Monday, September 27, 2010

Am I responsible for my actions or is my zombie? (2)

The bridge of Breukelen
(photo taken with pinhole camera)

When I wrote my blog last week, where I asked who is responsible for my actions, I did not expect that a few days later this question would become reality for me. Last Saturday, I was cycling along the Vecht, once a former branch of the Rhine, now a quiet river with villas from the 18th century and mediaeval castles left and right. On the other side of the Vecht, Nijenrode Castle loomed up from behind the trees. A bell told me that it was seven o’clock. One or two kilometres further on I saw the characteristic bridge of Breukelen. I am about halfway my trip, I thought, and smiled. I was going easy with a steady speed. Then, suddenly, a blue colossus in front of me. A car! I made a swing to the right. Too late. The car stops me with its side. Happily a bleeding hand and a few bruises were my only injuries. Nothing serious. My bike had no damage at all. The car had more damage than I and my bike together. The chauffeur and his wife were very nice and helpful. They were even prepared to bring me home. But after having returned to myself, some talking and exchanging addresses, I decided to continue my ride, albeit with a lower speed. With still an hour to ride home, I had time enough for thinking over what had happened. I realized that it was a typical instance of the responsibility case in my last week’s blog. One thing seemed certain: As a person I was responsible for the accident, for I hadn’t given priority to the car. But my I as brain interpreter and my zombie started quarrelling about their shares in it. Okay, my I (brain interpreter) is prepared to take the responsibility for the trip and the route, but it reproaches the zombie that it really behaved like a zombie when cycling there. My speed was easy and steady which made that I was almost in trance. However, my zombie reproaches my I that it looked too much to the landscape, the Nijenrode Castle and the beautiful bridge and that it had to be attentive on the crossing. I knew the situation and, although it is a quiet crossing, I knew that cars could come from the right. I should have noticed the car, according to my zombie, and I had had to warn him in time. But is it not so that I was there for enjoying the trip? Can’t I trust my zombie that he does what he is supposed to do: leading me automatically and with flexible reactions along the roads? He had to know that crossings can be dangerous, so it is my zombie that had had to be more attentive, so I said. I am a simple brain interpreter, just reporting afterwards to other people what my zombie has decided. According to some philosophers, like Paul Churchland, I am even not more than an epiphenomenon of my zombie. How can I be held responsible for the collision then? Even if I can be held responsible for the main lines of the trip, it is my zombie who is responsible for filling in the details, I maintained. Only that in the end my person was responsible for the collision was no point of discussion.
When I called my insurance company, the lady on the line made me doubt whether even this was correct. She told me that according to Dutch law cyclists and pedestrians are protected “traffic participants” and that in case of a collision with a car they are not be liable for the damage. She advised me to recover my damage from (the insurance company of) the chauffeur and it was even not yet sure whether my insurance company needed to pay the damage of the car. The reason is that in a collision between a car and a pedestrian or cyclist the chances to get damage are very unequal. But if this is so, it might imply that my person and my brain interpreter and/or my zombie are responsible for the accident but nor for the damage of the accident.

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