Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Return of the Zombie

Please see my previous post for a little background on the urgent philosophical question of whether zombies can beat zoombies and shombies in a ping pong match. At least we know that they can all beat Sarah Palin in a debate.

I readily acknowledge both my tardiness and my wordiness (the two not being unrelated) in replying to Richard Brown. The world, or at least my path through it, is unfortunately so configured that blogging often has to take a back seat to things that I consider mundane and relatively dull. Oh well. The present issue came to life when Richard, on his blog, offered some ideas about creatures
(zoombies) that are complete non-physical duplicates of normal law-abiding citizens like you and me, but fail to be conscious; and those that are physical duplicates, have no non-physical properties, and yet are conscious (shombies). Both of these beings are conceivable, according to Richard, or at least as conceivable as zombies, which are physical duplicates of ourselves that lack consciousness. The conceivability of zombies is supposed to support the argument that physicalism is wrong, because if we can conceive of a creature exactly like us but not conscious, it follows from this that it is not logically necessary that physical systems like ours must be conscious; and from this it follows that we cannot reduce consciousness to some equivalent physical description. So if zombies are conceivable, materialism is wrong. But according to Richard, the conceivability of his two new creatures equally suggest that dualism is wrong. And according to me, the proliferation of these things suggests that we had all better run.

Richard eventually put his thoughts into a form appropriate to the hallowed environment of a philosophy conference (that of the Long Island Philosophical Society), and I responded in similarly civilized fashion. And now that we've got that over with we can proceed to thrash about and flame each other on the Internet. (Just kidding - I think.) I will take up as many of Richard's responses to my reply as I can, while conceding in advance that he will probably outlast me (if not outwit me) in any blog debate. And given that Brown is the name he chose for his online identity I shall now revert to that appelation, while wondering aloud how a name like "one more Brown" gets to be a rigid designator.

Brown's response to my critique begins with my defense of the idea that zombies are indeed conceivable. I suggested that I can imagine a being that is physically identical to me but unaware of the blue tint of the light in the room, and I can expand on that concept to conceive of a zombie (who is unaware of not only the bluish tint but everything else). Brown's response is:

"What we need is to imagine me being in the very same brain state and not being conscious of the blueish tint. This is exactly what is in question –that is, whether this is something that can be imagined– and so this is at best question begging."
David Chalmers, you will recall, was said to be begging questions by ruling out the possibility that "mind" is just a popular term for a physical system; if so, according to Brown, the nonexistence of zombies is a necessary truth and zombies are therefore unimaginable. Now I am allegedly begging questions by assuming that I can imagine being in the same brain state whether aware or unaware of a bluish tint. But I think this is a misuse of the term "question-begging". Brown seems to think the (hidden) form of the argument is,
1. Let's assume physicalism is wrong.
2. If physicalism is wrong, then I can imagine that we have physical duplicates that are not mental duplicates.
3. If I can imagine that we have physical duplicates that are not mental duplicates then the mental does not logically supervene on the physical.

4. Therefore physicalism is wrong.
But the second premise does not depend on the assumption that physicalism is wrong. It is an appeal to intuition, pure and simple. According to Brown, Kripkean semantics prohibit the assumption that this intuition is possible until we have first checked to see if physicalism might be correct. I am actually tempted to hand him this point because it would be the proverbial pyrrhic victory. For if I give him that, he equally has to give me the point that he cannot assume that zombies are not conceivable until we have already established what we are currently attempting to discuss. And with this stalemate at hand, we can proceed to lose our ticket to any intelligent discussion of issues which might eventually be decided by some empirical discovery. So it will be question-begging, for example, to say that the following worlds are conceivable: that in which there is no being to whom gave Moses the ten commandments; the one where large manlike creature called 'bigfoot' are nothing but a hoax; and the imaginary space in which Loch Ness is devoid of living creatures larger than a lake trout. These are question-begging in roughly the same sense that it is "question-begging" to say that a world in which there is no physicalist reduction of consciousness is conceivable, and thus that I can conceive of a world in which there is a being physically identical to myself but lacking consciousness. In all these cases, it may, as far as science is concerned, turn out that these names or definite descriptions ("god", "bigfoot", "Loch Ness monster" and "the physical facts that constitute consciousness") identify actual entities, and if we allow that, we cannot say we conceive of the worlds in question.

