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!