I first wondered this while watching the second series of The Fall, a challenging and unapolegetically feminist take on the now-standard serial killer drama. In it, a handsome and fit man by the name of Paul Spector routinely stalks and murders women — in between making appointments as a certified bereavement counselor, going on date nights with his wife, and looking after his two children, ages eight and six. His foe is Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson, an empowered take on Alfred Hitchcock’s blonde archetype from the London Metropolitan police called to Belfast first to participate in a departmental review, and then to oversee the investigation into Spector’s killings. It’s Gibson who links Spector’s murders together, spotting similarities in both victim profile and killing methodology. From then on, the drama unfolds as a story of two very brilliant people slowly discovering more about each other from a great distance. With every murder, Spector reveals more of himself. And at every crime scene, we learn what makes Gibson the ideal investigator to see straight through Spector’s self-righteous, pseudo-intellectual bullshit to the grimy engine of misogyny that drives him deeper down his inevitable spiral.
In other words, it’s a Chinese Room story.
In philosopher John Searle’s Chinese Room argument, intended to refute arguments for strong AI, Searle argues that an appropriate contextual response to stimuli is not evidence of genuine consciousness. This acceptance of consciousness as biologically naturalistic has since been called into question by neuroscientists. We are often unconscious of behaviours, leading biologists to wonder what the point of consciousness is, or even if it’s literally just a side-effect of developing vision.
Now imagine that instead of consciousness, we were debating the existence of empathy.