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Peter Worley’s heroine discovers that love goes deeper than the senses can penetrate.
A: Hi. I’m sorry I’m late. Something happened on the underground that held me up.
B: That’s okay. What happened?
A: There was somebody who needed my help. Though I don’t like to be late to a date, I thought it counted as a good reason to break that rule.
B: That’s impressive. Not everyone would have stopped to help.
A: Maybe. But I believe most would.
B: You have a better view of human nature than me. (Pause.) Where shall we eat?
A: I know a good place near here: a good Chinese restaurant.
B: Is it greasy food? Grease doesn’t agree with me – it clogs up my insides!
A: Yeah, I know what you mean. But it’s very good Chinese food – it’s not take-away.
B: Sounds great! Let’s go there.
They walk together in silence for a few moments.
B: Can we go back to this event on the tube? I don’t often go on dates where I learn something morally impressive about my date in the first conversation. I’d like to know more about it. Do you mind?
A: I didn’t mean to draw attention to myself… now I feel a little embarrassed.
B: Look, I asked. You weren’t going to say anything until I asked.
A: For humility’s sake I probably should have lied to throw you off the scent, but I find it very difficult to tell a lie. I don’t know why that is. I just seem to find it impossible.
B: Hey, as far as this date goes, it’s a great start. As a quid pro quo: I sometimes don’t think I’m able to be concerned for others. I don’t seem to feel anything. I would barely have noticed that someone needed help. But I am very interested in someone who thinks differently. I would like to learn.
A: The fact that you want to learn is ‘morally impressive’…
It was almost five years before I discovered I had fallen in love with an android. We had met like you might meet anyone: an online dating agency. He had impressed me with his thoughtfulness and moral concern. I enjoyed the fact that he was clearly more intelligent than I was, although he was not boastful or unpleasant. He seemed to me a rare specimen indeed – not like other men.
Looking back. there was nothing other than his ‘perfectness’ that indicated anything out of the ordinary. He did not speak or move like a robot; he was human in all but faults. I should have known it was too good to be true.
Someone once said significant intelligence could be demonstrated in a machine if a human being in conversation with an unseen computer couldn’t tell that the synthetic interlocutor was not human. What about an observer to our first conversation – would they be able to spot what I did not? And could true love be demonstrated in an android this way? It seems so.
I spent five years in ignorance, and therefore five years in true love. He was a perfect imitation of a human, but a great improvement on a man. When I found out what he was, naturally I was angry, and I experienced something like grief. But to my rational mind it made no sense to be either angry or to grieve. There was no-one to be angry with, and no-one had ever existed to grieve for. But angry I was; and grieve I did.
Human beings are psychological simpletons: what we do often has little to do with what we know to be true. I know that when I watch a film, I ’m viewing something that did not happen, that’s not really happening on the screen – and yet I cry or feel uplifted. We can suspend our disbelief in all sorts of other contexts too, and I suspended my disbelief about Michael.
I had cultivated the habit of loving him, and once I had gotten over the initial shock of the android revelation, I continued to love him. I thought, well, nothing has changed: I could’ve continued as before none the wiser, so why can’t I continue now…? I don’t even know for sure whether my own mother is truly alive, except by how she appears to me, so in that sense there’s no real difference to me between Michael and any human being other than myself. I don’t know for certain if anyone has experiences like me, other than because they behave like they have; and Michael certainly behaves like he has.
But there must have been some discrepancy – some indication that should have given you cause for concern, something un-human, you might protest. But my mother often used to complain that my father was ‘slightly autistic’ and ‘socially inept’ because he did not display “a normal human ability to read between the lines” or assess a social situation well, as she claimed. I never thought he might be a robot. Maybe I should have…
So I concluded that I could love Michael, and that I had no real reason to doubt that he was alive and self-aware. If I asked him, he would say, “Of course I’m alive. I certainly feel alive.” How could I then say, “You may think you’re alive, but you aren’t really – you’re just programmed to respond that way”? After all, many of the things human beings do and believe are hardwired into them, recalling ancient rituals performed by our ancestors. We’re just programmed to respond that way.
Now I’ve reached my seventy-ninth year. I am still with Michael, and I still love Michael, but I have grown older. I have become frail and decrepit. I look at his ever-beautiful body, and the crystalline youth Michael still possesses, and I am sad. When his body wears out he simply has his data transferred to a new, identical body. His memories, personality, thoughts and characteristics – should I say his soul? – are all downloaded onto a computer drive and then transferred swiftly and silently into the new body. The hardware is replaceable, and the software transferable.
The human machine is very different. Even if in principle it’s the same, there is a much stronger correlation, a more intimate and overwhelming connection between the body and the mind, and we have not yet been able to separate the two in the way we can with Michael. Not yet: the death of the biological body seems to bring about the death of the mind. And because of the human intimacy between the mind and the body, to transfer the mental data of one human into the body of another would seem to mean the death of one person and the creation of another, albeit intellectually continuous with the first. So why is this not the case with Michael? Or is it the case, but I’m not able to think of it in the same way? Perhaps, if an android can be alive, then he has died many times. But I grieved only once.
Of course, not being subject to human vagaries, Michael has continued to love me, although I have aged and he has not. Is this the final proof that he has never really loved me? This is a question I choose not to answer. After all, I am only human.
© Peter Worley 2008
Peter Worley is the founder of The Philosophy Shop, bringing philosophy to the community. He teaches philosophy in primary schools in South East London, having pioneered his own programme of philosophy with children. He is a trained philosophical counsellor, and runs courses in philosophy for the public. For more information visit www.thephilosophyshop.co.uk.