Announcing Consciousness Online

Call for Papers:

Consciousness Online: The First Cyber Consciousness Conference

February 20-27, 2009

Please post and distribute widely; appologies for cross-posting

Following the success of the On-Line Philosophy Conference I am pleased to announce Consciousness Online: The first cyber consciousness conference. Invited talk by David Rosenthal. Papers in any area of consciousness studies are welcome and should be roughly 3,000 words, suitable for blind review, and sent by December 15th 2008. Those interested in being referees, commentators, or in helping in other ways with the organization of COnline should email me directly at For more information go to

The Reverse-Knowledge Argument

I was thinking about my reverse-zombie argument from zoombies and shombies today when I suddenly remembered a remark that Chalmers made somewhere to the effect that the knowledge argument, the zombie argument, and Kripke’s modal argument are all of apiece and all stand or fall together (I was thinking about this partly because I am working on another paper “Fool’s Pain: The Kripkean Response to Kripke’s Modal Argument against Physicalism”). It then occurred to me that if this is true and the reverse-zombie argument actually works then it should be possible to construct a reverse-knowledge argument. So, let me give it a try.

Consider Maria. Unlike Mary, Maria is not a super-scientist. She is a super-phenomenologist. Maria knows all of the qualitative facts about red. She knows what it is like for her to see red in such a way that she can discriminate between very fine shades, etc.  But like Mary, Maria was raised in a special room. This is not a black and white room, it is a science-free room. So, though Maria knows all of the qualitative facts about red she knows none of the phsyical facts. She is kept in total ignorance about physicial color theory. She has a masterful grasp of the qualitative facts but no grasp of the physical facts. Now let us suppose that Maria is let out of her room and taught color science. In particular let us suppose that Maria gets out of her room after we have a completed physical theory. She then learns all of the (complete) physical theory about the brain, the way it works, wavelengths, light recepters at the eys, the tranduction of signals, etc, etc. Won’t she have learned something new about red? The answer is yes; she will learn that her color experience is a physical event in her brain. Maria will leanr something that she would express by saying ‘oh, so that what my color experience is!’ In short she will leanr that all there are  are physical facts.

Second Thoughts on Pain Asymbolia

I am trying to figure out what the hell is going on in pain asymbolia. I talked about this briefly a couple of time before, but I still find myself puzzled by it. Here are  a list of facts about pain asymbolia.

1. Pain asymbolics have damage to a specific area of the brain but are otherwise neurologically intact.

2. They are conscious of themselves as being in pain. Evidence for this is that they report that they are in pain, are able to identify it as burning, piecing, dull, etc, correctly locate where the pain seems to be and reliably report the intensity of the pain.

3. They are conscious of the pain as painful. Evidence for this is that they report that it is painful. They say that the pinpricks hurt. This means that there is something that it is like for these people; it is like being in pain for them.

4. But despite all of this pain asymbolics are completely unmoved by the sensation of pain. They do not pull their arms back when pricked or burned, they do not become anxious when approached with pain producing stimuli. They often smile while they report that the pain hurts. They say things like “oh that hurts” while laughing!

5. Pain asymbolics have the normal concept of pain. That is, they know that pain should cause screaming and pulling back of the arm, etc. But when they actually feel the pain they are amused. This is what everyone is so worried about!!??!? seems to be their reaction. This is plausibly why they often smile or laugh when poked or pricked or pinched or burned.

So what are we to make of these facts? One way to describe what is going on here is that the pain asymbolics have exactly the same pains as I do, and they are just as painful for them as my pains are for me, but since their pains are not ‘hooked up’ in the right way to other emotional/behaviorial responses they fail to experience the pains as unpleasant. They are conscious of the pain, conscious of it as painful, but not conscious of it as unpleasant. This is most likelly due to the lack of causal connections that the pain has to other emotional and behavorial responses.

Another way of describing what is going on here is to say that the pain asymbolic has access to information about the noxius stimulus but doesn’t actually have a pain experience, by which I mean a painful quale. The have some kind of quale but it isn’t the painful one OR they are like the superblindsight patient.

Which of these is right?

Nothing New Under the Sun

I have been working on my paper, inspired by discussion on this blog, The Reverse-Zombie Argument against Dualism. I just found out that the shombie argument was anticipated by Keith Frankish (he calls them anti-zombies). Ah well; a good argument is a good argument no matter who discovers it. Frankish doesn’t appeal to zoombies and he argues that shombies are problematic for the claim that conceivability entails possibility while I use them to argue that zombies are inconceivable.

