The Value of The Zombie Argument

Roman over at The Ends of Thought joined the zombie party. He discusses some of the issues that I mentioned like the meaning of physical, and few other interesting metaphysical issues. Now, as I mentioned, while I think that epiphenomenalism is weird, I still think that zombie argument is very nice. That is, IF we don’t require too much from it. And that “too much” is – to tell us some new facts about the world. But I will argue that what it CAN do, is much simpler but nearly as good – avoid trying to push onto the world our conceptual frameworks which are contradictory in themselves.

(Gollum: Let us go into discussing Hegel after saying this! Smeagol:We can’t, we are discussing very specific topic. Gollum:Discussss Hegel! Smeagol:Get hold of ourselves!)

Let’s say that we mark with Ip a reasonably clear and distinct idea of what “physical stuff” is.

Let’s also take the assumption Q that…

Q: Every observable and identifiable phenomenon about the bodies of conscious people is fully reducible to patterns of behavior of some“physical stuff” (which may also include the “stuff” from the surrounding) behaving according to some physical laws (or governed by physical laws maybe).

Then physicalism says that we can deduce a priori from the facts about this physical stuff (Fpi), the fact if there is conscious experience “going along with the body”, and exactly what kind of conscious experience there is. (Let’s call those deduced facts Fc)

We can say then, that for some Ip, there is no way that one can a priori deduce Fc from Fpi. For example if for Ip we take something like elementary particles whose interaction is governed by physical laws, it is pretty clear (seems to me) that what can be deduced from Fpi is just patterns of behavior of those elementary particles, and maybe some statistical facts. Nothing in Ip comes close to what we have in mind when we talk about Fc. The two things are incommensurable.

But given that we granted Q, and given we have such Ip that Fc doesn’t a priori follows from Fpi, it follows that even just Fc were the case, we would get a person (or persons) behaving as we normally do, without the consciousness being there.

However for reasons stated in previous posts, this is very implausible consequence – We aren’t allowed to explain our behavior (like people discussing consciousness) by appeal to our awareness that we are conscious, as only Fpi are needed to explain our behavior. And, as I argued in previous posts, it is hard to see what kind of alternative explanation one can give of this behavior.

In this way, zombie-arguments I think because they come to a view which is hard to be accepted, should be seen as a reductio ad absurdum of the certain combination of the assumption Q and certain idea Ip.

Because of that I think that zombie argument (or similar arguments like Jackson’s knowledge argument) is valuable, because it creates a framework in which we can test if our ideas Ip of what “physical stuff” is do make sense, given that we also accept that they should satisfy the assumption Q. (Of course it might turn out that it turns out that that specific role in Q will be played by something which we might hard to name ‘physical stuff’, but that is separate issue)

So, to repeat, while zombie argument can’t serve to tell us some contingent facts about the world by itself, it can prevent trying to push onto the world conceptual frameworks which are contradictory in themselves.