And my poor fool is hanged. No, no, no life?
Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life,
And thou no breath at all? Thou ’lt come no more,
Never, never, never, never, never.—
Pray you undo this button. Thank you, sir.
Do you see this? Look on her, look, her lips,
Look there, look there!
—King Lear, V,iii, 369-75
In his fictional world, Lear no doubt suffers terribly from the death of his daughter Cordelia, but what we really see on the stage is not an actual king but an actor. The actor is himself a conscious human being (presumably), but even if the actor is using the Method we needn’t really believe that the actor is suffering from terrible bereavement.
In my previous post I suggested as a thought experiment for eliciting our values about existence and non-existence we consider the possibility of becoming a p-zombie rather than committing suicide. In the p-zombie thought experiment a non-conscious simulactrum of ourselves would go forward into the future leaving all the people in our lives none-the-wiser about our status. Becoming a p-zombie would thus have the advantage of allowing us to terminate our own suffering without causing bereavement and misery among our surviving friends and family. A commenter objected that he found the idea of a p-zombie so deeply implausible that the thought the entire thought experiment made no sense. I’m not sure I agree with that, but in the interest of moving forward I’ll offer here an alternative thought experiment.
Suppose that there is a being that we could call a Consummate Homunculus Actor, for short, “Cohom.” Knows you in excruciating detail, has access to all your memories, knows all your likes and dislikes, appetites and aversions, phobias and kinks, and can there act the part of you with such fantastic fidelity that external observers can’t tell the difference between you and a kind of high-fidelity puppet whose strings are pulled by Cohom. Cohom is not a zombie. Cohom is conscious, but conscious in the sense that our actor playing Lear is conscious. He’s very much aware of what he’s doing when he’s playing Lear, but he isn’t actually suffering in anything like the sense that Lear is suffering.
Now suppose you had this alternative. Cohom could crawl inside your head, wipe your own consciousness, pick up the reins of your behavior, and act out the complicated part that is you living out your life. Because Cohom knows everything that’s relevant about you, the people around you will never know that it’s Cohom discoursing with or reacting to them, rather than “you.” Cohom will see through “your” eyes and feel with “your” hands, but will not feel pain or love or anything like that directly. Rather, “your” burning your hand on a stove will be an event in a script to which Cohom must respond with an appropriate yowl of pain. The same for “your” falling in love. For Cohom it’s a part to be acted. The balance of your life might be something like The Truman Show except inverted. Instead of “you” being “real” and everyone around you being an actor hired to play a part, “you” will be an actor and everyone else around you will be “real.” The “real” you will have long since departed into the blessed calm of eternal unconsciousness. Cohom, meanwhile, will stay on the job until “your” death, at which point he collects a handsome check from whatever mad or demonic employer engaged his services in playing the part of you, and possibly an acting award as well.
Cohom or p-zombie, either way you get an out.