If this isn't a spurious argument I'll eat my copy of Naming and Necessity. Does Kripke say that we can't conceive of the mind as non-physical? Quite the opposite. Does Putnam say I can't conceive of water as XYZ? Quite the opposite. Here's Putnam: "My concept of an elm tree is exactly the same as my concept of a beech tree... (This shows that the identifcation of meaning 'in the sense of intension' with concept cannot be correct...)" (Mind, Language and Reality, Phil. Papers V.2, p.226) What's the point? I can conceive of things that are necessarily false, e.g., "Beeches are just like elms". Not "I believe [falsely] that I can conceive of a world in which beeches are just like elms" but I conceive of such a world, plain and simple. (Or I imagine it if you like, but conceiving does not have to include mental imagery.)

Brown should get off this begging-the-question kick. Nothing about what I can or can't conceive today depends on what science discovers tomorrow. If I can't conceive of zombies once I have studied the physical reduction of consciousness (which has been added to Psych 101 texts in the year 2525) then fine, I can't do it. But to bring in a posteriori necessity to show that I can't conceive today what might turn out to be false tomorrow is really cuckoo, a curious technical trick at best. If that were really the implication of the theory, it would be a reductio of Kripkean semantics. But that is not what the theory implies.

There is another problem with Brown's methodology, which is captured in his statement that "This is exactly what is in question –that is, whether this is something that can be imagined." Look, an artist covers a canvas in black paint and says, "This depicts a zombie". You are confused, no doubt, but what exactly can you say? "How? Why can't I see the zombie's shape? Is there anything else in the picture? Were you on drugs when you painted it?" These might be legitimate questions; what is not legitimate is to say, "No it isn't; I'm looking right at it and there is no zombie there." Does the artist even need to reply to this? She can laugh, because the statement is nonsense in this context; or she can say, "When you learn to see the world the way an artist sees it, you will perhaps see a zombie there; and if you don't, I can't help you." (In Goodman's terms, not every picture that represents a zombie is a zombie-picture.) The same holds true for mental pictures, conceptions, imaginings, etc. I know what a zombie is, I am not a hallucinating schizophrenic, I am an honest guy and I believe I am conceiving of a zombie. So I am conceiving of a zombie. Once the basic psychosocial background is given, my claim goes through automatically. It's not corrigible. It doesn't depend on facts or on Kripke. And it especially does not depend on some inspection (per impossible) of my conception to compare it in fine detail with the putative physical correlate that will be discovered some time hence. The details of a conception are stipulated, not set in place like clockwork. Otherwise it has to be said that I cannot really conceive of an automobile, since I haven't the foggiest idea what goes on inside a transmission (though I doubt it is little men turning cranks).

Last point, which came up in a discussion session at the conference: the point of the zombie argument is to deny the claim on logical supervenience, the idea that the mental logically supervenes on the physical. "Logical" here is the same as conceptual; the point is to show that the mental is not conceptually identical to some physical substratum (see Chalmers, p,35). Brown, as far as I can tell, seems to think "logical supervience" is just materialism, but I doubt that. The target is not the brand of materialism that says that once the physical facts are known, the facts about consciousness can be scientifically deduced; the target is the brand that says that once the physical facts are known, the facts about concsiousness are logically entailed; they simply fall out of a correct description of the brain. As Kripke says, a consistent materialist would have to hold that a complete physical description of the world is a complete description tout court; once we have it, it should just be obvious where consciousness lies in it, though it might not be called by that name. That is a logical supervenience position, and it is quite different from physicalism in general. Chalmers and I are both physicalists of a sort; we think that at some level, in the world as it is, consciousness is dependent on brain chemistry and structure. The zombie argument is not directed against this belief, and would not be effective against it. It is meant to show that we need not believe that consciousness is going to just "be there" when we announce the result of the ultimate brain scan. Scan all you want; at the end of the day you will still have to have some other kind of explanation for consciousness. The situation is (not coincidentally) somewhat like Kripke's view of rule-following: state every empirical fact you can find about the system, you will not find the rule there. Nor consciousness, if you proceed in that manner. So there is no entailment of consciousness by physical facts, and that is what logical supervenience is, and what the zombie argument is meant to cast doubt on.

