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Is the unconscious philosophical zombie possible?

The philosophical zombie is a hypothetical person whose behavior is indistinguishable from an ordinary person, but who lacks conscious experience. The zombie might say "the strawberry is red" but they would not experience the qualia of red, that is, the sensation of red. Some philosophers allege that the theoretical possibility of such a zombie undermines physicalism.

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Experts and Influencers

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Agree
Experts In Cognition


David Chalmers    Philosophy Professor
Mostly Agree
Why couldn’t there have been a universe that was particle for particle identical to ours, but in which there was no consciousness—it was just a world of zombies? Our world is not like that, but I don’t see any contradiction in that hypothesis, so the thought is, well, what was the extra thing that had to happen to get consciousness into our world instead of it being a world of zombies? And that’s a way of getting at the philosophical problem of consciousness.
08 Mar 2006    Source


Experts In Philosophy


John Searle    Philosophy Professor
Agree
It is possible in principle to build a machine that behaves exactly like a human being but has no consciousness or intentionality. No mental life at all. ... So the possibility in principle of a zombie that behaves just like a human being seems to me something that cannot be ruled out a priori. It is no doubt difficult and perhaps impossible in practice, but in theory it is easy to imagine such a machine.
15 Mar 2009    Source


Todd Moody    Philosophy Professor
Mostly Agree
My own view is that this radical incompleteness of natural science with respect to consciousness entails, at the minimum, an equally radical agnosticism about the ontology of minds and persons. ... We might, after all, be zombies.
01 Jan 1994    Source


Disagree
Experts In Cognition


Daniel Dennett    Philosophy Professor
Disagree
We are all susceptible to the Zombic Hunch, but if we are to credit it, we need a good argument, since the case has been made that it is a persistent cognitive illusion and nothing more. I have found no good arguments, and plenty of bad ones. [The intuition many philosophers have] is the effect of some serious misdirection that has bedeviled communication in cognitive science in recent years.
28 Nov 1999    Source



Eliezer Yudkowsky    Artificial Intelligence Researcher
Disagree
Why would anyone bite a bullet that large? Why would anyone postulate unconscious zombies who write papers about consciousness for exactly the same reason that our own genuinely conscious philosophers do? ... on a core level, the sane thing to do when you see the conclusion of the zombie argument, is to say "That can't possibly be right" and start looking for a flaw.
04 Apr 2008    Source


Experts In Science


Susan Blackmore    Psychology Lecturer, Former Parapsychologist
Disagree
If consciousness has a function - if it does something - then natural selection could get to work on it. Conscious creatures would have a selective advantage, and so would pass on their genes for being conscious. ... If you believe in the philosopher’s zombie, then you believe it is possible that we might have evolved the way we have, doing everything the way we do, but without any corresponding consciousness. But this is magic.
01 Oct 2001    Source



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0 Points      dionisos      22 Aug 2016      Stance on Question: Agree
It could seem strange to some, to imagine philosophical zombies talking about consciousness, the important thing to understand, is that they wouldn’t really be speaking about consciousness.
It is only us, seeing the thing with a external conscious view, that put concepts on the words they use.

Their brain would contain the exact same model of themselves that our brain, with the same self-referential structures, they would speak about consciousness (in the exact same way i did) because of these self-referential structures, but without any conscious understanding of it.

I am not speaking of consciousness because i have consciousness, i am speaking of consciousness because of the self-referential structures in my brain.
So, how am i able to speak differently of my consciousness and of my brain self-referential structures ?

I am NOT capable of it, i am only going one level up in the self-referential structures.

Without the self-referential structures, i would not be able to speak at all about consciousness, but it would not mean i am less conscious, i would still have a subjective reality, but i would not be able to understand that, because there would be no self-referential structure in this subjectivity.
When you correctly understand the first level : being conscious without any understanding of it, without any way to speak about it, you can understand the level up, when there is self-referential structures, which create a understanding in the subjective reality, but is still not equal to the self-referential structures.


0 Points      Lethe      29 Mar 2016      Stance on Question: Neutral
Regarding Susan Blackmore's position, "If you believe in the philosopher’s zombie, then you believe it is possible that we might have evolved the way we have, doing everything the way we do, but without any corresponding consciousness. But this is magic." Ms. Blackmore phrases this in 'all or nothing' terms. "We" might have evolved, etc. But what group comprises the 'we?' Could there not be more than one state of being - full consciousness being one, and the state of being what we are calling a philosopher's zombie being another? As individuals, we are locked into our 'selves.' As such, how can we determine what the experience of another is? Is it possible to have a singular, objective experience of 'red?' How do we determine whether the 'consciousness' one individual experiences is the same as that another individual experiences?


0 Points      MTC      23 Feb 2013      Stance on Question: Disagree
No, there is no difference between a philosophical zombie and a normal person.


0 Points      blacktrance      10 Feb 2011      Stance on Question: Disagree
"Consciousness" is only a concept created by humans. If something has the physical makeup of a conscious being, it is conscious.


1 Point      Anonymous      01 Feb 2011      Stance on Question: Mostly Disagree
"The question of whether a computer can think is no more interesting than the question of whether a submarine can swim."

We don't question the ability of machines, or even zombies, to swim, walk, throw, or spin webs. The only difference with "consciousness" is that it is a term we automatically infuse with 'humanness' - as essential to us as spinning webs is to spiders. Spiders wouldn't like it if machines could spin webs too, but that doesn't make it any less true if it is technologically possible. Fuller argument here: http://theswimmingsubmarine.blogspot.com/2011/01/about-swimming-submarine.html


0 Points      Billy Brown      05 Apr 2010      Stance on Question: Disagree
The zombie argument isn't just wrong, it's an incoherent muddle of confusion that can hardly be said to even mean anything. Searle doesn't seem to understand that once you've conceded that conscious experiences are themselves computations performed by the brain according to physical law, there isn't anything left to explain. Maybe once we can show exactly how the brain works these kinds of confusions will finally fade away.


