Kyla

Kyla has been your best friend for as long as you can remember. While you argue and fight like any other pair of friends, you really understand one another, and have a deep, complex and satisfying relationship. One day, Kyla says she wants you to come and meet her parents. She leads you through a door that mysteriously appears in an apple tree. You find yourself in a world of tall, strangely shaped buildings, tall strangely beautiful people and a variety of strange plants and animals. Nothing looks right, and you feel waaaay out of place. After having a strangely shaped dinner with Kyla’s tall, beautiful parents, you find out that it isn’t the 21st Century but the 37th and you’re really on the planet Entelechia, not Earth. The world you just came from, and in which you’ve lived all your life, was actually a holoprogram based loosely on a 34th Century soap opera that was vaguely set between 1900 and 2399. You were not based on any real person, but were originally written to be someone who Kyla could be friends with. (You could have turned out enemies.) Kyla explains that, since her father just lost his job, they’ve had to turn off the big holoprogram and sell the main projector. But, since you’ve gotten to be such good friends, she’s saved her allowance and bought a microprojector that will keep just you going as long as she pays for the power you consume. And then she turns you off (temporarily) so she can do her homework.

Are you real? It’s true that you have feelings, desires, hopes and dreams, that you have consciousness and experience yourself as having free will, but you have all of those things because a computer program creates them. (It does, however, create these things by performing exactly the same functions that a human brain would do.) You don’t have an organic body. You don’t have a biological brain. Your program has been copied from one computer to another several times. When the computer is turned off, you cease to exist, and if it was erased from the computer it’s on now, you would never exist again. Explain the best case you can for you being real, and the best case for you not being real. (Make sure you do not state these cases as if they are both your personal opinion. You must indicate that these are arguments that someone might make, and not necessarily your personal opinion.) Decide which is the logically stronger case, and explain why.

DO NOT ASSUME THAT BEING A HOLOGRAM MEANS YOU CAN'T BE REAL.

If you find yourself thinking something like "so am I really a hologram?" or "I'll only be real if it turns out I'm not really a hologram" or "okay, holograms aren't real, so that means I'm not real," snap out of it! Slap yourself up the side of the head and stop thinking that way! You're a hologram! That's it! And it doesn't automatically mean you're not real! If you think it does, then you've got to come up with an argument to the effect that a thinking, feeling, self-willed being can't be real merely because that being is instanciated by means of a hologram.

Don't attempt this topic unless you can accept at least the possibility that the meaning of the word "real" doesn't automatically include the meaning of "not a hologram." If you want to argue that being a hologram makes you not real, then you will sooner or later have to come up with reasons why being a hologram makes you not real. Saying "I'm not real because holograms aren't real" won't cut it unless you can eventually come up with a reason why we should define the word "real" in such a way that it excludes holographic persons. If you can't, you should say so.

DO NOT PRETEND THAT HOLOGRAPHIC-YOU IS DIFFERENT FROM BIOLOGICAL-YOU

Remember that the subject of this essay is you. You have not changed in any way. If you want to say things like "As a hologram, I have no hopes and dreams," remember that you will also be saying that, as a flesh-and-blood, biological being, you also have no hopes and dreams. If you had hopes and dreams before you started the class, holographic-you had exactly those hopes and dreams. If you have hopes and dreams now, holographic you has exactly those hopes and dreams right now.

DO NOT PRETEND THAT YOU ARE NOT THE HOLOGRAM

Sometimes students write about "the hologram" as if it's not them. Don't do this. Use words like "I" and "me" to refer to the hologram, because the hologram is you.

DO NOT "DEFINE" "BEING REAL" AS "EXISTING."

The words "real" and "existing" are basically synonyms, and may be used as such, but this means that when you define the word "real," you can't just say "a thing is real if it exists." That's not a definition. To define "real," you have to nsay what the word means, not just give a different word that means more or less the same thing.

Follow-up questions.

Don't attempt any of these follow-up questions until you've attempted the main topic. Don't do any follow-up question unless I've specifically assigned you, or given you permission, to do that question. If you want to do a follow-up question, ask me, and I might give you permission. Don't do it if I don't give you permission.

Define Real
Computer Can't
Computer Brain
People We Know

A final note. Sometimes, despite the frequent admotitions given above, a student will still write something like "I don't think I could be a hologram because . . ." This student is deliberately failing the assignment. The assignment says "You are a hologram." It doesn't give you the option of deciding that you're not a hologram. Once you do that, the philosophical problem disappears, and anything you write will be a waste of time.

Copyright 2010 by Martin C. Young

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