Philosoflicks 1: You are Not a Machine!


In “Let’s Make More Movies,” the epistemological anarchist Paul Feyerabend wrote this:

The separation of subjects that is such a pronounced characteristic of modern philosophy is … not altogether undesirable. It is a step on the way to a more satisfactory type of myth. What is needed to proceed further is not the return to harmony and stability as too many critics of the status quo, Marxists included, seem to think, but a form of life in which the constituents of older myths —theories, books, images, emotions, sounds, institutions — enter as interacting but antagonistic elements. Brecht’s theatre was an attempt to create such a form of life. He did not entirely succeed. I suggest we try movies instead. (P. Feyerabend, “Let’s Make more Movies,” in The Owl of Minerva: Philosophers on Philosophy, Ch. J. Bontempo and S. J. Odell (eds), McGraw-Hill: New York 1975, pp. 201-210.)

By cine-phenomenology, I mean the direct expression of philosophical ideas in cinematic, visual terms, from a first-person point of view.
Intertitles are printed texts inserted into (especially silent) films in order to convey dialogue, descriptions, or expository material directly relevant to but not necessarily covered by the filmed material, e.g.,
And montage is the cinematic technique, discovered by Sergei Eisenstein, of combining, juxtaposing, ordering, and sequencing (more generally, synthesizing) visual images for the production of various kinds of aesthetic and emotional effect.

This is my first Philosoflick.  It’s an experiment in visual philosophy, blending text and images–employing cine-phenomenology, intertitles, and montage–inspired by Feyerabend and Eisenstein, by Chris Marker’s La Jetée, and by W.G. Sebald’s pictorial novels.


[T]here is an absolute contradiction between the freedom that we all presuppose in practice and the implications of ideas that are widely accepted as established scientific fact. Philosophy can have no higher calling than to try to resolve this contradiction at the heart of contemporary culture.

D.R. Griffin,Unsnarling the World-Knot, p.171.

Most contemporary scientists and philosophers tell you that you’re really nothing but a very complex machine:

The consciousness of brutes would appear to be related to the mechanism of their body simply as a collateral product of its working, and to be completely without any power of modifying that working as the steam-whistle which accompanies the work of a locomotive engine is without influence on its machinery. Their volition, if they have any, is an emotion indicative of physical changes, not a cause of such changes… It is quite true that, to the best of my judgment, the argumentation which applies to brutes holds equally good of men; and, therefore, that all states of consciousness in us, as in them, are immediately caused by molecular changes in the brain substance. It seems to me that in men, as in brutes, there is no proof that any state of consciousness is the cause of change in the motion of the matter of the organism. If these positions are well based, it follows that our mental conditions are simply the symbols in consciousness of the changes which take place automatically in the organism; and that, to take an extreme illustration, the feeling that we call volition is not the cause of a voluntary act, but the symbol of that state of the brain which is the immediate cause of that act. We are conscious automata, endowed with free will in the only intelligible sense of that much-abused term—inasmuch as in many respects we are able to do as we like—but nonetheless parts of the great series of causes and effects which, in its unbroken continuity, composes that which is, and has been, and shall be—the sum of existence. (T. Huxley, “On the Hypothesis That Animals are Automata, and Its History,” in D. Chalmers (ed.), Philosophy of Mind: Classical and Contemporary Readings (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2002), pp. 24-30, at pp. 29-30.)

But is this true?

Consider these–

You could be Maria in Metropolis, and the inventor Rotwang creates your evil robot double,  lacking life, consciousness, and free will,

Voilà un film qui nous interroge sur les finalités de la recherche ...

And you could be either Roy Batty or Rachael in Blade Runner, nexus 6 Replicants with  living but artificially-constructed bodies, thanks to the Tyrell Corporation, and consciousness, false memories,  and free will,

but you cannot be the Terminator in Terminator, because it is merely a time-traveling killing machine without consciousness or free will, and a layer of humanoid skin stretched over its merely mechanical and unliving body,

Sean Young as Rachael in 1982′s Blade Runner

Terminator The Terminator

But could you be Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell, a ghost or conscious, free soul electrically uploaded into a cybernetic body?

Motoko Kusanagi - Ghost in the Shell by AaragonNega

 - Dilbert by Scott Adams

Number 6: Where am I?
Number 2: In the Village.
Number 6: What do you want?
Number 2: We want information.
Number 6: Whose side are you on?
Number 2: That would be telling, we want information, information information.
Number 6: You won’t get it.
Number 2: By hook or by crook, we will.
Number 6: Who are you?
Number 2: The new Number 2.
Number 6: Who is Number 1?
Number 2: You are Number 6.
Number 6: I am not a Number, I am a free man!
Number 6: Who is Number 1?
Number 2: You are, Number 6.
Number 6: I am not a Number. I am a person.

The Prisoner, Patrick McGoohan

So, what kind of creature are you, really?


To summarize, here are four ways you can know that you’re not nothing but a very complex machine.

First, most machines are not alive, but you are alive.

Second, most machines are not conscious–they do not feel pain, pleasure, desire, and emotions like love and hate–but you have consciousness, and know this immediately.

Third, all machines perform programs, strictly according to rules (although not for the sake of the rules), but you don’t have to feel, think, or do what any rule says you must think or do, because you can feel and think and do things spontaneously and freely, contrary to any rule, or even feel, think, or act merely for the sake of the rule, if you choose to do so.

Fourth, all lifelike, pseudo-conscious, pseudo-free machines necessarily feel, and think and do whatever the State tells them to feel, think, and do, because such machines run on strictly decision-theoretic, self-interest-governed principles, and the State government has the power to coerce–

but on the contrary, you can tell the State and its government to fuck off and then dare to feel, think, and do for yourself, if what you believe in entails that what they say you should feel, think, or do is WRONG.

So, given the first-person facts of

your own life.

your own consciousness,

your own free will,

and your own ability to tell the State and its government to fuck off and let you dare to feel, think, or do for yourself, if what you believe in entails that what they say you should feel, think, or do is WRONG, just because it’s not consistent with what you believe in (your capacity for ethical anarchy),

then you KNOW you are NOT nothing but a very complex machine. On the contrary, you’re alive, conscious, and spontaneously free to do this–

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About Z

Z is a 50-something cosmopolitan anarcho-philosopher, and previously was a tenured full professor of philosophy at a public university somewhere in North America, but still managed to escape with his life.