0 Points      Benja      06 Apr 2010      General Comment
"conscious experiences are themselves computations performed by the brain"

Do you think a GLUT is conscious (a brain implemented as a Giant Lookup Table)?


0 Points      Anonymous      06 Apr 2010      General Comment
In the real world a brain can't be implemented by a giant lookup table. You can record some actual person's responses to various inputs in a lookup table, and in the abstract you can imagine recording their response to every possible input. But that's just a recording, and in any event it would be bigger than the physical universe long before it started to look even vaguely intelligent.




1 Point      Adam Atlas      05 Apr 2010      Stance on Question: Disagree
To me, the zombie argument has always appeared to be a crackpot position, a truly nonsensical idea, so it is befuddling to see some very smart people advocating it. (Of course, they are balanced by some even smarter people arguing against it.) The statements of Searle and Chalmers — "It is possible in principle to build a machine that behaves exactly like a human being but has no consciousness or intentionality"; "Why couldn't there have been a universe that was particle for particle identical to ours, but in which there was no consciousness … Our world is not like that, but I don’t see any contradiction in that hypothesis" — I'd characterize as insane. Searle seems to be confusing "imaginable" and "possible". And I have to wonder what makes Chalmers so sure that this isn't his zombie universe, if his description of it is meaningful. Zombie David Chalmers would also have said "Our world is not like that" for identical reasons, being particle-for-particle identical to Conscious Qualeful David Chalmers.

Occam's Razor doesn't just cut away the epiphenomenal definition of consciousness, it tears it into a billion tiny shreds. For Conscious Qualeful David Chalmers's conclusion about his own consciousness to be justified, and for that of Zombie David Chalmers to be unjustified, based on each of them observing the same things and using the same reasoning, would require us to allow that the very laws of reason might be different in the zombie universe.


1 Point      Adam Atlas      28 May 2010      General Comment
I wonder what odds David Chalmers would accept for a bet that this is not a zombie universe — if, say, Omega or God showed up and promised to settle the question after he and I agree on a bet. By his own definition, there is no way to detect the thing he calls "consciousness", no external implications, and no physical or cosmological reasoning that can tell us anything about how likely it is that this universe contains it, so if p-zombies are indeed possible and he follows his own reasoning to its logical conclusions, he should assign exactly 1:1 odds to the proposition that this is a zombie universe. It's his premise that there's no test that can raise or lower that probability.

Of course, in his writings, he is much more confident that this universe does contain consciousness (while freely admitting, bafflingly, that his zombie counterpart would be just as confident of the same). But I have to wonder if he'd pay more attention to the implications of his premises if he had to stake money on it. Or, perhaps, if he had to stake his career on it — if Omega or God whispered to him "Hey David, 10 years from now I'm going to tell everyone whether this is a zombie universe once and for all, and I'm also in the other universe telling your zombie or non-zombie counterpart the same thing", would he start to hedge his bets? Would he stop writing about his silly deluded zombie twin, and start writing about how we can never know whether this is a zombie universe, since any reasoning we use here would work just as well there?


0 Points      Jonesy      22 Mar 2011      General Comment
Well don't we know we are conscious by introspection? Surely that settles the matter for each of us personally.
The point is that if physicalism is right, our observable behaviours are fully explained in terms of the physical wiring. If that's true, then we don't need conciousness to explain anything, as our chemicals and atoms can take care of things. And if that's true, then a zombie world can be imagined.
So the point is this: if we don't much like the (idea of) the zombie world, then if the logic is correct, we don't much like the idea of physicalism. Which is the whole point of the zombie arguememt - a challenge to physicalism.


0 Points      Benja      22 Mar 2011      General Comment
"...our observable behaviours are fully explained in terms of the physical wiring. If that's true, then we don't need conciousness to explain anything, as our chemicals and atoms can take care of things."

That's like saying the observable behavior of a computer can be fully explained in terms of its physical wiring, so we don't need software to explain anything, as the transistors can take care of things.


0 Points      Jonesy      06 Apr 2011      General Comment
Not sure what you intend to conclude from this observation. However, software instructs the hardware what to do. I do not think that physicalism as a philosopy of mind holds that consciousness has prior causality over physical mental states. That seems to imply independent existence of soul or spirit and leads to mysticism. And isn't it Physicalism as a philosophy of mind that this is all about?


0 Points      Benja      06 Apr 2011      General Comment
"software instructs the hardware what to do"

Does your mind/consciousness instruct your brain what to do?


0 Points      Jonesy      07 Apr 2011      General Comment
Hiya Benja,

I think the position of Physicalism is No.






0 Points      Benja      28 May 2010      General Comment
I think Chalmers would in fact bet against the existence of zombies. I think he uses the zombie argument as a litmus test of a good theory of consciousness - i.e. a good theory needs to explain why zombies intuitively seem possible. Currently we don't have such a theory, even though we can, via other lines of reasoning, infer that zombies are extremely unlikely.



1 Point      Benja      05 Apr 2010      General Comment
The zombie argument, on the one hand, wants to say there's this incredibly central feature of who we are called consciousness, but on the other hand, wants to say that this same feature is not an integral part of our behavior. As a hypothesis it seems unlikely. As a thought experiment it seems a great way to highlight a flaw in our intuition.



1 Point      JGWeissman      06 Mar 2010      Stance on Question: Disagree
The possibility of physical zombies requires that consciousness does not affect physical systems, yet physical systems accurately describe consciousness when we talk about it. Where did that improbability come from?