NPC Guide, Part III: Self-Diagnosis

“How can it not know what it is?”

And thus were launched a million books, undergraduate courses, and web pages (“Blade runner and philosophy” gets over 4.3 million hits as of this writing).  “To know X” seems to mean something like “the ability to bring X into your consciousness.”  Which seems to imply at least three further things:

  1. That X remains stable over time;
  2. that the “bringing to consciousness” process is consistent and reliable;* and
  3. that you — that is, the knower — remain stable over time.

All three are “problematic,” as the kids say these days, and not because of “epistemic privilege” or whatnot, but for real, obvious reasons.  For instance, you can’t say that someone trained in the old school still knows astronomy after Copernicus, since (1) is no longer true.  Problems with (2) are, of course, the foundation of The Worst Argument in the World, but there are lots of other problems with it that don’t rely on Froggy incomprehensibility.  What if you have a brain tumor, for instance?

(3) is the Blade Runner problem, or, if you prefer, the John Locke problem — Locke’s version of “representationalism” seems to imply that we’re different people whether we’re asleep or awake, since “self” means “continuity of memory” and that’s highly state-dependent.  However you phrase it, though, it’s clear that while Rachel has always physically been a replicant, she’s never been conscious of it, which means that while everything about her remains exactly the same, she’s a completely different person once Deckard tells her the truth.  She still has “continuity of memory,” all right, but all those memories are lies.

This is the NPCs’ problem, and it’s not an abstract philosophical thing you can hash out over a few righteous bong rips.  I want you to seriously consider what it’s like to learn that you have been deceived — systematically — every single day for your entire life.  Not everything is a lie, of course — 1-3 all play their part — but nothing you thought you knew holds up, which means you don’t hold up.

What is it like, in other words, to actually be Rachel, or Neo, the moment the truth hits?

That’s why we can’t simply say something like “go talk to people, dorkus!” and expect this to deprogram an NPC.  They’ve been talking to people, in “real life” even, but all those “people” are in the same boat they are.  Instead, I’d urge anyone who suspects he might be an NPC to go out and observe others’ behavior.  Go to a coffee shop, for instance.  Even the “real” people having “real” conversations with their “real” friends spend most of their time looking at a glowing screen.  Even seemingly best friends drop each other the instant the phone dings.  Students sit glued to laptops, headphones blaring, and even then they still stop every five minutes to look at their phones.

From there, go home and check your social media accounts.  See who your “friends” are, by which I mean “the people you ‘interact’ with the most.”  Now, turn off the computer and try to write a description of your top 5 friends.  What makes Dakota different from Britney from Justin from Dustin from Kylie?  Anything?  Can you describe any of them, such that I could pick xzhm out of a crowd?

If not, you may be an NPC.


*Leaving aside awesome but way-above-my-pay-grade theories like those of Julian Jaynes.


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11 thoughts on “NPC Guide, Part III: Self-Diagnosis

  1. Severian

    Non-Player Character. In Dungeons and Dragons-type computer games, they’re the rest of the world. They can only do a few specific things and have a few lines of dialog. Because artificial intelligence is limited, they keep doing those same few things and saying those same few things no matter what’s happening in the rest of the game — you could be fighting a dragon right in front of them and they’ll keep sweeping the floor, saying “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” or whatever.

    Nowadays, it’s a great way to make fun of Liberals. No matter what they freak out about, it all really just means “Orange Man bad…” so they start going off in comment sections, twitter, etc., so we post a picture of a robot and say “Orange Man bad.” Drives them nuts.

    1. Ganderson

      Thanks. Despite raising three boys my knowledge of that world is nonexistent. More of a sports ball guy, I guess.

  2. Ganderson

    And, as a side note, Sean Young was VERY attractive; as the great Howie Carr would say, “not guilty”.

  3. Rod1963

    Social media was designed to be addictive, socially disruptive and externalize validation. The people created this stuff had inputs from a lot of smart people on how to get people addicted to it. Facebook developers have even admitted this in public.

    A lot of it seems to be modeled on Pavlovian conditioning. It reinforces via subtle and not-so-subtle reinforcements and punishments of what to believe, what to say and feel.

    Having the need to be externally validated all the time is a soul killer. You figuratively only exist as long you get your digital pats on the back. It destroys personal autonomy.

    And yes teenagers have killed themselves over the lack of validation and from mockery. It never occurred to them to simply delete the accounts and end their on-line participation. They had no idea how to be themselves and live in the real world.

