This is the story of two giraffes. One is called Jemima. She is made of atoms. The other is also called Jemima. She is made of blood vessels and hair and bones and such. They are, as far as anyone can tell, entirely physically identical. Atomic Jemima’s atoms are arranged in such a way that they form a brain, liver, long neck, big rough purple tongue and long, dark eye lashes, along with all the other parts of a giraffe. When we look at Bio Jemima through an electron microscope we discover that just like atomic Jemima she is made of atoms. In fact, even the zoo keeper cannot tell if he is looking at Jemima or Jemima. It is all very confusing.
This is because I lied earlier. There are not two Jemimas. There is only one. I am sorry I misled you, I had to in order to prove my point. A giraffe is made of both atoms and biological parts. If we are to believe modern physics, she is also a collection of unimaginably small strings. Amazingly, she is all these things at once. Such are the miraculous qualities of the giraffe.
As well as being a material creature, made of long legs and atoms, she is also an emotional creature. That does not mean that she is prone to extreme mood swings. Jemima is calm and quietly determined. She cares for her fellow giraffes and she never gives in to peer pressure. What I mean by “emotional” is that she has a depth of feeling that only one who sees the world from such a hight as a giraffe can.
Jemima loves green leaves, and she can never resist a delicious pomegranate. She also has a brain. Whenever she thinks of pomegranates, part of her brain sends out electrical signals and she gets a feeling of achievement. Whenever she thinks of the savannah, another part of her brain becomes active and she feels nostalgia.
When the zoo keeper meets Jemima, he meets the physical Jemima. He knows that when she sees green leaves she licks her lips, he knows that when she eats pomegranate she makes an “mmmm” sound, and he also notices that whenever he mentions the savannah she seems to raise her head and look south, towards the land she used to call her home.
At the same time, there is a psychic zoo keeper. He has never met Jemima. In fact he lives miles away, let’s say on the moon. He knows Jemima’s thoughts and feelings – her love of green leaves, her sweet tooth for pomegranate, and her theories on realist literature. He knows her only in terms of her feelings.
One day, the psychic zoo keeper leaves his psychic brother in charge of the moon and flies back to earth to buy some crackers. As he passes through the planet’s electromagnetic field his psychic powers are temporarily suppressed. Now he can no longer perceive animal thoughts directly. Instead, he can only use his x-ray vision and perfect logical mind to deduce animal thoughts and feelings. He can do this because they exactly correlate with certain brain states and he knows all possible animal brain states and their corresponding associated feelings.
On his way to the cracker shop, he passes the giraffe house in the zoo. He shivers with foreshadowing. He goes into the giraffe house and sees the tallest, softest, most serene looking giraffe he has ever encountered. He looks at her brain and sees brain states associated with feelings of recognition. At the same time, the psychic zoo keeper’s psychic brother uses his psychic powers to perceive Jemima’s thoughts directly from the moon. The psychic brother perceives her feelings of recognition.
The psychic zoo keeper then buys his crackers and returns to the moon. There, his psychic brother tells him about the feelings of recognition he perceived. The psychic zoo keeper says he saw brain states associated with those exact same feelings. They look at each other with raised eyebrows. That night, the two brothers put out a personal ad in the New Yorker asking if any animals would come to the moon to further the aims of science and philosophy. As they tuck themselves into bed, a shooting star twinkles with foreshadowing.
The psychic zoo keeper awakes to see some of the longest eyelashes he’d ever encountered, just a few inches away from his face, blinking at him. His psychic powers tell him he is confronted with a being who longs to return to the savannah and discuss Middlemarch. His x-ray vision shows him the brain states associated with a giraffe who longs to return to the savannah and discuss Middlemarch. He looks with his psychic powers, and then with his x-ray vision, and then with his psychic powers again, but he can see no difference. Even the psychic zoo keeper cannot tell if he is looking at brain states or feelings. It is all very confusing.
This is because Descartes confused us earlier. I didn’t mention him, but he’s been lurking behind the theory of mind presented in this story so far. As far as Descartes was concerned, there are two kinds of substance, mind, and matter. The mind has certain kinds of properties – it exists outside of time and space, it is indivisible, and it is basically conscious. Matter, on the other hand, always exists in a place at a certain time, can be broken up, and is not conscious. But this kind of separation of substances into different classes is a hindrance to understanding the issues at stake. It leads us to think that thoughts and brain states are different things, and need to be accounted for in different ways. It is as much of a confusion as my previous theory that there is a difference between a giraffe made of atoms and a giraffe made of organs and hair and eyelashes.
When there is a one to one correlation between the causes and effects of two objects, and this relationship always seems to hold, it makes sense to regard them as the same object, whether they are a pair of giraffes or a brain state and a thought.
The psychic zoo keeper looked into Jemima’s eyes and he smiled. Jemima was smiling on the inside too. And the keeper didn’t need to use his powers to see that.