"A Conversation with Einstein's Brain"

Here are some questions to think about and discuss.
  1. What is the point of the discussion of playing records?

  2. The Tortoise describes a process by which one can use the book to carry on a "conversation." Do you think this process would merely simulate intelligence and understanding? Or would it generate it, in the way that turning the handle on a hand-cranked record player generates music?

  3. Would it make a difference whether:

    1. the book is operated very slowly
    2. the book is all there, but it's not being operated any more, because its operator went off and forgot to come back
      (Compare the question: Would the music still exist even if the record is never played?)

  4. If you think that operating the book in that way would enable you to carry on a genuine, two-sided conversation with another intelligence, then answer this: Would it be Einstein himself that you're talking to? Or merely someone who thought and responded the way he would? Discuss reasons that might be offered for either answer.

  5. Consider the following passage:

    Achilles: I am beginning to be puzzled...who am I talking to in that book? Is there somebody alive because it exists? Where are those thoughts coming from?
    Tortoise: From the book. You know that very well.
    Achilles: Well, then, how can he say how he's feeling? How does a book feel?
    Tortoise: A book doesn't feel any way. A book just is. It's like a chair. It's just there.
    Achilles: Well, this isn't just a book--it's a book plus a whole process. How does a book plus a process feel?

    What do you think of this exchange? Does Achilles' final question seem a reasonable one to you? If yes, what might one say in answer to it. If no, explain why not. Compare Achilles' final question here to the "Systems Reply" to Searle's Chinese Room argument.

  6. Achilles and the Tortoise discuss recording Achilles' neural structure into a book, too, to make it easier for Achilles to carry on conversations with the Einstein-book. What would happen if several copies were made of this Achilles-book? Which of the copies would be Achilles? None of them? All of them? How would you defend your answer?

  7. If the Tortoise is right about our nature, if our existence really is just the existence of a certain neural structure which might be encoded in a book, then would we have any real control over what we do and what goes on in our minds? Would the Einstein-book have any real control over what it was going to think or say next? As things really stand, do we have control over what we do and think? How would you defend your answer?