Part-Time Zombies

On Friday I attended Michael Pauen‘s Cogsci talk at CUNY.

Pauen wanted to present some thought experiment based arguments that were intended to support a priori physicalism; a project after my own heart! The first involved what he called a part-time zombie. The basic point was to try to present a reductio of the property dualist’s position. For the purposes of the argument Pauen distinguished between experiential privilege and epistemic privilege. Experiential privilege is just the recognition that I have my experiences in a way that you can’t; epistemic privilege is the further claim that I can know about my experiences in some special way (the first-personal way) that it is impossible for you to know (from the third-person). Pauen grants experiential privilege but denies epistemic privilege.The argument goes as follows. Let us suppose, for reductio, that the property dualist is right and that we have some kind of privileged first-person access to our mental states. The second step involved arguing that if we accept the logical possibility of zombies then we must accept the nomological possibility of zombies. If that is the case then consider the following two cases. In one case I am a zombie and so by definition have no phenomenal consciousness. Let us suppose that I am in some functional state that is the pain state minus the nonphysical quale. I have this state and then later reflect on it. In the second case I have the exact same functional state but with the nonphysical quale. I later reflect on it. Can there be any difference in what it is like for me? Pauen argued that there can be no difference unless there is some functional difference and so it turns out that if the dualist is right and we have a special kind of access to our mental states then we are led to the conclusion that we do not have a special kind of access to our mental states. Reductio. This argument is similar to Michal Lynch’s argument presented in “Zombies and the Case of the Phenomenal Pickpocket”.

During discussion I suggested that the property dualist might respond along the lines that Chalmers has responded to the charge that he is an epiphenomenalist, In short his position is that there is a kind of phenomenal belief that we can have that is not demonstrative, not indexical but is rather partly constituted by the phenomenal property itself. So when if I were a part-time zombie then the times during which I was on shift as a zombie would be times when I tokened beliefs that were not full fledged phenomenal beliefs since they were missing the qualitative property. When I am not a zombie my phenomenal beliefs do have the nonphysical qualitative property. So there is a difference, and this difference makes a difference to my inner life but it is not one that I can express. For instance I cannot say, ‘oh now the qualia are back’ since that amounts to a functional difference which we have ruled out in the thought experiment; at both times I am in the very same functional state. So what is the difference then? Well in one case I know that I am in, say, pain and in the other case I don’t but this needn’t require that there be a functional difference. Pauen objected that if it made an epistemic difference then one would have to be able to report or express that knowledge. IF there really were nothing else to it then we could not be sure that we weren’t part-time zombies right now. Maybe 20 minutes ago I was a zombie…It seems to me that there is still a way out of sorts. Perhaps the property dualist cannot rule out with certainty that I was not a zombie 20 minutes ago but she could argue that the probability of it is quite low. So, given that I now know that I am having qualia and given the dualist’s principles like the ones that Chalmers talks about (principle of structural coherence and functional invariance, etc) it is extremely unlikely that there are times when I am a part-timer in zombie land…but I dunno it is hard for me to maintain these intuitions since I am not a property-dualist…

On a different note this connects up to something that I was independently thinking about last week. How can we rule out the possibility that some of us are zombies and some of us aren’t? I talk to people who really seem to honestly be eliminativist about qualia…but how can this be? One possibility may be that they are zombies but I am not. That would be messed up! But how could we know? They say they aren’t; but that’s exactly what zombies say! Call this the Problem of Other Qualia; how does a dualist get out of it? It doesn’t seem as though they will be able to do it without appealing to a link between qualitative properties and functional properties but to do so is to undermine the initial intuition that qualitative properties logically float free of functional properties since in order to even say what they are we need to appeal to functional properties. The property dualist cannot respond the the mixed-zombie hypothesis by arguing that the link between functional and phenomenal is merely nomological because the point of the thought experiment is to show that they seemingly float free at the nomological level as well.

To support the idea that our concept of qualitative properties are really functional he offered another thought experiment based on qualia inversion. Instead of color qualia he focused on pain and pleasure qualia. So imagine two babies that have pain/pleasure inversion. Does it really seem as though this is possible without any functional difference? Could one baby have the feeling that you and I have when we are stabbed in the leg and the other have the feeling that you and I have when we are lightly caressed on the leg without any functional difference, It doesn’t seem that way to me at all! Even if one thought that this was begging the question against the property dualist I still think that this thought experiment is useful because if enough ordinary people agreed with Pauen then that wold seem to cast some doubt on the property dualist’s claim that our ordinary conception of qualia is non-functional (which is where a lot of their argument gets its force).


7 thoughts on “Part-Time Zombies

  1. Hmmm…after thinking it about this for a bit I now wonder whether the fading qualia, dancing qualia argument rules out part-time zombies and mixed-zombie worlds…or at least this is what people like Dave are going to say…

  2. Yes, that’s roughly what I would say to the part-time zombie example.

    Re the inversion example, obviously pain/pleasure inversions are a lot trickier than color inversions. For my part I think these cases are conceivable, but they’re certainly weirder. Some people who are otherwise sympathetic to epistemic-gap intuitions — e.g. Tom Nagel — deny that these cases are conceivable. That doesn’t entail the absence of an e-gap — e.g. there’s still no epistemic entailment from functional to phenomenal (as long as zombies etc are still conceivable) — but if correct it does suggest a reverse entailment from phenomenal to functional.

  3. P.S. I didn’t notice your comment when I posted mine — “that’s roughly what I would say” refers to what you said in the main post. I do think that the fading/dancing arguments suggest that part-time zombies are nomologically impossible, but I take it that one can still raise these questions if they’re merely metaphysically possible.

  4. Hi Dave thanks for the comment!

    Pauen seemed to think that his argument depended on the claim that it was nomologically possible that we are part-time zombies, which is why I was thinking that the fading qualia stuff was relevant…So just to get this right; do you accept that you don’t know that you had conscious experience five minutes ago but think that it is unlikely that you didn’t because of the nomological considerations?

    People like Nagel who accept the conceivability of zombies but deny the conceivability of these kinds of inversions cases end up with a view on which P is necessary but not sufficient for consciousness. It seems to me, though, that if one accepts any kind of conceptual link between phenomenal and physical/functional concepts one undermines the case for the existence of the e-gap…better to do as you do and argue that the pain inversion cases are conceivable…Would it matter at all to you if we found out that most people think these kinds of cases are inconceivable/not metaphysically possible?

  5. Sorry, missed this before. I think we can know about past qualia at least to the extent that we can know about the external world. I take it that the standard view here is that the conceivability of skeptical counterpossibilities isn’t enough to undermine knowledge.

    It would certainly be interesting to know whether or not people find pain inversion cases conceivable, but I don’t think too much turns on those cases. The e-gap really turns on whether there’s a functional -> phenomenal entailment, not on whether there’s a phenomenal -> functional entailment, and I don’t think that accepting the second entailment would undermine the case against the first.

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