Zombie Theory Essay

“Do Zombies show that the mind cannot be physical? ” To say that the mind is physical would be to reduce the mind and all it includes down to its physical properties. The mind, in this sense, would be the brain, as this scenario presents the mind and brain as one in the same. However, with the introduction of the so-called “Zombie Theory” comes the inevitable question of what it shows. I believe that by their very premise the hypothetical existence of Zombies in the philosophical sense very much shows that the mind cannot be physical.

In saying that, there are some very good arguments for the presence of Zombies whilst still maintaining a physicalists’ stance. Such arguments state that a Zombie world could be possible, but there are properties that “block” consciousness from occurring there. Assuming that this argument has no solid footing, the physicalist could go on to argue the remaining two necessities; metaphysical and logical. My aim is thus to argue against these claims and for the belief that the presence of philosophical Zombies does show that the mind cannot be physical

Physicalism of the mind refers to the idea that the mind is nothing more or less than it’s physical properties. One could argue under this stance that the mind is nothing more (or less) than the brain. To reduce the mind or mental state of a human being down to it’s physical properties (that is, the brain itself), you are saying that they are indistinguishable from each other. You could extend this to say that they could not exist without the other, and by doing so make an argument against life-afterdeath.

For example, since the brain is in direct control of our thinking, when the brain is damaged in some way (say, during surgery), our ability to think is directly altered. In the same scenario, if the brain were to cease functioning completely, the mind too would die, and the bodies’ ability to think or have consciousness would be stopped. Zombies are the un-dead thought experiment of Philosophy (Sturgeon 2000). They are beings that are behaviourally indistinguishable from humans, but are not conscious at all.

Philosophical zombies would show characteristics and external behaviours that are completely natural for human beings, but have no ability or have a stream of consciousness thought, or indeed any consciousness. The inside of their brain is dark, empty, a void, you could say. In other words, one of your best friends could potentially be a philosophical zombie and you would have no idea because all you see of them is their external behaviour. You cannot look inside your friend’s head and see signs of consciousness or thought.

The world simply does not work like that. In terms of philosophy, zombies are useful for several reasons. Flanagan and Polger (1995) have argued that zombies raise questions regarding the function of consciousness, while Chalmers (1996) says that they can be used to illustrate the “hard” problem of consciousness, whilst also providing an argument against materialism. It is not to say that philosophical zombies do exist in the real world, however they are, to some degree, logically possible.

The existence of zombies supposedly threatens physicalism as, by their very existence, they are combining the presence of phenomenal features (body, mind/brain) with absence of nonphenomenal ones (consciousness). By reducing the mind or mental state of a person down to the physical state of the brain, physicalism suggests that once the brain ceases function, so does the mental state (and vice versa). However, zombies are physical beings, functioning as a physical being in every way except their mental state. This is a threatening scenario for a physicalist, as it outwardly challenges the notion they put forward.

By their very premise, the Zombie argument shows that the mind cannot be physical, as it threatens the argument upon which this premise stands on. As stated above, Zombies combine the presence of physical phenomenal features with the absence of non-phenomenal ones ie. Consciousness. This threatens the physicalist perspective as it suggests that not only can physical beings exist and function without a conscious mental state, but that the mind cannot be reduced to it’s physical properties. It is not universally agreed upon that zombies are impossible in terms of physicalism.

It is possible that physicalists are able to acknowledge that the possibility of a Zombie world – that is, a world identical to ours in purely physical respects – are possible, but there are properties that “block” consciousness from occurring in these worlds (Chalmers 2010, 163 – 165). In this case, physicalists are able to agree that the possibility of these zombie worlds is indeed possible (Lauenberger 2008). I find fault in this approach to the subject matter, however, as in the scenario as it is not consistent with the physicalist view that conscious or mental states are identical to that of ones physical state.

If physicalists are to present the idea of a “consciousness blocker” it needs to be in a way that is consist in regards to the rest of their beliefs. Nevertheless, I raise the question of impossibility. Physicalists are not able to merely ascertain that zombies are impossible due to the laws of nature due to the stance of dualists that the physical facts that bring consciousness are brought by nomonological necessity. That is, the physical facts that bring consciousness are neither logically necessary nor theoretically explicable, but just are.

As such, physicalists need something more tangible in order to maintain their stance. This leaves two kinds of necessity remaining: metaphysical and logical. The connection from physical facts to consciousness is believed to be illogical, and the conceptual structure of physics does not appear to enable logical links between the physical and the phenomenal (Kriegel 2011; Stoljar 2006). Zombies are not really conceivable (Kirk 2013, Tye 2006). Kirk also states that although the physical facts do not require the truths about conscious experience a priori, they do require them by logical necessity.

Physicalists maintain that metaphysical necessity ensure the impossibility of the zombie theory, maintaining that states of phenominal consciousness are identical with physical states. This is a typical stance on the subject and is argued by Kripke who states that these identities are necessary. If the physical facts demand consciousness by metaphysical necessity, it is possible for physicalists to maintain that despite being impossible, philosophical Zombies are conceivable (Balog 2012; Sturgeon 2000). Conversely, Chalmers argues that conceivability entails metaphysical possibility.

This would mean a popular brand of physicalism is mistaken and the so-called “conceivability argument” for the Zombie theory will provide a focus for raising and discussing the main problems of the idea. The Zombie argument leaves little leeway for the physicalist to argue that the mind is physical. As stated, the philosophical Zombie behaviourally indistinguishable from humans, but have no consciousness. Physicalism of the mind refers to the idea that the mind is nothing more or less than it’s physical properties.

Logically the two are unable to work together, however some physicalists claim they are able to. They thus present the idea of “thought blockers” however I find that this is inconsistent with the physicalists’ general stance. As there are no logical links between the physical and phenomenal, that leaves the metaphysical necessity as the physicalists argument that ensures that the conceivability of the Zombie theory is not possible. This stance would, however, entail the physicalist to concede that they cannot stand both with their physicalist beliefs whilst also maintaining that Zombies are possible.

This is due to the fact that the two are not compatible as the presence of Zombies show that the mind cannot be physical. Now, supposing that the Zombie theory is indeed correct, what does this mean for the philosophical study of the mind? We can look at it as so: if it is correct, we would have to rethink how we look at the mind, and if consciousness as fundamental property is humanity is correct then we might also have to rethink universal structure. Either way, the Zombie theory is an interesting addition to philosophical thought, and provides a different way of looking at the human mind.