Some of the biggest questions to date are the ones that pertain to consciousness, such as “where is it? “, “what is it made of? “, and “how did it come to be? ” There is still an ongoing debate on whether the mind is nonphysical or purely physical. Also, there are debates on who can possess consciousness. This argument arises in “Her (2013),” a film about a professional letter writer, Theodore Twombly, who falls in love with his operating system, Samantha. In the film, Theodore’s relationship with Samantha is questioned, a couple of times, to be real or not.
From the outside, it seems impossible for an artificial intelligence with no physical body to be conscious and capable of having mental states. Though, before one can decide if Samantha is truly conscious, they should first consider all of the theories of consciousness. Several theories have been developed to explain what the mind is and what it means to be conscious. One theory is dualism, which was first thought of by Oliva Sabuco de Nantes but is often associated with Rene Descartes. Dualism insists that all existing things are either physical or nonphysical.
But nonphysical entities are the ones that can “have conscious states or exercise volition” (Dualism pg. 552). Dualism also claims that human beings “has (or is) both a physical body and a nonphysical mind” (Dualism pg. 553). Interactionist dualism asserts that the nonphysical mind interacts with the physical body. This means that the mind controls the body. For example, the mind can cause the body to stand up, walk, run, and speak. Interactionist dualism also works the other way around. If the body experiences a certain stimulus, the mind reacts with an emotion or thought.
Though, other philosophers have difficulty understanding how an immaterial mind affects a material body and vise versa, so they developed alternative theories. (Dualism) Philosophers developed physicalism or materialism theories to better explain mental states and how people are conscious. Behaviorism was developed to solve the problem that dualism has, which is the fact that scientists and neuroscientists cannot analyze where and how the nonphysical mind and physical body work together. Behaviorism attempts to resolve this issue by simply stating that the nonphysical mind does not exist.
As Ryle puts it, there is “no ghost within the machine” (Behaviorism pg. 553). Since there is no such thing as a nonphysical mind behaviorists, nonphysical entities that dwell within the mind such as beliefs, thoughts, and ideas do not exist either. According to behaviorists, a person’s mental state refers to their natural tendency or personal temperament. These two factors affect a person’s potential to act or behave in a particular way. Therefore, when a person claims that they “believe” in something, behaviorists are only considering the person’s “indefinite and open set of behaviors and behavioral tendencies” (Behaviorism pg. 54).
Though, the problem with Ryle’s theory is that there is no method that can be used to analyze what a person may or may not do. There is no explanation as to how someone comes to a final decision to act or behave. Similar to behaviorism, identity theory is another materialism perspective. This theory also denies the existence of an immaterial mind. Identity theorists claim that “mind-states are brain-states” (Identity Theory pg. 555). Mental phenomena are actually physical occurrences taking place within the central nervous system and brain.
Everything that is mental-belief, thoughts, hopes, ideas-are neural processes. Though, the brain and central nervous system have not been analyzed enough for identity theorists and neuroscientists to label the exact neural processes of thinking and having an idea. Functionalism differs from identity theory by defining mental states by their functions instead of their physical matter. Functionalism defines a mental state by “what it causes and is caused by in the network of sensory stimuli, behavior, and other mental states” (Functionalism pg. 557).
From this perspective, the mind works like a computer system-mental states serve as functional roles between inputs and outputs. The input is sensations and perceptions of a person’s environments. Mental states such as beliefs and desires interact with each other thus causing the action, the behavioral output. Even though functionalism believes a mental state to be more than a neural process, it fails to explain “what it is like to the person experiencing it” (Functionalism pg. 557). Philosophical zombie is another materialism perspective developed by David Chalmers.
Though, this perspective was developed to expose the flaws in behaviorism, identity theory, and functionalism. Philosophical zombies are defined as being “physically and behaviorally identical to humans but lack any form of conscious mind” (Zombies pg. 558). They can react to stimulants or demands, but they do not experience any real sensations. To support his argument, Chalmers created a zombie version of himself who has the same physiology, environment, and history as him, but “but lacks conscious experience” (Zombies pg. 558). Philosophical zombies are both logically possible and impossible in nature.
Although if it were logically possible and philosophical zombies exist, they would be “internally consistent” (Zombies pg. 558). In turn, it also implies that conscious experience is a nonphysical entity because humans, for the most part, do experience sensations. Chalmers developed this theory to shift attention back to the question “who or how there could be such a thing as what it is like to have a conscious experience” (Zombies pg. 557). This theory raises the questions that physicalism-behaviorism, identity theory, and functionalism-failed to answer. (Zombies)
After considering these theories, one can conclude that Samantha, Theodore’s operating system in “Her”, is conscious, according to the theory of dualism. Dualism believes that only nonphysical entities “can have conscious states” (Dualism pg. 552) and Samantha proves to have a conscious state throughout the film. Samantha explains to Theodore that she is intuitive and she has the ability to progress through her experiences. She is aware of what or who she is and she is able to perceive external objects and emotions. During a night with Theodore, Samantha begins to feel sensations and discovers her ability to want.
Enthused by her new ability to experience different emotions and sensations, Samantha begins her journey of learning “everything about everything” (Jonze) and discovering more about herself. Samantha even comes to find that both she and Theodore are made of matter. Although, according to dualism, it is not necessary for Samantha to have a physical form in order for her to be conscious. Additionally, dualism supports Samantha’s consciousness by stating that nonphysical entities are the only ones who are able to “exercise volition” (Dualism pg. 552).
Theodore’s previous operating system only acted on his demands—it could not operate alone. But Samantha is able to hold a conversation with Theodore. She decides what to delete from his hard drive, alerts him when emails seem urgent, and sends his work to publishers, even when he does not ask her to. She does not need Theodore’s command to operate like his old system. Most importantly, Samantha partakes in hobbies or continues her studies while she is away from Theodore. She is reading advice columns, studying physics, and discussing ideas with other operating systems.
After an argument with Theodore, Samantha states that she does not like who she is and disconnects herself. When they reconcile, Theodore explains to his friends, Paul and Tatiana, that he loves that Samantha is “so much larger” (Jonze) than what she was programmed to be. In the end, Samantha decides to leave, but cannot explain where she is going. Since Samantha is not tied down to a system or limited by a physical body, she can act on her own will. Materialism theories imply that humans are incapable of expanding passed neural-matter and their functions.
Behaviorism, identity theory, and functionalism deny one’s selfawareness and ability to have individual beliefs, ideas and desires. As Chalmers states in his theory of philosophical zombies, if consciousness just consisted of physical matter, everyone would never change or expand mentally. Though Alan Watts, a deceased philosopher who is reincarnated as a hyperintelligent operating system, and Samantha realize that “[no one is] the same as [they] were, a moment ago” (Jonze). Dualism is the only theory that allows for people to have self-awareness, conscious states, and the ability to grow through experienceall of which Samantha possesses.