As a former musician, I’ve played in and heard quite a few concerts that could only be described as nights of the living dead. Most musical people have had this happen. I’ve been searching for something more on undead in music ever since, but it looks like the current fascination with Zombies has taken other turns.
But I still don’t have an answer to the social question of just what is it with Zombies lately? And I don’t mean the LA Philharmonic. I’m wondering why all the pop culture Zombies, not to mention their appearance in otherwise serious philosophy and psychology?
Not this guy, exactly. But from reports of his female students, close enough.
No, as I mentioned in the last post, I had my curiosity piqued the other day when I came across a survey of philosophers and students of philosophy on attitudes toward some of the basic, perennial questions. This was done by philpapers, a site for “online research in philosophy,” as it’s titled. The homepage of the survey is here.
In any event, the following question appeared at the end of the survey:
Zombies: inconceivable, conceivable but not metaphysically possible, or metaphysically possible?
- Accept or lean toward: conceivable but not metaphysically possible 331 / 931 (35.5%)
- Other 234 / 931 (25.1%)
- Accept or lean toward: metaphysically possible 217 / 931 (23.3%)
- Accept or lean toward: inconceivable 149 / 931 (16%)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
This is a question in a respectable academic survey?
It seems so.
Zombies are exactly like us in all physical respects but have no conscious experiences: by definition there is ‘nothing it is like’ to be a zombie. Yet zombies behave like us, and some even spend a lot of time discussing consciousness. This disconcerting fantasy helps to make the problem of phenomenal consciousness vivid, especially as a problem for physicalism.
Few people think zombies actually exist. But many hold they are at least conceivable, and some that they are ‘logically’ or ‘metaphysically’ possible. It is argued that if zombies are so much as a bare possibility, then physicalism is false and some kind of dualism must be accepted. For many philosophers that is the chief importance of the zombie idea. But the idea is also of interest for its presuppositions about the nature of consciousness and how the physical and the phenomenal are related. Use of the zombie idea against physicalism also raises more general questions about relations between imaginability, conceivability, and possibility. Finally, zombies raise epistemological difficulties: they reinstate the ‘other minds’ problem.
Wow. I had no idea. It looks like philosophy of the mind has made something of a comeback, modern philosophers having realized that devising logical ways to stop the asking of hard questions, or proving in a really deep way that 1+1=2 are at a dead end, so to speak. Neither Ludwig Wittgenstein nor Lord Russell have been seen wandering in from the graveyard lately, but at least Wittgenstein had a bit of practice looking the part before he actually took up residence there.
Sartre, despite his philosophical and literary protestations, was, from all reports, a fairly good candidate for undead status himself. He seems to have been more concerned with the effects than the cause of consciousness and/or mind. And I’m not going to say anything about his personal life, which, if I did, would be the biggest clue about his having fooled everybody into thinking he was alive. Further, as a matter of taste, I much prefer Zombies to rocks if we have to pick models for nobody being home.
The question remains, however, not when or if philosophers became Zombies, but when did Zombies become philosophical? It seems their earliest mention in the literature was in Robert Kirk’s “Zombies vs. Materialists” in Mind in 1974. It figures. It was the 70’s. After that, philosophers began to use the example of Zombies in the 90’s, and there have been dozens of papers since, not to mention things like a Symposium on “Conversations with zombies” in 1995.
One of the leading lights of current philosophical Zombiedom is David Chalmers, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the Australian National University. He’s a charming guy and a terrific writer. He has written the best general introduction to philosophical Zombies on the web. He also provides plenty of links, although many are getting tattered lately. One of the best is this amusing summary of Zombie-based papers back in the ’90’s.
I could go on, quoting and rehearsing various positions taken and conclusions reached, but I think the best introduction to philosophical Zombies is the following cartoon, which pretty much lays it out, and saves me the trouble of writing any more about modern philosophers, not to mention dusty old types such as Descartes and the Buddha, who were known to have a few things to say about this, tedious as they can be when read online.