Why Zombies Don't Exist

Imagine a being that is exactly like you in every physical respect, down to the very atoms. This being walks and talks just like you and is behaviorally indistinguishable. Now imagine that this being doesn’t have any conscious sensations. You might prick this being on the arm and he/she might respond with a loud “ouch!” but they didn’t actually feel anything.

Do you think you have this being in your imagination? If so, according to David Chalmers, you have just proved physicalism- the idea that your mind, like everything else in the universe, is ultimately physical – false. How did you accomplish such a remarkable philosophical feat? Because you imagined a world that was physically identical to ours yet differed in one crucial respect: the beings on this zombie-world don’t have any conscious sensations, or raw-feeling. There are “additional facts” to the physical: experiences, sensations, etc. It is only necessary that this zombie-world is logically possible i.e. conceivable in order to prove physicalism false.

But before you get excited that your conceptual powers have defeated a long-standing philosophical position, I want to ask you some questions. Did you really imagine such a world? How would you prove to me that you, in fact, imagined such a world? Say you were David Chalmers, a philosopher, and wanted to show the world that you had in fact conceived a zombie-world and therefore shown physicalism to be wrong. How would you do this? You might engage in a variety of different behaviors such as flat out telling people verbally or writing long philosophical articles extolling in great detail how you in fact conceived of a zombie-world.

The key point here is that it is only through behavior that one could show that you have in fact conceived of a zombie-world. This is crucial because the zombie-world argument rests upon the idea that it isn’t physical actions that matter, it is the conscious sensations that go along with the behavior that matters, at least for the argument’s sake. The argument for additional facts only works if it is indeed possible to conceive of a world physically identical to ours yet differing in a very important way. But, how would you show to another person that you had indeed conceived of such an argument if not through physical behavior? Conceiving the conception of zombie-world is not quite the same as conceiving zombie-world itself.

Allow me to summarize: If the only possible way to show that you have actually conceived of the zombie-world is through actions, namely the writing of sophisticated philosophical arguments and verbal behavior, then doesn’t that undermine the purpose of such arguments in the first place?

Imagine you were having a conversation with a zombie-version of yourself. Do you think you would be convinced that he was indeed a zombie if his only argument was “But, I swear to Zeus that I have indeed conceived of zombie-world!You have to believe me!” Would you not be extremely skeptical of such arguments?



Filed under Philosophy

2 responses to “Why Zombies Don't Exist

  1. Udef?

    Well, that proved nothing at all. I think scientific evidence on why zombies don’t/couldn’t exist would have been much better. There is proof they could.

  2. Tyle Stelzig

    You seem to be confusing epistemology with metaphysics. Just because you couldn’t *know* that someone is a zombie doesn’t change the fact that it’s *conceivable* that they are.

    On the other hand, you’re certainly right that conceivability isn’t enough to prove physicalism false. While it seems very plausible (to me) that there are no hidden *conceptual* inconsistencies in the idea of a zombie, it’s quite possible that there are hidden *physical* inconsistencies. That is, there could be laws of nature to the effect that beings physically identical to me (or, presumably, to you) have to be conscious. If this is so, then the physical facts don’t underdetermine the phenomenological facts.

    However, conceivability IS enough to show that there’s an EXPLANATORY hole to be filled. While Chalmers eventually does turn to some weird form of property dualism, which I agree with you is unwarranted, he does have a good point here with the “explanatory gap”, and I think the logical possibility of zombies is a good way of illustrating this gap.

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