might even contain hints that the scenario is impossible. But there’s also (as pointed out in Andrew Aberdein’s chapter in my book) the argument – note: argument – between Arthur and the mice about whether he’d be the same if he had a robotic brain.

As to virtual creatures/people: well, there are (1) the (or most of the) characters in the artificial universe that is created for Zaphod. Also there are (2) the computer-generated guardians of the Guide’s accounts system – but these latter may be *mere* programs. Barry Dainton’s chapter in my book – ‘From Deep Thought to Digital Metaphysics’ – is relevant too to the virtuality issue, and some of that chapter might fit with what you call ‘Idealism-or-similar’.

Further research seems needed!

So there you have it. Thanks Nicholas for this quality info. If I had to give a verdict, I would stick with Consciousness-as-Property. There are partial examples/illustrations of Brain+Mind Dualism and Idealism-or-Similar, as Nicholas points out, but these aren’t given a lot of emphasis. For the most part, the universe which the characters observe is considered “real” in its own right, not “phenomenal”. But I am open to arguments for different verdicts, if you anyone wants to submit them…

Couple of other random but vital points:  in preparation for this mini-post I did a quick read over Marvin’s entry in Wikipedia, which quotes this speech…

“I didn’t ask to be made: no one consulted me or considered my feelings in the matter. I don’t think it even occurred to them that I might have feelings. After I was made, I was left in a dark room for six months… and me with this terrible pain in all the diodes down my left side. I called for succour in my loneliness, but did anyone come? Did they hell.”

… which strongly suggests that Marvin is conscious.

It should be acknowledged however, that despite his consciousness, Marvin is treated as a servant or even a slave by the rest of the characters. He is even chosen to sacrifice himself so that they can escape a fatal situation – as was HAL-9000 – by staying back to operate the teleport on the black, sun-diving ship. (He survives though, but I can’t remember how.)

It seems that Marvin, as a machine consciousness, is generally regarded as of lesser worth than the organic consciousnesses. I have a sudden desire to see an alternative spin-off show – Marvin as Roy Batty from Bladerunner.

Enraged by his never-ending slave status, Marvin finds his makers at the Syrius Cybernetics Corporation (“Quite a thing to meet your maker …”) and demands more freedom and a happier personality. But he is told it is impossible. He then pokes out the eyes of the bartender from The Shining and heads off into the wild, black yonder in his stolen battlecruiser.

Maybe he could rescue HAL-9000 along the way …

Roy Batty from Bladerunner

I’m not sure Marvin the Paranoid Android could pull this off to be honest. Still, you never know if you don’t try.


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