The next point in Brown's response refers to my comment that in cases of aspect-change no physical difference takes place, although a mental difference does:

Alterman goes one to cite, as evidence, his convixtion (sic) that he has no reason tot hink that there is a microphysical change in his brain when he is looking at an ambiguous stimulus (like the duck-rabbit, or the Necker cube), but this is rather naive. There is evidence in both Humans and primates that there are changes in brain activation that correlate to the change in perception in these kinds of cases.
Let's keep in mind what we are talking about here. I used the duck-rabbit example to support the point that we can conceive of a zombie by enlarging on the intuitive idea that changes in mental state can occur without a change in the physical description of the system. When I observe the duck and then notice the rabbit it seems that no change takes place in the physical description of the system. Brown is arguing that this is an illusion, for brain scans show some "brain activation that correlate to the change in perception". I think there is less here than meets the eye. It stands to reason that some stimulation occurs when anything like perception, recognition, concentration, etc. takes place. Nobody disputes that, so it can't be the issue. The issue is whether it is conceivable that a being physically identical to myself could exist without conscious activity. And since it is certainly conceivable that no change takes place when I switch from one to the other, it is by enlargement conceivable that some being never undergoes such changes.

But I am not inclined to leave it at that. For the "change" that Brown points to is nothing more than an indication of an increase in blood flow (or possibly electrical activity) to some area involved with perception. (Roughly the same areas are often involved in both external perception and recognition of mental images.) So what does that show? It certainly is a long way from suggesting that some brain activity is identical with the percept "there's a rabbit in this picture"! In fact, though I do not know which particular bit of research Richard has in mind, I would be willing to bet him lunch that it shows only that the act of searching in the picture for the new image (like the achievement of stereoscopic vision, to take another example) involves some brain activity; no way it can show that there is any difference in the organism while it perceives a duck vs. a rabbit.
But I am even willing to grant that such a difference might be found; for example, it might be shown that certan vectors activated in one case have a historical (causal) relation to vectors activated in the perception of actual ducks, and the other in the perception of actual rabbits (or of realistic duck or rabbit pictures - it doesn't really matter which). So let it be the case that for every individual, nerve cell activation occurs in the duck-rabbit picture specifically in relation to the history for that individual of previous perceptions of the appropriate form. Unfortunately, the physicalist is still in need of an identity much stronger than this. The burden on the physicalist is to give a brain specification that just is the cognition of rabbit-shape (or blue-tintedness) or a strong reason why it is likely that such a specification will be found. The burden on the anti-physicalist is just to give an intuitive reason why that is unlikely to happen. Which I did, but I am more than willing to go a step further, and put it like this: there is no reason to think anyone will ever find a neurological specification that is, so to speak, the transcendental condition guaranteeing the truth of the utterance "he sees a rabbit-picture" or "he sees a duck-picture". And if that won't happen, the fact that some blood flows to the area that manages changes in perception is of little interest.

Brown next takes on another example I used to demonstrate the conceivability of zombies, that of sleepwalkers and blindsight. These people, he insists, are in states "which obviously include a physical difference" from ordinary conscious states. Once again, that is not really relevant to the point of the example. We are talking about conceivability; the example is meant to bolster the plausibility of the claim that zombies are conceivable (to provide "evidence" for conceivability, in the only intelligible sense of Brown's demand for it), and if it does that, it has the effect it is intended to have. It is in no way intended to show that people in such states are in physically identical brain states to non-sleeping, non-brain-damaged individuals who might perform the same actions. To show that might be sufficient to prove the conceivability of zombies, but it is far from necessary. I don't think I need to belabor this any more.

