Beating an Undead Horse

Ok, Ok, I know everyone has moved on from discussing the zombie argument, and I should be grading papers, but I just can’t resist…

In an earlier post I suggested the idea of a non-physical, or reverse-zombie. A reverse-zombie is a creature who is identical to me in all non-physical ways and which lacks conscious experience. Since reverse-zombies are conceivable Dualism is false. This is the zombie argument against dualism.

Imagine a world, W, where there are creatures that have both physical and non-physical properties. Now suppose that God decided to abolish the physical components of this world along with all physical properties. The resulting world would be a world just like W except minus the physical. It is conceivable that the non-physical creatures in W lack phenomenal consciousness. If W had been actual then ‘there are reverse-zombies’ would have been true, so this is a real possibility and therefore dualism is false.

RC objects to this argument and says that we need to ‘build up’ a non-physical description of this world rather than ‘subtract out’ the physical aspects. I disagree, but for the sake of argument let’s agree. So, to adapt a way that Kripke puts the argument. Let’s imagine God making a non-physical world where there are non-physical minds and nothing physical at all, let us specify this world (call it W’) in some non-controvesial non-physical terms and let us call this specificaltion NP. Then the zombie argument against dualism can be stated in exactly the way that Chalmers’ states his argument (where ‘Q’ is there are qualia, or phenomenally conscious experience).

1. NP and ~Q is conceivable

2. If (NP & ~ Q) is conceivable, then (NP & ~ Q) is possible 

3. If (NP & ~Q) is possible then Dualism is false

4. Therefore  Dualism is false 

The trick, of course, is getting (1). How is it conceivable that NP & ~ Q is conceivable? Well, it’s easy. Perhaps the non-physical minds are capable of doing math and logic but they never have pains or itches and tickles. In fact something like this is very likely what Descartes had in mind when he imagined non-physical minds existing seperately from the physical world. So, just like RC and company, I claim that phenomenal consciousness does not follow from a complete non-physical description of the world, and because of that dualism is false.

14 thoughts on “Beating an Undead Horse

  1. Your argument shows that Q(ualia) are not reducible to the particular non-physical properties you built into NP (math + logical reasoning). But since nobody ever suggested the contrary, this is not a very interesting argument.

    It certainly doesn’t show that dualism is false, because your ‘NP’ is not an undisputed complete non-physical description of the world. Dualists will complain: you left out the qualia!

    You might get a better grasp of the argument if you scrapped the terms ‘physical’ and ‘non-physical’ altogether. The original zombie argument shows that qualia are ontologically basic, or at least not reducible to the arrangement of atoms and such. Your parody argument shows, similarly, that qualia are ontologically basic, or at least not reducible to computational capabilities. A dualist can endorse all this quite happily.

  2. Hi Richard, thanks for the response.

    You say “Your argument shows that Q(ualia) are not reducible to the particular non-physical properties you built into NP (math + logical reasoning).”

    No, what it shows is that there can be a non-physical duplicate of me that lacks qualia. That is interesting.

    “It certainly doesn’t show that dualism is false, because your ‘NP’ is not an undisputed complete non-physical description of the world. Dualists will complain: you left out the qualia!”

    But that’s just the point! They can’t make that complaint; or at least if they can, then so can the materialist. The materialist claims that once you specify P (the complete physical description of the world) you have already said all that you need to about qualia. If your dualist response is a good response to my reverse-zombie argument, then my materialist response is a good response to your zombie argument…

  3. No, you’ve missed the point. The materialist and dualist both agree on the specification of P (completed microphysics). We merely disagree about whether P entails qualia, the same way it entails tables.

    By contrast, we do not have any shared specification NP. The dualist thinks that qualia need to be explicitly built into the non-physical description NP (they don’t think qualia is reducible to any other non-physical stuff). The physicalist, by contrast, cannot make this move. If they acknowledge that qualia is not reducible to other physical stuff, and must instead be taken as ontologically primitive, then the dualist wins.

  4. Can one view the Qualia proposal as simply materialism plus?

    Materialists (or at least most of them) after all don’t think they are ‘not conscious’ in the materialist sense or are ‘worthless’ like zombies are supposed to be. Would not arguing that their P is the dualist’s P imply that they would hold those sorts of views?

    I would think that their position is just that that consciousness completely obeys natural laws in which case materialism could be seem as ‘dualism plus’.

    In that sense the dualist proposes the materialist world minus some laws that would otherwise bind consciousness. and the materialist continues adding rules and connections to the dualist world until it fully obeys all the normal rules.

    for example Richard C’s view might be materialist view minus any sort of law or information flow from Qualia.

    I know the dualist might argue ‘our experience is too rich to explain by science” but since the experience is our no 1 piece of evidence surely that says more about our evaluation of science?

  5. Richard C.

    I am sure this is going to come as a huge shock to you, but it’s you who’ve missed the point!

    The materialist and the dualists do NOT agree on P…if they did then the discussion would be over. So you distort the issue by putting it in terms of entailment. Believe it or not, there are those who think that a completed microphysics would not entail that there are tables. But this does not mean that they think that tables are non-physical. What it means is that they think there is a level difference or some such. The classic example of this is Davidson’s Anomolous Monism. The physical facts do not entail the mental facts, but nonetheless the mental and the physical are identical. I do not mean to say that I endorse AM, only that putting the issue in terms of entailment begs the question against people who have views like that. The real issue is whether a completed microphysics would give us a complete ontology. The physicalist says ‘yes’ the dualists ‘no’. The dualist is thus begging the question because they BEGIN their argument with the assumption that mental phenomena are non-physical.

