Zombies: Why They Matter in Philosophy of Mind

Who (maybe I should say

what”) is your favorite zombie? Which cleverly eccentric flesh eater (there are no vegan zombies) do you like?

I guess if you’re old school you should go with Frankenstein


creation”. But is the monster really a zombie? Or is it best described as a work in progress? A composite zombie? I googled a request for a top ten list and up there was something called the worm-eyed
, which appeared in an Italian film in 1979. A famous zombie? The average

Stepford’s Wife

desirable however

she” is, isn’t she

It doesn’t count as a real zombie because – in my opinion – she’s more of a manufactured creation. A zombie is different from an android. Be a good

of confidence

zombie, you must have once been a human person. There are rites of passage issues at play. Replicants are not part of this club.

Strange to tell, but philosopher David Chalmers has placed zombie possibility at the center of some arguments in the philosophy of mind, especially those concerning the nature of consciousness. There are two seriously complex questions in philosophy: the nature of mind and the nature of time. They are interconnected, but only God gets the connection.

What does it mean to be aware, to have this inner kaleidoscope of colors, emotions, love and anticipation of the future? What is it to have a certain awareness of one’s own subjectivity? Philosophers sometimes mention


, the felt properties of experience. What’s it like to experience something, no matter what

science” announcement?


favorite zombies are not du Shaun of the dead
A philosophical zombie can be defined as: a being that is behaviorally, physically, and apparently a human person, but lacks consciousness.

What follows is metaphysically significant, he argues. If it

If it is possible to imagine such a being, then a supposed connection – specifically an identity connection – between consciousness and the brain is subverted. If a zombie is a purely physical entity, but whose consciousness has drifted away, then how can consciousness be anything purely physical?

There is an opinion that because the brain and consciousness depend on each other, it follows that they must be one and the same. This ignores a basic tenet of metaphysics: for A to cause B, it must follow that A and B are logically and metaphysically distinct. (There is the problematic counterexample of God himself, but I’ll park it for now.) Confusing deep causal connection with identity is a form of intellectual confusion.

There are compelling arguments that materialism (the assumption that mind and brain are the same thing) cannot account for the phenomenological richness of the human mind. computer scientist and polymath

David Gelernter

makes the following argument in its Spirit Tides: that to understand what the mind is, it

impossible to take cognitive slides and analyze them. The human mind flows and is never static, and assumptions about where it is at any given time will always be out of place. There will always be an observer error.

Gelernter makes a good point, which was also articulated by CS Lewis in his fine collection of essays, The weight of glory: only to isolate a slice of the mind

Living your child and attempting a diagnosis involves all kinds of assumptions about your ability to diagnose. Why would the human brain be trusted to give honest answers about the nature of the character of the human brain, if it is nothing more than a collection of cells, a product of orderly evolutionary adaptation in the sense no of the truth but of the advantage of survival? As Lewis himself says: you might as well listen to the leaves of the trees. (I

I wrote about


somewhere else).

There is an objection to Chalmers

argument, which is also an objection to thought experiments more generally: that they confuse what is imaginable with what is conceivable, and what is conceivable with what is possible. They are particularly contagious when it comes to questions concerning personal identity (the end

Derek Parfit,

brilliant that he was, was a serial offender when it came to that). The meritorious

cart problem” (the dilemma of whether to sacrifice one person to save more) is a particularly glaring example.

But I’m sympathetic to Chalmers

worldview, and if zombies have inserted themselves into the battle against spiritually impoverished materialistic orthodoxy, then they have my gratitude.

Not that it would mean anything to them.

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