Philosophers vs. Zombies Akademia with Adam


Every now and again, philosophers like to get together to create and destroy zombies.

Sadly, but inevitably, this is not nearly as cool as it sounds, though the ramifications can still be spooky. Philosophy zombies are devices often used in thought experiments to illustrate that the mind cannot be understood through biology alone.

The question of consciousness is one of the largest unresolved problems within philosophical circles. Consciousness can be described as the ability to have and interpret first-person experiences.

The troubling question is whether such a process is physical in nature (physicalism), or if there are higher processes that we do not understand.

Philosophers who oppose physicalism often utilize thought experiments to make their point. Such experiments revolve around the concept of “philosophy zombies.”

The most common version of such experiments runs as follows; imagine you were to have a being that looks and behaves exactly like a human.

It has a job and a car, it eats food and drinks water, if you strike it with a bat or a pumpkin it will recoil in pain.

But despite the illusion of experience, these “zombies” do not actually experience anything.

When the zombie is hit, for example, it only does what one would expect a human to do; it doesn’t truly experience the interaction or react based on said experience. It would not be conscious, yet no one would be able to discern that fact.

If such creatures could (emphasis on could) exist, then a purely physical approach to consciousness becomes untenable.

Indeed, proponents of the idea state that the concept alone of the possibility of zombies is sufficient evidence to demonstrate the faultiness of physicalism.

The contention from physicalists is simply that such creatures could not exist, even within the hypothetical bounds of a thought experiment. For any so-called zombie that maintained all the features of consciousness must simply be conscious. This is often where the dialogue between camps breaks down, as such debates return us to square one: the issue of physicality.

We are, therefore, left to wonder not if such zombies could exist but rather what implications they have on our perception of the world and ourselves.