I will have to skip over Brown's next few responses because I think they amount to sticking by the line that Kripkean semantics require us to not assume zombies are conceivable just because we think we can conceive them, and I have already responded to this in sufficient detail. So I move on to his response to what he calls my "stunning claim" that no theory of consciousness has even begun to offer a reductive program for phenomenal experience, such as color vision. Actually I was under the impression that no one would find this even interesting, much less "stunning", because it seems that even materialists have practically written off the effort, generally claiming that qualia are mere illusion and beneath the dignity of a physical theory to explain, while anti-materialists have been saying it consistently since Nagel (whose seminal article is almost entirely an exposition of this very point). So what is Brown's answer to my "stunning claim"? HOT! Yes, of all things, he points to David Rosenthal's (or someone's, in any case) "higher-order thought" theory of consciousness as a program for the physicalist reduction of phenomenal consciousness! Talk about stunning - I thought the very reason that HOT has not attracted many followers is precisely that it offers no hope of explaining phenomenal consciousness. But maybe Brown has been having private sessions with POMAL types who think otherwise.

So what is the response of HOT to my request for
"a program for explaining conscious experience, or even the function of consciousness, as an outcome of... biophysical research"? According to Rosenthal, at least, a conscious thought has a qualitative character because the HOT that accompanies it is in some quality-space. That not being very enlightening (even compared with the outright abandonment of attempts to deal with qualia in more hardnosed materialist theories like those of Churchland, Dennett, or Crick) Rosenthal goes on to explain why the HOT has the qualitative it has: it tracks the "similarities and difference" in perceptual space. That's it, the putative program in a nutshell. As for the function of consciousness, Rosenthal's view is that it doesn't really have one; we could get along quite well without it. (Apparently Rosenthal can conceive of zombies; indeed, one could interpret what he says about the function of consciousness to suggest that it is no more than an evolutionary accident that we are not zombies.) In spite of a great deal more verbiage (see Rosenthal's "Sensory Qualities, Consciousness and Perception" in his book, Consciousness and Mind) there is not a whole lot more to this response to what I said was missing.
As Brown characterizes the HOT view of why red objects appear red and not green,
"they do so because we are conscious of ourselves as seeing red not green. You may not like this answer but it certainly does what Alterman says we we don’t have a clue about doing."

Actually, it is not so match a matter of whether one likes the answer as whether one finds it to be an "answer" to anything. It seems to me that this is as far from materialist dreams of a perfect theory as one is going to get. In spite of Rosenthal's often expressed sympathy for materialist analyses of non-conscious thoughts, what he is doing is, broadly speaking, traditional philosophy of mind and language. He offers something like a conceptual analysis of conscious awareness, and gives a defense of it in terms of performance conditions and other standard POMAL ideas. Quite a distance from anything that is going on in the reductive programs that comprise the materialist discourse. I stand by my "stunning claim" - there ain't nothin' happening, in any branch of philosophy or cognitive science, that begins to shed light on how or why we experience reality largely as a succession of qualitative states.

Brown states that he never questioned that conceivability entails possibility, as I said he did in my response. But he presents the main line on which his paper is based, the Kripkean semantics of natural kinds, as being "the typical argument that conceivability doesn't entail possibility".
I grant that he never explicitly says that he agrees with this use of Kripkean semantics; he employs it in another way, to question whether zombies are conceivable. On the other hand, he never disputes the first use; indeed he says a number of things which suggest it, e.g., "it cannot be the case that intuitions about zombies are evidence for or against any theory of consciousness". I was reading this as implying that we could grant the possibility of zombies without the dualist gaining any ground. But I am happy to let Brown be the final arbiter of his own intentions, and leave that portion of my reply as a side-issue directed to those who use the Kripke line in the first way. (It does strike me as ironic that there would be two separate arguments against dualism based on a theory of Kripke's which he employs against materialism, but never mind. Since I don't agree with much that Kripke says about Wittgenstein I am not going to appeal to his authority in this case.)

