A Strange Thing Nobody Believes

What if there were creatures that looked just like human beings but were not?  Their consciousness was deeply alien and they had no moral value at all.  Call them human beings 2.  You could think of them as wind-up toys, or lures — predators that are able to pretend to be humans in order to trap us somehow, reptiles or mushrooms.  The percentage of human beings 2 could be quite small — just 1/10 of 1/10 of 1% of the general population.

As far as I know nobody believes this.  And yet we cannot prove that it is not true.  It just is not true, and it would be very evil or insane to act as if it were true.



8 thoughts on “A Strange Thing Nobody Believes

  1. N.S. Palmer says:

    A lot depends on your definitions of “creatures,” “alien,” and so forth, but it seems to me that most people over 20 believe a plausible interpretation of what you described. We can’t (generally) perceive the mental lives of others, but we can observe that some people act as if they are only pretending to care about the welfare of others and will use or harm others when it suits them. We infer that they have a consciousness sufficiently different from ours to be considered “alien.” Those are the people who will kill you in the street on a whim or for the $5 in your pocket, who launch wars for their own glorification and enrichment, or who, at a less homicidal level, lay off thousands of people to bump up the company’s stock price by a tenth of a point. We don’t know what they are thinking, but it doesn’t seem like it could be very good.

    That’s why John Carpenter’s movie “They Live” struck such a chord, and still does.

    Two terrific books come to mind. Fritz Leiber’s old sci-fi novel “The Sinful Ones” is about a man who realizes (correctly) that he’s one of the only people in the world who is actually conscious, and that others are like clockwork figures going through the motions. He encounters a woman who is also conscious, as well as a few baddies. The novel contains a sex scene that, since it was written in the late 1940s, is pretty hilarious because it’s so circumspect. You have to read the scene a couple of times before you realize what happens in it.

    The other book is “The Science of Evil” by Simon Baron-Cohen, a Cambridge neuroscientist, discussing the biological basis of empathy and how low levels of empathy correlate with evil behavior. Pretty good stuff.


  2. Lieber beat me to it! I wanted to write that. However I don’t think his scenario is actually believed by anybody sane. This post is just an analogy to theism by the way — the view that others have consciousness is not provable but it is quite insane not to believe it.

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