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:
- That X remains stable over time;
- that the “bringing to consciousness” process is consistent and reliable;* and
- 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.