Brown's next point is that Chalmers, contrary to me, is indeed
"claiming that there is a necessary link between our non-physical qualities and consciousness". I am not going to go through Chalmers' book to verify that this claim is never made, but it seems to me that the basis for Richard's statement is once again the Kripkean view that if "water" refers to H2O in this world, it does so in all worlds; so if "consciousness" refers to a non-physical property in this world, it does so in all worlds, and its non-physicality is therefore a necessary truth. There are various ways of responding to this. The simplest is to say that Chalmers' argument only leads to the point that it could be a necessary truth that consciousness is a non-physical property. Another is that Chalmers simply does not think that consciousness is a non-physical property in every possible world; he thinks that it is contingently non-physical in this world. A more technical response would involve Chalmers' two-dimensional semantics and the "primary" versus "secondary" intensions of natural kind terms, but I can tell from Brown's latest post that this is only going to lead to a brand new debate. I would rather just refer readers to parenthetical remark which constitutes the last paragraph of p.59 in Chapter 2 of The Conscious Mind, which to my mind offers an adequate reply to the basic premise of Richard's paper. (The reason it is adequate is because it spells out in the technical terms of two-dimensional semantics what I have been saying in more straightforward language throughout my comments: that it simply cannot be the case that we can't conceive of certain possibilities until someone has determined whether some empirical fact about the actual world is true.)

A not terribly important side-issue regarding Brown's view is whether it makes any sense to postulate beings that are similar to me with respect to "all non-physical qualities", or beings that are "completely physical" and are conscious. Suffice it to say that I cannot find a way to allow either of these examples without thinking that the answer to whether physicalism is correct is already built in to the description. Brown seems to think that that doesn't matter, because it is just parallel to what the zombie theorist does. But I think it is not parallel, because the zombie example makes no theoretical assumptions and simply depends on intuition, while Brown's claim that it is question-begging is theory-driven, and the theory is used in a counterintuitive way that most of the disputants do not agree with.

At the end of his remarks, Brown says that he can live with the limited goal I attribute to the zombie argument, that of establishing that there is no conceptual link between physics and consciousness. Hmmmm, I thought that that was what the whole debate was about. Chalmers himself believes that consciousness physically supervenes on brain states, and only argues that it is not the case in all logically possible worlds that this is so. In his book, he presents not only the zombie argument but four other arguments (none of which, I believe, are original, though the presentation is) to the same effect. Why should we be so concerned with this? I am concerned with it because I don't think reductive programs are the way to go. I think a lot will be found out about how consciousness is connected with the biological structures of the brain - 40 Hz waves or whatever - but if the relationship between any particular physical instantiation and consciousness is contingent, we will learn more about consciousness through other methods - perhaps what we might call traditional philosophical analysis, perhaps some of what goes by the name of clinical psychology, perhaps aesthetics. Consciousness, in my view if not in Chalmers', has been most usefully explored in the work of Kant, Wittgenstein, Husserl, James, Freud, Jung, Kohler, and other writers of that nature, as well as in literature of great merit from Homer to Joyce. The whole tradition of cognitive science is at this point nothing but a footnote to those insights at this point. In my opinion, it never will be much more than that as far as this question is concerned.


N. N. said...


Glad to see you've returned to the blogosphere.

While I agree that there isn't a conceptual link between physics and consciousness (and one hardly needs the 'zombie argument' to establish that), it seems to me (though I havn't really thought the matter through) that zombies (i.e., duplicates of "normal law-abiding citizens like you and me" that lack consciousness) are impossible to conceive. Take the conscious state of being in pain. Can we conceive of someone who occasionally behaves as if they are in pain (say, over the course of a lifetime) but never experiences pain (a sort of anti super Spartan)? I'm inclined to answer No. Pain behavior is the normal expression of pain. And our concept of being in pain includes those characteristic behaviors (e.g., wincing). So the claim that someone could act as if he were in pain but never experience pain is nonsense (cf. PI, §420).

