The philosopher’s zombie

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The philosopher’s zombie

Dan Falk

Quote:The infamous thought experiment, flawed as it is, does demonstrate one thing: physics alone can’t explain consciousness.

Quote:Physicalists who aren’t swayed by the zombie argument are left pondering the question we began with: how, in a purely physical world, do minds arise? In Until the End of Time, Greene – as ardent a physicalist as they come – writes that the existence of minds represents ‘a critical gap in the scientific narrative … We lack a conclusive account of how consciousness manifests a private world of sights and sounds and sensations.’

Quote:Spiders act – they seem to want things. They form plans, they hunt, they seem to like to eat things, and they avoid situations that are dangerous. Are they conscious?’

The question is even thornier when we get to octopuses, which have a far more distributed neural structure than mammals. Since we don’t know exactly what generates consciousness, we struggle to determine who or what has it. Insects, for example, ‘are way simpler than us’, says Seager. ‘But that’s not fair; just because they’re simpler doesn’t mean they’re unconscious. So we have a kind of real-world zombie issue when we think about where consciousness cuts out, or where it turns on.’ Parallel questions inevitably come up when considering human development. At conception, a human embryo ‘is definitely not conscious, and at birth it’s definitely conscious’, says Seager. ‘Somewhere in the middle, consciousness turns on. We don’t really understand how that works. Again, we don’t know what it is about the brain that generates consciousness. So we have these conundrums.’
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell

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