[ExI] Zombie glutamate

avant at sollegro.com avant at sollegro.com
Sat Feb 14 21:44:47 UTC 2015

On Sat, February 14, 2015 4:00 am, Stathis Papaioannou
<stathisp at gmail.com>  wrote:

> I think I came up with "zombie glutamate" in response to Brent Allsop.
> Brent believes that consciousness is not due to the system structure
> but rather to the substrate.

Well certainly. Structure is fundamental to all biological systems
regardless of whether you are talking about how suited and organism is to
its environment, the function of a beating heart, or how the structure of
an enzyme's active site forces reluctant atoms together to form an
unlikely chemical bond. In biological systems, form *is* precisely

While Brent is not completely wrong because susbtrates do have very
specific structures that enable their function, the structural
considerations outweigh the simple identity of the substrate. For example
a hemoglobin molecule denatured by heat would still chemically be
hemoglobin, but it will have lost its delicate folded structure and
thereby all of its biological function.

With regard to consciousness, while it is possible that a different
subsrate might work, but in my opinion, it would have to be a damn close
structural analog. If you want to simulate the mind, you would have to
simulate the human brain from the atoms up along with any attendant
chemistry and physics. You might even have to simulate the rest of the
body as well, after all, I wouldn't feel quite like myself without my
adrenal glands or my testicles subtly influencing my thinking. I don't
think biological systems can tolerate much abstraction or heuristic

> His example is that the neurotransmitter
> glutamate may be responsible for red sensations (this is just an example,
> Brent makes clear, not the actual role of glutamate). So if
> you substitute glutamate for some functional analogue, you eliminate or
> change the red sensations, even though the subject may be able to
> recognise that what he is seeing is supposed to be red and can talk about
> it as if he does see red - "zombie red".

Well as long as the structural/functional analog is close enough, there
shouldn't be any detectable difference in the outcome. When your friend
pays you a visit, it makes no difference if he drives a car or rides a
bike, he is still the same friend when he arrives at your door.

> But I don't agree with this: I
> think that if you replace the glutamate with a functional analogue such as
> glutamate made of different isotopes to the ones normally present ("zombie
> glutamate") the subject's brain will function exactly the same and the
> subject will experience and report experiencing exactly the same
> sensations. In fact, I don't believe philosophical zombies are possible.

I don't believe in zombies either and while a simulation could be very
innaccurate, the idea of something that reacted to stimulus in a
consciouss manner being completely bereft of consciousness is silly.
Indeed, I think philosophical zombies are a politically danegrous idea. If
you can't tell a person from a zombie by their outward behavior, it sounds
like a perfect excuse to disenfranchise and enslave them. Somewhat
reminiscent of the way blacks, despite looking human and acting human have
historically been classified as subhuman with the intent of depriving them
of their rights. With the establishment tasking a whole generation of
biologists to find anatomical differences to justify the double standard.

Stuart LaForge

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