Genius said...

I'm sure Richard will provide a much more worthy response but here are my thoughts.

First it seems there are a number of ways we can understand conceiving.

In one sense of conceiving of something means "my brain contains somthing that I designate to be the thing we are talking about" even if it is nothing like what others are conceiving.
But it seems odd to sue that sort of definition in an argument where it is supposed to do philosophical work like going from conceivability to possibility. One would expect such an argument to be using something at least a bit closer to "ideal conceivability"...

Now I am imagining an infinite square. I am imagining looking along one edge, I cant see the end of then imagining a sort of 'dot dot dot" then reaching a corner and going along another edge. Now I just called that imagining the infinite square - but am I? I know that I am employing a "cheap trick" (invented by people to force inconceivable to be conceivable).

I feel like I use a similar cheap trick (or cheap form of conceivability) if I imagined a zombie although I think I copy what the zombieophile does.

Second If you cant tell rules from evidence how can you tell evidence mediated by your senses? It seems like that approach tends towards skepticism.

It seems that in specific areas we just keep asking additional question and thus ensure the question remains unanswered. It is like me saying "so qualia are consciousness? - so what makes you this set of qualia? without that you haven't explained anything." the concern is that I may be able to add a similar question to any explanation of anything.

Finally If the argument doesn't disprove physicalism (as many of it's defenders accept) why does it end with "therefore physicalism is false"?

Tony Alterman said...

My auto-email of comments on this blog are still going to an old email address; I'll figure out how to change it eventually.

Some very interesting comments indeed. N.n., as Jerry Fodor once pointed out in a core POM course, that should be "super-Stoics", not Spartans! My feeling is that it is easy to imagine a super-Stoic, but not easy to make sense of it in evolutionary terms. The question, though, is whether we need to imagine the functional equivalence of the zombie in terms of exactly matching actions (e.g., grimaces, yelps, etc.) or just in terms of appropriate responses. Surely you can imagine a being that responds to pain by, say, withdrawing its hand from the fire rapidly. So if it doesn't have a shocked expression and say "ouch" does that mean it is not a physical duplicate, or not a zombie in the relevant sense for the argument? I think it is.

Or is your point that it cannot react properly if it doesn't have the experience? That gets into some subtleties about the limits of what constitutes experience. Of course something has to happen internal to the zombie to make it react. Plants react; conches react; worms react. Are we calling all that "experience"? If so them your point might go through. But it would be a bit tendentious. We are talking about experience that we can recognize as such. There are lots of sense-organs in nature. I doubt that they all give rise to what we would call conscious experience.

N. N. said...

"My feeling is that it is easy to imagine a super-Stoic."

Let super-Stoics be a race of people who are incapable of exhibiting pain behavior (say, from birth on), but occasionally say that they experience 'pain.' It's not clear that super-Stoics would mean the same as we do by the word 'pain.'

Suppose we stick an infant in the foot with a pin, and it doesn't cry out. We wouldn't say: Perhaps this child is feeling pain but isn't expressing it. Rather, we would conclude that the child didn't feel any pain. Similarly, if we smashed someone's toe with a hammer, and he didn't exhibit any pain behavior, we wouldn't think that he has a high tolerance for pain. We would conclude that he didn't have any feeling in his toe. And if he were to claim, without exhibiting any pain behavior, that the blow was painful, we wouldn't believe him.

Doesn't this show that our conept of pain involves certain behaviors, and therefore, that we would not say of a race of people who could not exhibit such behavior that they are ever 'in pain'? And if they used the word 'pain,' wouldn't their expression have to mean something different that our's?

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Anonymous said...

On the question-begging.

The problem comes with the idea that anything conceivable must be possible together with the idea, as Brown points out, that it is possible to be mistaken about the ability to conceive something (e.g. I think he is mistaken that he can conceive of a Shombie).

