Can P-Zombies Even Exist? As Viewed Through Object-Oriented Programming

Disclaimer: Abstract thoughts typed in 15-ish minutes!

Just as a thought exercise (which I do multiple times a day, often courtesy of insomnia) let us look at the classic “P Zombie” problem under the lens of Object-Oriented Programming.

There’s a couple versions of it, but the particular case of the “P Zombie” problem we’ll be reviewing today is a “soulless zombie” or version of the “Swampman” — Let’s say teleporters are invented, and the way they work is they scan the atomic composition of your body, disintegration it and recreate it on the other end. Any observer, no matter how sophisticated their observation tools, will be unable to detect a change in the person. The question is “if you walk through the teleporter, is it you on the other end or a duplicate with a separate consciousness?”

I think most of us would feel an “intuition” that the answer may be “no,” (with reasoning such as: if you take disintegration out of the question, can’t we say with certainty it is a duplicate?) but we feel like the burden of proof is upon us to say “why not?” — especially if your consider yourself a physicalist like I generally do.

You can kind of go in circles in your head trying to figure it out in terms of the real world, so let’s skip that 😉 and think about it like game designers. As designers of our world, we have access to read all relevant information. In Object-Oriented Programming, you create “objects” (say a basketball) and then have “instances” of that object in the world. Let’s say I walk into a Virtual Reality simulation I’ve had running and see three identical basketball objects in the room. Down to their most basic properties, they appear to be the same. But of course, they are three different objects, and actually are NOT identical just by virtue of existing in separate places. That is a fundamental part of their identity: Even if all three basketball objects in the room were perfectly overlapping each other (appearing as one object), they could be uniquely identified by their position in the computer’s memory. It is inconceivable to run an Object-Oriented simulation in which you could truly have two “identical” objects. Their position in memory is a unique identifier that we are able to pick out, and many languages automatically generate unique identifying key values for every object in memory based on that and/or time. i.e. space-time!

…and isn’t space-time all that would really separate the original person and the so-called zombie? Yes, but it is a unique identifier regardless. Is each of our positions’ in space-time our unique identifying “key value” that our qualia is tied to? Eh, maybe! What I do know is that it’s scary enough that I wouldn’t volunteer to walk through that teleporter!


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