The Mind-Body-Pilf-Skwel Problem

I used to be a graduate student instructor in a class for undergraduates on the philosophy of mind.  One of the problems we dealt with was whether there was an “inner” aspect of life which went beyond the purely material.  The idea was: imagine you’re talking to somebody who eats food, drinks water, fights, is amorous, talks about philosophy but he’s actually just a cunningly constructed robot who never feels pain or pleasure or joy or sorrow.  Inside he is a blank.  Like a zombie.

From this problem we got into something we called “the mind-body” problem.  The idea here is that there is something a conscious person has — a phenomenal experience — which somebody who acts the same way might lack.  The stuff that the conscious person has — a conscious mind — seems to sit uneasily into our descriptions of the world.  Our understanding is that the world is made of matter — but consciousness seems not to be observable the way matter is.

I knew some philosophers who said that the whole problem makes no sense.  Everything must in principle be observable.  So there could not be a whole realm of conscious experience which we couldn’t know about.

I think these philosophers were being over-optimistic.  Just because I don’t know about something and never will know about doesn’t mean it’s not real.  Julius Caesar never knew about me and never could, fated as he was to die on the Ides of March, 2000 years before my birth.  But I’m real.  So other people could indeed be having conscious experiences, and just because we can’t observe them doesn’t mean they couldn’t be real.

But lately I have become worried by another problem.  If another person’s body can hide a single dimension — conscious experience — or mind — what if it hides innumerable other dimensions too?  Heck, let’s not worry about innumerable.  What if the other person has not just a mind and a body, but also two other things: Pilf and Skwel.

What are Pilf and Skwel?  Pilf and Skwel are as different from mind and body as mind and body are from each other.    Some other people have Pilf and Skwel, some have one, and some have another.

If the mind-body problem is a real problem why isn’t the mind-body-pilf-skwel problem a real problem?

Maybe it is!


7 thoughts on “The Mind-Body-Pilf-Skwel Problem

  1. eats food, drinks water, fights, is amorous, talks about philosophy

    Curious how these are ‘things’ to us. Like it’s being described like the subject in question is a player piano – that they can just eat food, fight – like these are just keys to be pressed on a keyboard. I mean, you call it a cunningly constructed robot – but what’s the difference when these words used are a thing that is played like a key? Oh, when WE depress the key, we reaaaaaallly feel it! When the player piano presses the key, it’s just a cunning robot!

    I listened to a friend rave about westworld the other day and the question of whether the robots were sentient. I just asked, are the robots adaptable – if the robot goes to sit down at the piano, if you pull the piano stool away does it adapt or just go to sit, fall over and then it’s hands make the playing movements? And the critical question I never got to because my first question seemed a non sequitur to him – what’s the extent of their adaptability?

    What if eating food, amourousness…aren’t ‘things’ that a cunningly constructed robot can’t do nor a human can do? With the robot who, if you pull away the stool, it just goes to sit anyway and falls over, what it is doing could be said to be a thing, I’d agree there. But what if the cunningly constructed robot or a human are unable to do this ‘thing’ at all? They can’t ‘play a piano’, not as the falls-over-without-stool robot does. With the fall over robot, its play is definitely a thing.

    How does the cunningly constructed robot, if it doesn’t just go to sit when the stool is pulled away, avoid that fate if it felt nothing?

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