The Representation of Life, Daniel says this:
I still think that Swampman is a lousy "intuition pump", and I'm not a fan of those to begin with. Extending Swampman-type conclusions (not only can't he think, but he can't be alive!) seems to me to be hopeless -- if anyone is convinced by this sort of hypothetical, it can only be because they already agreed with Thompson to begin with.
And I agree, of course. What really strikes me about Thompson's deployment of the example is the sentence in which the initial conclusions (are these meant to be audacious and shocking, or does it just read that way to me?) are set forth, to be redeemed by what follows, one after the undaunted other:
We must accept this skepticism and carry it further: the thing has no ears to hear with and no head to turn; it has no brain-states, no brain to bear them, and no skull to close them in; prick it, and it does not bleed; tickle it, and it does not laugh; and so forth.
Being by nature and propensity an uncharitable sort on occasion, I would carry this list forth thus: it has no arm to twist, and if you do twist its arm-like extremity, this may be tortuous, but it can't be torturous. (You see—it's a mnemonic.) One positively grows dizzy at the possibilities as one thinks of all the information that can be extracted from such a creature, if not directly about human bodies and psychology (since it ain't got none), then about some lightningish analogues regarding which we seem to be able to make reliable extrapolations, and one can do it not only with a clear conscience, but without even having to deal with the IRB! Naturally one's instincts will revolt at first—the simulacrum is awfully lifelike—but with self-training of the sort Montaigne praises in, for instance,
On Cruelty (
After they had accustomed themselves at Rome to spectacles of the "slaughter" of swampmen, they proceeded to those of the slaughter of men, of gladiators), this could be overmastered, in service of the pursuit of knowledge. I find the recommendation to compare the swampcase with Wittgenstein's questions regarding addition in a community that exists for two minutes odd: I would rather have compared it with the challenge "just try—in a real case—to doubt someone else's fear or pain!". (I can't imagine why the English sentence ends with a period when the German has an exclamation point and have made the obvious revision.) Doubtless the rejoinder will be made that this is not a real case. Well. You may think so, on, I suppose, a priori grounds, but it would be hard to maintain the position in the swamp-Thompson's face, or so I hope.
Cavell's perfected automaton is another likely point of comparison, at least for those better able to plumb his depths than I am; I just reproduce some text, and at length, from pp 405 and 6 of The Claim of Reason. Cavell imagines that he has a craftsman friend who's been showing him successively more realistic personalikes:
Time passes. One day the craftsman is quite beside himself with suppressed excitement. He insists that I pay special attention to each of our procedures. The leg and hands are by now really astonishing. The movement of the legs crossing and of the cigarette being lit are simply amazing. I want to see it all again. And as for the voice, I would bet anything that no one could tell. So far I'm dazzled. Then the craftsman knocks off the hat to reveal what is for all the world a human head, intact. He rotates it through about 45 degrees and then stops himself with an embarrassed smile. The head turns back to its original position, but now its eyes turn toward mine. Then the knife is produced. As it approaches the friend's side, he suddenly leaps up, as if threatened, and starts grappling with the craftsman. They both grunt, and they are yelling. The friend is producing these words:No more. It hurts. It hurts too much. I'm sick of being a human guinea pig, I mean a guinea pig human.
Let us try to complete [the story] in such a way that the craftsman is shown to know that the friend is not a ringer. … Suppose, satisfied with the degree of my alarm, and my indecision about whether to intervene, the craftsman raises his arm and the friend thereupon ceases struggling [are we to imagine that this is a prearranged signal? but then the friend was acting, earlier], moves back to the bench, sits, crosses his legs, takes out a cigarette, lights and smokes it with evident pleasure, and is otherwise expressionless. [Here I omit some shilly-shallying.] The craftsman is happy:We—I mean I—had you going, eh? Now you realize that the struggling—I mean the movements—and the words—I mean the vocables—of revolt were all built in. He is—I mean it is—meant—I mean designed—to do all that. Come, look here.He raises the knife again and moves toward the friend.
Do I intervene? That is, do I go on with the story? I can imagine only one interesting continuation (without adding more characters). It is one in which my interest shifts from the friend to the craftsman. I turn on him:You fool! You've built in too much! You've built in the passions as well as the movements and the vocables of revolt! You've given this artificial body a real soul.
Would you believe that if you search on philosopher's index for "cavell" and "swampman", you get—nothing? That Cavell has explicitly moved by this stage in the example to considering how it would work as a story is telling—this sort of thing only happens in science fiction and fairy tales. (This is discussed in a bit I haven't quoted—haven't I quoted enough?—at the top of p 406.) There is more payoff—I had forgotten about this, actually—a few pages on:
Suppose I have trained myself to think of the friend has having not feelings but Then various things might or might not happen. (I don't want to stake out too dogmatic a position here.) &c.
feelings … Which means that I have trained myself to show him, for example, not sympathy but
sympathy; and perhaps learned not to be impatient with him if I think he is complaining too much—I mean of course
complaining too much, and
impatient with him (
But let's change the subject, shall we?