  4. MBlanc46

    I’m not sure that I quite buy the epistemology here, but that might be because I’m something of a philosophy geek. But I also wonder about the point about friends. Is there really all that much difference between virtual friends on the Internet and the old-fashioned sort that we used to interact with face to face? Were the old-fashioned f-to-f friends somehow more real than the friends that we interact with on-line? We used to interact with people f-to-f because that was the only way we could. Perhaps we prefer to interact with on-line friends to interacting f-to-f because the on-line friends are actually better friends. I know that I can say things here and elsewhere (“mass immigration is destroying Western civilization”) that I hesitate to say to f-to-f friends of many years’ standing.

    1. Severian Post author

      When it comes to philosophy, I use the hand grenade approach — just lob it somewhere in the vicinity. Epistemology, especially, turns into math pretty fast, and I’m in no way qualified to go down the rabbit hole with the Logical Positivists etc.

      As for the friends question, all I know is what I see. Kids These Days really do seem to have a different type of relationship with their “friends.” Just to take one prominent example, they can’t process figurative language. At all. This used to baffle me, until I realized that the vast majority of their “interactions” with the vast majority of their “friends” are via text, on their phones, social media, and email. And since texts can be widely spaced in time, there’s no sense of continuity, so each block of text has to be a complete message in itself, devoid of context. Thus every line has to have one, and only one, possible meaning.

      Think of small children, who freak out when you say things like “if you stay in the bathtub any longer, you’re going to turn into a raisin!” The Online Generation is like that. Yeah, it’s true, all I’ve got is anecdotes, but I was in and around “higher” education for decades — I’ve got a LOT of anecdotes.

      1. MBlanc46

        And I have almost zero acquaintance with anyone under forty. I know that every generation is different because they live in a different environment, and electronics and digitization must have resulted in some behavioral differences. But I don’t share those experiences, so I’m stuck with the assumption that they can’t be all that different. Perhaps they are.

    2. Contrariandutchman

      For what its worth, having some familiarity with both offline and online friends, the first type is the only one that seems fully real to me. The second type becomes so only by joining the first. I may just be oldskool, after all “online” was not a common thing during thebfirst part of my growing up, but its my observation.

  5. Mike-SMO

    On-Line? Computer?

    I am still trying to identify the furry bastard who has snuk into my mirror in the morning. I did lock the front door. I don’t go back there too often. I get drinking water for the cat and I in the kitchen. When necessity calls, I keep my head down.

    Most of the people using electronic media are “aduls” [old fogeys] who use the social media as a convenient contact with friends and family or maybe with business associates wh o they can associate withe a title {VP of publicity], a telephone voice or at least a full size business bank check. Some of the young’uns and friends have friends they have never had personal contact with and a few have “pen-pall” who they have never actually met.

    The problem may be the constant intrusiveness of the modern modality that interferes with real world interactions. It is all “white noise”. The devices “demand” constant interaction but provide no contact.

    Maybe, some can get used to the “womb of babble”. They pay a horrendous price. I suspect that “isolation psychosis” is inevitable.

    Military aviators live looking for hostiles while watching radar images and “guages” while listening to radio “chatter”. End of tour “tailhook” parties often make the headlines or get noticed by jealous Congrressmen.

    Perhaps for those who live in such an intrusive environment, there is too large of an emotional barrier. to cross to become part of the physical world.

    Also, way back when, I drove non-stop frtom San Diego to the Mississippi River. I knew when to stop for food and fuel when the guy in the orange flight suit appeared and began pullining on the lane markers next to my side window. East cost is 17 road hours from here. My late wife would break that for a family visit or motel [arthritis]. After hours at the wheel, such stops were a burden to me. As I dozed off, I could no longer hear the engine, tires, and wind. I would start awake [WE WERE GOING TO DIE!] and be soothed by a back-hand from my snoring beloved.

    The actual images of digital “Friends” may be less important than the constant level of alertness. “Friends” makes it sound warm and important, but maybe the adverse reaction is to chronic “digitalis” is just a chronic manifestation of that bugger in the orange flight suit.

    Tailhook! or just an earthy smack by a flesh and blood “friend” sharing the darkness and quiet.

    It is my impression from years at an academic, regional hospital [llab-rat; not patient care], that physicians who can’t “turn it off” are doomed. Maybe that is what we are seeing with the electronic gizmos. The device turns off far easir than the human brain.

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