Zombies Support Physicalism
All right, all you philosophy of mind buffs. Here's my twist on the old zombie problem.
Originally, the zombie problem was supposed to show that physicalism is false. The idea is basically this: If it is possible that a zombie, a creature that is physically indistinguishable from a human, but which is not actually conscious, could exist, then there is something that is non-physical which constitutes actual consciousness. Therefore physicalism is false.
I've always thought this a silly argument, in that it confuses what is possible in the imagination with what is actually possible in reality. Yes, I can imagine a zombie. No, I don't think such a zombie is *actually* possible. In much the same way I can imagine a god who created the universe, but don't think such a god actually exists.
So, right off the bat, the zombie argument looks like it fails to disprove physicalism.
But I'd like to make a quick argument to show that zombies would actually *support* physicalism. And I hope you all try to tear it apart and find holes in my argument.
Here goes: The gist of the argument is that if zombies are possible, how do you know you yourself are not a zombie? In fact, if zombies are possible, then it is possible that all so-called 'conscious' beings, yourself included, are actually zombies who only *believe* they are conscious. In other words, the intuition that consciousness is non-physical is just a flawed zombie idea, and really we are completely physical beings who have a physical/zombie simulated experience which we call 'consciousness', and merely imagine that this consciousness is non-physical.
Thus, if zombies are possible, that lends credence to the idea that physicalism is true, and we are all zombies, and 'consciousness' is actually a physical thing.
The argument rests upon the key point that zombies are *physically indistinguishable* from real conscious humans. That means:
- All zombies believe they are conscious, i.e. that they have 'conscious experiences'.
- There is no possible test/question you could ask a subject to determine if that subject is a zombie or a real conscious person.
- If you ask a zombie, "Do you have conscious experiences?" The zombie will answer "Yes, of course," just like a person would.
- Zombies, therefore, must have an analogue of 'conscious experience' in their brains which they use to reference their 'consciousness' during such conversations/tests/questions. (I.e. when a zombie talks of experiencing the colour Red, there must be a physical representation of 'Red' and 'the experience of Red' in the brain to which the zombie is referring.)
- Therefore, this physical analogue of 'conscious experience' in the zombie brain, must *also* be present in a real human's brain, because zombies and humans are physically indistinguishable.
- Therefore, it is possible that you yourself are a zombie who is absolutely convinced you are actually a real conscious human.
- Instead of a non-physical consciousness, you would have a physical analogue of consciousness in your brain.
- If you did *not* have this analogue of consciousness in your brain (i.e. if consciousness is in fact non-physical), then there would be a physical difference between you and a zombie, and the premise that zombies are possible would be contradicted.
- In other words, if zombies are possible, then this *subtracts* support from dualism/non-physicalism.
So, either way you look at it, if zombies are possible, then this both supports physicalism and detracts from non-physicalism. Furthermore, we are probably all zombies, and we probably all have physical analogues of our imagined non-physical consciousness in our brains. The intuition that consciousness is non-physical is an error. The 'analogues' are actually what consciousness *is*. We only imagine that consciousness is something other than these physical 'analogues'.
So, it seems to me that the zombie problem backfires, and it's actually a problem for the opponents of physicalism. Either zombies are *not* possible, and dualism is true, or zombies *are* possible, and physicalism is probably true. Positing zombies does nothing good for opponents of physicalism.
It is still theoretically possible that there is this mysterious thing called 'consciousness' which is non-physical. But according to the zombie premise, this non-physical consciousness would not actually do anything at all, since all of its function would be performed by the physical analogue of consciousness in the brain (that both zombies and people both have). When a real conscious person talks of experiencing the colour Red, there is also a physical representation of 'Red' and 'the experience of Red' in the person's brain, and the non-physical consciousness is left with no explanatory work to do.
Thus, by Occam's Razor, physicalism is more justified, if zombies are possible.