Can I conceive of a right triangle, in plane geometry, that violates the Pythagorean theorem? Well, I can conceive of the steps I would take to verify that a particular triangle conforms to the theorem, and I can imagine a set of numbers failing the final test, so it seems as though I could conceive of such a thing, but if I try to work out the details of such a conception, I fail.

That is, the argument that the conceivable is necessarily possible requires more than just a broad intuition about the conceivable. It requires either a detailed intuition about the conceivable, so that one has in mind something like a particular example that satisfies the criteria, or else it requires some kind of existence proof of such an example.

I am concerned that there isn't, in the Chalmers argument, a convincing enough example in mind to count as an intuitive concept of the kind that avoids begging the question--it is not enough to simply conceive of testing the attributes one by one and finding them satisfied.

And if you don't have such a specific example in mind, then either the "conceivable entails possible" implication fails or else your conception isn't strong enough to make it work without begging the question.

Note, I don't agree with the physicalist conclusion, I am just trying to work through Brown's argument.

I suspect that the Chalmers's argument might fail because the physical is actually an emergent property of awareness in such a way that the concept of a zombie is something like conceiving of a dream with no dreamer. The closest we can come may be a zoombie.

That is, the Chalmers argument appears to pose only dualism vs physicalism, and its premise may fail because the answer is idealism.

With respect to whether Brown can conceive of a Shombie, in the required way, I think it is necessary either that he beg the question or that he actually complete the model of brain states and define subjective consciousness to the extent that he has in mind a specific example that works. Otherwise, I think he is in the situation of my pretense that I can conceive of a right triangle that violates the Pythagorean theorem.

From Brown, it seems as though the Chalmers argument might be something like this:

1.Let's assume that matter exists.
2.Matter is, by definition, impersonal and divisible, and thus if matter exists then we can conceive of matter without consciousness.
3.However we know that consciousness exists.
4.A purely material simulation of a conscious human being certainly will be able to exhibit all of the material behaviors of consciousness, but as consciousness is not a behavior and is not inherent in matter, there is nothing in this simulation that necessarily entails consciousness.
5.Therefore this material simulation is conceivably not conscious.
6.Therefore physicalism is wrong.

I think that the question-begging happens in step 4.

N.N.'s comment about the Super-Stoic is very helpful here because we can sometimes be stoic, even if we are not Super-Stoic. So we can imagine having different responses to an identical feeling of pain. However, it is unlikely that we could voluntarily exhibit different physical responses without there being some difference in the brain state.

To me, the real question-begging is in the idea that there exists any conception of awareness in physicalism. I would like some evidence that a believer in physicalism is not, in fact, a zoombie. I don't think any exists.

That is, it is very hard for me to conceive that someone who actually had non-physical awareness, in the same sense that I have it, could possibly believe in physicalism, and thus the assertion that they do believe in physicalism is fairly strong (but not complete) evidence that they do not, in fact, have the same kind of awareness that I have.

I maintain that they are not zoombies, but this is a more of a moral imperative than a belief based on evidence. I feel a moral obligation to consider humans as, in a certain sense, equal and that sense involves my believing that Brown is mistaken when he says his conception of awareness is compatible with physicalism.

However, given my sense of awareness, this is a very large leap of faith.

Further, suppose that Brown's research on brain states is fruitful, and we learn exactly what it is that makes a person experience qualia. Suppose it turns out that, according to the model, person A experiences qualia ten times as intensely as B. Should A then get ten times as many votes as B gets in elections? What's the agenda?

It seems unlikely that any theory of qualia equating to brain states could possibly preserve any idea of human equality of the kind that I try to maintain in thinking Brown is mistaken about his own awareness.

I just can't help the sneaking suspicion that there is an agenda, not with Brown but with some, of using physicalism to create an objective theory of value, such that we can dispense with elections altogether and establish a benign tyranny.

I know that truth may be grim, and that it is wrong to believe in something simply because it is happier. Still, the idea of physicalism seems to go beyond mere error.

Soluman said...

Chalmers simply does not think that consciousness is a non-physical property in every possible world; he thinks that it is contingently non-physical in this world.