Dead Philosophers

Gentlemen, it is a fact that every philosopher of eminence for the last two centuries has either been murdered, or, at the least, been very near it, insomuch that if a man calls himself a philosopher, and never had his life attempted, rest assured there is nothing in him; and against Locke’s philosophy in particular, I think it is an unanswerable objection (if we needed any) that, although he carried his throat about him in this world for seventy-two years, no man ever condescended to cut it.
Thomas de Quincey, ‘Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts’ (from causes of death of philosophers here)

Top 10 philosophers’ deaths here; no murders…

Zoombies & Shombies

Some of you may remember the Zombie Wars from earlier in the summer, those of you who don’t can be spared the gory details. The dispute was initiated by what I called my Reverse-Zombie argument against dualism. The basic idea is simple. The dualist claims that zombies are conceivable therefore possible therefore physicalism is false. I argued that this is a question begging argument. We cannot believe that zombies are conceivable unless we have already assumed that there is more to qualitative consciousness than the physical. To put the point the other way around, if physicalism turns out to be true then zombies are not really conceivable, thoughit may seem to us that they are in our current state of ignorance. To illustrate this I asked people to imagine a zoombie (pronounced ‘ZOOM be’). A zoombie is a creature that is identical to me in every non-physical respect but which lacks qualitative consciousness.

The response I got was that zoombies were conceivable but they did not threaten the zombie argument because the zoombie argument was not truly a parody of the original zombie argument. The zombie argument tries to show us that there is no way to deduce the qualitative facts from the physical facts. This is because the dualist thinks that there are no properties which we can reduce qualitative consciousness to. Qualitative facts do not follow from physical facts on the dualist’s view because the physical facts do not explicitly mention the qualitative facts. All the zoombie argument shows is that neither can we reduce qualitative facts to non-physical facts which don’t explicitly mention qualitative facts. But, of course, no dualist has ever wanted to reduce qualitative facts to non-physical non-qualitative facts so the zoombie argument is worthless.

 I responded that this issue that is being called reduction is besides the point. Some physicalists think that we will be able to deduce the qualitative facts from the physical facts others do not (like Davidson’s anomolous monism). So in one sense the claim that the qualitative facts do not follow from the physical facts is irrelevant. In the sense that it matters the argument is question begging. If I can really conceive of a creature that has all of my non-physical properties but lacks qualitative consciousness in a world that is physically just like this one then the zoombie world shows that dualism is false. But still, it is true that the zoombie argument is not an exact parody of the zombie argument.

But is easy to get one. Let us imagine what I call a ‘shombie’ world (pronounced like ‘zombie’ but with a ‘sh’). The shombie world is a completely physical world. There are no non-physical properties in this world. There are though creatures that are physically and qualitatively  identical to us. So there is a shombie Richard and a shombie Dave Chalmers, etc. These shombies are completely physical creatures who are identical to their real world twins in every mico-physical way (the only way to be identical in the shombie world). The difference between zombies and shombies is that shombies have qualitative consciousness. Shombie Richard is just like me in every qualitative respect; he feels real pain and has real itches and tickles and seeing of red, etc. Of course, in the shombie world these qualitative facts just are physical facts. There is nothing ‘missing’ in the shombie world. Things there are EXACTLY as they are here except that we stipulate that the shombie world is completely physical.

Shombies are conceivable and so possible. Dualism is therefore false. The shombie argument against dualism exactly parallels the zombie argument against physicalism and both are bad arguments for the same reason.

The Philosophical Method

It seems to me that philosophy is distinguished from other endeavors by the method that it adopts. This is not unusual, as science is usually identified by the scientific method. But what is the philosophical method? This question is obviously controversial but I think a good case can be made that the philosophical method involves a commitment to reason and argument as a source of knowledge.

In its earliest form it was often argued that reason could discern facts about reality that were in opposition to the way that the senses revealed reality to be. This was taken as evidence that only reason was a source of knowledge (this is rationalism). So Parmenides argued that though reality appeared as a plurality that was in constant change in actuality it was a static unity that never changed. The reason that we are supposed to adopt this radical position is that positing the reality of many changing objects leads to a contradiction (that of something coming from nothing or opposites existing in the same place at the same time).

This may make it seem as though empiricists who see philosophy as continuous with the sciences (or as I prefer, see science as natural philosophy) are not really doing philosophy anymore. They are doing science, or at least advocating that they should be doing science. But this is wrong. The empiricist is using the philosophical method because their belief in empiricism is based on reasoned argument. Hume’s arguments are just as good as any rationalists; perhaps better!

The philosophical method then involves a commitment to the following:

A good argument with the conclusion that p is a reason to believe p

What counts as a good argument (or even an argument at all) will be debated but everyone agrees that if there is a good argument with the conclusion that p then there is a reason to believe that p. This also lets us see how it is that science is a type of philosophy. The scientific method presupposes the philosophical method with the restriction that good arguments come from empirical testing of theory. So though Einstein used thought experiments to come up with relativity no one believed it until there was empirical confirmation.

Even this doesn’t preclude the rationalist from agreeing that the scientific method presupposes the philosophical method. They may hold that we have to do science because we are not omnicient. But a purely rational being that new every physical fact (i.e. the position of every fundamental unit of physics and the laws that govern them) could deduce what was possible and actual a priori.

So the identification of the philosophical method with a commitment to reason and argument as a source of knowledge (or at least justification for people to believe) seems reasonably viable.