Here’s a thought experiment. I would appreciate reader comments on their reactions.
Let’s use the expression “real universe” for the one where we live. Let’s imagine that there is another universe, which we will call the “alternative universe”. In many ways, this alternative universe is like the real universe. In fact, the alternative universe is such that all of the molecules, quarks, etc, are in the same relative place as are the molecules, quarks, etc on earth. And there is some “force” which has the effect that when any physical event occurs in the real universe, then the corresponding physical event occurs in the alternative universe.
In the real universe, we know that there are people. So there must be equivalent configurations of particles in the alternate universe. Let’s call those “alternate people” to distinguish them from the “real people” in our own universe. It should be evident that the alternate people would appear to behave just like real people if we were able to observe them.
One thing obvious about the alternate universe, is that it is completely deterministic. What happens there is completely determined by what happens in the real universe.
So here are the questions:
- Are the alternate people conscious? Or are they just zombies?
- Do the alternate people have free will?
- When the alternate people perceive something (assuming that they do perceive), are they perceiving events in the real universe or are they perceiving events in the alternate universe? Or are they failing to perceive anything at all?
- When they act in ways that we would see as speaking, does that “speech” have meaning that is about the alternate universe, or does it have meaning that is about the real universe, or is it just effectively meaningless vibrations (meaningless to the alternate people)?
Of course the whole thought experiment is absurd, so there’s no need to point that out to me in comments. And this is not some sort of test. It’s a matter of curiosity about people’s intuitions on the situation. If you do comment, say something about the reasons for the view that you express.
I would guess that a computationalist would say that the alternate people are conscious in the same sense that we are. They might hold that consciousness is just an illusion for us, but I would guess that they would say that the alternate people would have the same illusions. Similarly, I would guess that compatibilists would say that the alternative people have free will.
Of course, I might be completely wrong in my guess as to how people will see this. I will probably be the first to comment, as I present my own intuition on this.