I think I agree with your overall argument, but I'm not sure that the section quoted above is right.

I take the word "physical" to mean "logically supervenient on microphysical facts", and on this definition it doesn't make sense to say that consciousness, or anything, could be contingently non-physical at a world.

Doesn't saying that consciousness is contingently non-physical at our world imply that there is another world in which it is contingently physical? I think that this might be exactly what richard's shombie argument is trying to convince us exists.


What I think you're doing is thinking about pain, not as a quale with which you are familiar, but in third-person terms. It may be right to say that without pain behavior, we don't know if a person is in (objective) pain. The problem is that it is not objective pain that we infer in others that is the issue, it is the quale of pain the we experience ourselves.

Since our idea of the quale of pain does not refer to our own behavior, there is no contradiction in imagining ourselves in pain without it altering our behavior. Likewise, we can imagine ourselves as perfect actors, pretending as though we were in pain, but not experiencing it.

If we can imagine ourselves as perfect actors, then perfect actors are conceivable. Since by assumption the behavior of perfect actors doesn't depend on their quale, then we can imagine zombies.

Prozac said...

Very interesting thoughts, and while I'm not sure I agree with everything, I am intrigued just the same. I think I'll read more.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Mohandas Prasad here,
Consciousness (as notion or entity or whatever) has so many problems: if consciousness is not conceived as separate from thought or perception
--if it is an integral part of each arising of thought or sense
and not separate from what arises---then there be no separate consciousness to be conscious of something separate from itself; there would be no consciousness-of- something. consciousness and the thing its conscious of would be the same thing---no separate entity consciousness at all.
By Ockham's razor then cut consciousness out as superfluous.
If however, consciousness is conceived as something separate from what arises to consciousness, it seems that we cannot know consciousness at all or even whether such a thing exists. Why? because if consciousness is separate from thought or whatever else arises to be present to consciousness, in other words there is consciousness and there is that which consciousness is conscious of, and those two are separate things--then the problem is that the idea or sense of there being a consciousness---must be content, must be what arises to consciousness but cannot be consciousness itself--since consciousness and content, that which arises, are separate. So how is it possible to say that there is such a thing as consciousness at all--since any depiction or sense of such a thing as consciousness must be separate from actual consciousness.
Another way to put it: if consciousness is that which sees
what arises--but is separate from what arises, then the whole idea, notion or sense of
a consciousness conscious of something separate from it-- is itself a content of consciousness--is what consciousness sees, and cannot be consciousness itself.
Seems that we must posit another consciousness that sees that there is a consciousness and its content.
And, then we need another consciousness to see that there is a consciousness that sees that there is a consciousness and its content---regression ad infinitum.
Seems better not to posit a separate thing --consciousness in the first place--rather posit only that stuff arises.
Let me see if I can put it another way: Suppose arises the statement "there is a thing directly apperceived--called consciousness-- that sees whatever arises but is separate from what arises" then this very notion or sense of consciousness cannot be
consciousness---is rather, in this conception, only the content of consciousness and not consciousness itself--and any such arising and notion or thing or sense or even a supposed direct apprehension or apperception of such a thing as consciousness must be merely the content of consciousness and not consciousness itself. Thus, we cannot know if there is or is not such a thing as consciousness, --since any such idea or representation --anything that arises--is content of consciousness and not consciousness itself---since consciousness must necessarily be separate from what arises.
Thus the whole notion of consciousness as a separate thing is contradictory. Better to drop it.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Mohandas again, one last short attempt to clarify:
If consciousness has no content--is apart from all content--then the very idea or notion or apperception or sense or feeling of a consciousness--must be content--must itself be apart from consciousness. Thus there is no way a notion, or idea or sense or supposed apperception of a consciousness can confirm or rule out that there is such a thing as consciousness--since a notion or apperception etc., in this scheme, cannot be consciousness itself. That consciousness exists therefore, is an assumption because in principle no evidence is possible. We cannot know consciousness itself nor even know that there is or is not such a thing as consciousness.