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The Sense of the Zombie

February 13, 2023 Leave a comment Go to comments

A couple of things about the Zombie argument.

1. I think that the use of term zombie introduces unnecessary distractions due to the associations with supernatural or fictional types of beings. To ground the argument more in reality, I would use terms like ‘doll’ or ’emoji’ instead. Indeed there is nothing supernatural or unusual about an object or image that looks like there should be a conscious experience behind it but which in fact lacks one. A mannequin or doll is a 3d object that resembles a person’s 3d body. If that object is animated in the ways that resemble the movements of a living person’s body, then it would be ‘zombie’.

2. The issue of whether such a robot could be created out of the same molecules and cells as a person’s body is a completely separate issue. This is what derails the thought experiment. Instead of focusing on the relationship of tangible phenomena as they appear to our sense of sight and touch versus the intangible or trans-tangible phenomena of feeling and thought, we are now lost in a completely irrelevant discussion about the extent to which any phenomenon can be duplicated.

This diversion in turn allows our initial assumptions of physicalism to close the door that the zombie argument opened in the first place. If we had assumed in the first place that we are conscious bodies, then we will of course see the duplicate of a body as having duplicate capacities for consciousness. It’s tautological. We would entirely miss the real opportunity of the zombie argument, which begins with being able to logically tease out the body of a person from the conscious experience of a person, but goes somewhere more useful if we focus on the properties that make them separate.

3. What are the properties of a body? What are the properties of a conscious experience? What makes them different? What knows that they are different?

I think that we will find that a body is a tangible presence. A three dimensional object that can be touched and held in a literal and concrete sense. A conscious experience of the subjective, personal variety is not that at all. In fact, it appears to be a kind of diametric opposite to a material object. Where objects have distinct shapes and location, feelings and thoughts seem to exist in a kind of ambiguously spaceless and timeless fugue of overlapping qualities. Whether or not we accept that the body just has these properties ‘inside’ of its processes does not change the fact that we can logically see them as completely distinct from the tangible properties that define bodies as material objects.

Once we can understand that bodies and minds cannot be the same thing while also reducing those opposing sets of properties to that of bodies, the whole issue of duplication is revealed to be a red herring. We have to acknowledge that a body cannot do anything to ‘seem’ or ‘seem like’ anything other than what it is, and that any ‘seeming’ would be part of the anti-tangible, experiential aspect of the phenomenon that we are experiencing as a person or ourselves. From there, it’s a quick step to see that in fact the ‘mind’ or conscious experience is perfectly capable of dreaming up worlds that include tangible appearances, including bodies or body images that belong to dream characters, but also robots, dolls, and emojis.

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