    You admit as much when you say “The dualist thinks that qualia need to be explicitly built into the non-physical description NP”; of course they do! That’s because they are assuming that qualia are non-physical, but that is just precisely what is at issue!!!

    What we need is some evidence that mental phenomena are not (just) physical phenomena and we do not have any. In fact we have evidence to the contraray. In particular We have yet to find ourselves in need of appealing to non-physical entities in ANY scientific explanation. Each time we posit such non-physical entities we inevitably discover some new physical fact that gives us a complete explanation. You claim that we have not done so in the case of qualia. Perhaps that is true (It doesn’t seem that way to me. In fact that is one of the reasons that I so like the higher-order theory of consciousness…viz, it allows us to explain why it would be lkike something for me to have a conscious pain. It is becaue I am conscious of myself as being in pain, and it is not a mystery (or as much of one) how I could be conscious OF myself in such a way. And since my being conscious OF myself as being in pain results in it seeming to me that I am in pain it is no mystery why it would be like being in pain for me; that is how it seems to me.), perhaps it isn’t. Either way, the point is that the zombie argument isn’t evidence for anything. Rather what it does is to make a certain inuitiuon particularly vivid. It is an intuition pump not an argument (as an argument it begs the question, so perhaps I should say it is a bad argument, but a good intuition pump).

    Hi GNZ, thanks for the comment!

    That is an interesting proposal, but for the reasons I gave above I don’t think it is correct. So, I do not think that the physicalists is simply one who thinks that consciousness obeys all the laws of physics. If they did think this, then yes the physicalist and the dualist would be on the same team. But as I say, I think the real issue here is an ontological issue, not a nomological one. But perhaps I missed your point? I seem to be doing that lalely 🙂

  6. No, “whether qualia are non-physical” risks degrading into a terminological question, not the core issue at stake. The substantive question is whether qualia are irreducible. The conceivability argument works to show that qualia are not reducible to any P (nor NP) which does not explicitly build in qualia. But the NP-based argument is no argument against dualism, because dualists never claimed that qualia were reducible to some OTHER non-physical stuff (whatever you build into NP). Physicalists, on the other hand, do claim that qualia are reducible to some other physical stuff P. So we can run the argument with whatever specification P they propose. You cannot run the argument with whatever specification NP the dualist proposes. That’s the difference.

    So, there’s a deep asymmetry between the positions which explains why your NP-zombie argument is only superficially analogous to the original zombie argument, and it is not the case that the same responses can be made to each. You get misled by focusing on superficial words like ‘physical’ and ‘non-physical’ rather than the deeper issue of ontological reducibility. (There’s clearly *some* sense in which tables are reducible to atoms and such; the question is whether qualia are just like that.) But I’m just repeating myself now, so if you still don’t see it, there’s probably no point in me commenting again.

  7. the question is ‘what are qualia’ – well we have a nice common definition (even though it may be hard to put in words) and what traits does it have? – well it is the carrier of value and perspective.

    A materialist could claim that we have no value no perspective and don’t get a feeling of ‘red’ but I would have thought that would be a pretty narrow subset of materialists. So then in contrast to Richard C’s initial point that we agree on P I agree somewhat with his recent point that the difference must be about ‘that it is reducible’ presumably to a set of logic that it is not somehow specially isolated from the other natural laws (ie laws of the universe don apply to qualia – maybe that needs some explaining but no time now).

    Otherwise the only thing they deny is the lack of physical laws binding the two.
    The Important thing here is that once all the same laws bind qualia with the physical world, using a separate word becomes redundant.

  8. So a materialist says ‘qualia are defined as what give me the experience I have, give me value etc (a redundant term possibly but still valid enough)’
    and an idealy informed materialist says ‘Qualia are pattern X – pattern X is entirely continuous with the rest of the universe – it obeys just the same rules as other pattern from electrons to planets.’
    Those laws of course include things like entropy and energy and time and space. It is of interest that these laws don’t need to be reducible to each other its a very optimistic reductionist who suggests there is only 1 law to the universe.

    The ideally informed dualist (maybe that is actualy a misleading term the way i hear it used by people like Richard C?) then says,
    ‘Qualia are not continuous with the rest of the universe – they involve a unique set of laws that are different in type from those of the normal universe and special exemptions to the common laws of hte universe – some sort of clean break
    and happen to carry all those things the imaginary materialist accepted were qualia.

  9. Hi GNZ,

    You are right to cast the issue in terms of the kinds of laws, but remember that these laws are taken to govern different things. The materialist takes those laws to be governing regular physical stuff and nothing else, the dualists takes the special laws to be giverning non-physical qualitative properties and thir relation to physical stuff. The issue is really about what kind of stuff there is in the world, and that is not a question of reduction (unless it is theoretical reduction, as I argue here

  10. I was suggesting that a materialist might accept the qualitative traits (at a certain level) and accept the laws as long as those laws were fully integrated with science (i.e. it would just be like discovering a new theory). I.e. for him it pivots on how the laws relate to each other. Maybe your would suggest that that is wrong if there does happen to be a law one could think of as being a ‘consciousness law’?

    Also I tend to see ‘stuff’ as a manifestation of laws which i gues is another potential debate area.

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