The Aliens and The Zombies
Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on April 1, 2008
Update: Added words ‘given epiphenomenal metaphysics’ after ‘there is no plausible physical story of why would such thing happen’. That is obviously what I meant, but forgot to write, and it sounds very bad without it, especially given that I do claim that physicalists can give physical story in the next paragraphs. Of course that is, they can give physical story, given the physicalist metaphysics.
OK, after exchanging several comments on Richard Chappell’s blog, and apparently pissing him off (sorry Richard, didn’t intend to!), I’m pretty sure that I’m not explaining the whole issue right. As it seems the answer I get is – the zombie-people behave like normal people, because they were posited to behave same as normal people (given that both our and zombies behavior is fully determined by physical laws). And that answer doesn’t address the issue at all…
So, let me try to explain what I was requesting on few examples…
Say, we become aware of the raising and falling of the ocean’s surface – the tide. Now, when we ask for the causal explanation of this behavior, it is not enough to say – it behaves in such way because of the physical laws. That is not an explanation really. We will have our explanation only when/if somebody tells us about how the gravitational forces of the Sun and the Moon affect this waters, and so on…
Or, we become aware of some biological phenomenon, like animals having blood. When we ask for explanation of why animals have blood, it is not enough to say – because animals function according to the physical laws. Instead we would be more satisfied with a teleological explanation of how the blood carries “good things” to the cells, and takes “bad things” out of them.
Now, imagine aliens visit a zombie-Earth (in this world, not other world), where people behave exactly the same as on Earth, just that there is some difference in their bodies. It doesn’t affect the behavior, but because of this difference, psychophysical laws don’t “produce” conscious experience in those zombie-Earthlings. Now, aliens can explain most of the behavior of those zombie-earthlings, like communicating in general, executing tasks, going to work in order to get payed, and then buy food with the money, and so on…
But there is a puzzling phenomenon… Part of those zombie-Earthlings show peculiar behavior… They behave as if writing a books about consciousness (for lots and lots of years), and they behave as if teaching about those things that they are writing about. All those other zombie-Earthlings visit their lectures, buy their book, and act as if they are reading the books. Also, they act as if they are discussing those books about consciousness, and so on…
So, aliens ask themselves why do those zombie-people behave so? And, of course, answering – because of the physical laws isn’t really an explanation of this phenomenon.
But why do epiphenomenalists need to explain this? The answer is, because on the face of it, there is no plausible physical story of why would such thing happen given epiphenomenalist metaphysics.
Let’s say what we would say about normal humans. We would say that epiphenomenalists write those books, because they are aware that they are conscious (or think that they are conscious). So, we are supposing that this knowing to be conscious is part of the causal explanation of their writing books about consciousness.
Physicalists can now say, their awareness to be conscious, is in fact ‘translatable’ into physical events, so, what we see on the physical level, are events that correspond with that awareness to be conscious. So, it is not problem for the physicalist to accept that epiphenomenalists write books because they are aware that they are conscious, as that for them IS eventually physical event.
Interactionists (dualists that think that consciusness affect physical), can also say that epiphenomenalists write their books because they are aware that they are conscious, though in this case, different from the physicalists they will say the mind affects the physical behavior.
But, neither of those two possible explanations is accessible to the epiphenomenalists. They need to explain the behavior of the zombies in some other way. Zombies don’t write about consciousness and qualia (or behave as writing about consciousness and qualia) because they are aware of it.
So, why is this a problem for epiphenomenalism? Because on the face of it, when you remove the possibility – “epiphenomenalists(zombie ones) write (or behave as if writing) books because they are aware of their being conscious”, it is hard to see any alternative explanation… Of course, I’m open to be convinced otherwise, so if anyone has any idea, or outline of an idea, please leave a comment.
Anyway, I wonder if with this additional explanation the problem for the epiphenomenalism is clear. I may try to think of some good analogy for the next post.