The Conceivability of Shombies

I just noticed that the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Zombies was recently updated (authored by Robert Kirk, who’s book I reviewed for phil. psych). I was pleased to see that my JCS paper was mentioned in the “anti-zombie argument for physicalism” section. But Kirk cites my paper as arguing that “we should reject the inference from conceivability to possibility”. It is true that others that have pressed versions of the ‘anti-zombie’ argument for this conclusion, I am not one of them. I want to grant the link between conceivability and possibility. It is true that I harbor empiricist leanings but if I were a rationalist I would find Chalmers’ CP thesis very attractive; but even so the zombie argument is inconclusive because we cannot simply assert that zombies are conceivable.

My complaint against the zombie argument has always been that the move from (1) ‘zombies seem conceivable to me’ to (2) ‘zombies are ideally conceivable’ is question begging. The only thing we really have evidence for is (1) but it is (2) that is actually used in the zombie argument. That this move is illegitimate is shown by the fact that shombies and zoombies seem conceivable to me (and others it turns out) but if I were to then say that they were ideally conceivable I would be accused of begging the question. Both zombies and shombies seem conceivable but only one of them can actually be ideally conceivable and importantly we have no a priori reasons that can decide which is which. Rather what seems to be happening is that one’s intuitions are tracking the theory that one accepts, perhaps implicitly. Thus we don’t know if zombies are ideally conceivable at this point. Nor do we know if shombies are. Both seem to be conceivable to various people but we don’t have enough empirical knowledge of the brain to decide. From this I draw the meta-lesson that we should deprioritize the a priori arguments for and against physicalism. What we need to do now is focus on specific theories of consciousness (like higher-order theories, say 🙂 ) and brain science. Even if we can in principle know a priori that the mind is just the brain, or that it isn’t, the way that we will come to know is empirical (just like water and H2O: even if it is in principle knowable a priori that water is H2O (because on can deduce one set of facts from the other) we discovered it empirically. A priori arguments played no positive role in the discovery).

You Might Be a Philosopher

One of the lamer ideas I have ever had was to take classic jokes and try to compose philosophical analogs of them. This resulted in a number of yo mama jokes that I wrote back in 2007, which I reproduce below.

  1. Yo mama is so fat, she is the truth-maker for ‘your mama is fat’
  2. Yo mama is so dumb, she thinks the trancendental deduction is a tax break for club kids
  3. Yo mama is so fat, when she introspects her mental states she finds food
  4. Yo mama is so dumb, she thinks lost rigidity can be fixed with viagra
  5. Yo mama is so fat, her formal cause is the Fat
  6. Yo mama is so dumb, she thinks undetached rabit parts are what she uses to make rabbit stew
  7. Yo mama is so fat that when she sits around the house, she sits AROUND the house in every possible world
  8. Yo mama is so dumb, she thinks ‘the T-schema’ refers to the Boston Tea Party
  9. Yo mama is so fat that she accelerates at more than 9.8 m/s/s and so if yo mama and a bowling ball were both dropped from the Empire State building at he same time she would hit the ground first
  10. Yo mama is so dumb she has the B relation of taking more than an hour to watch 60 minutes

Over at Brain Hammer a couple more were added;

  1. Yo mama’s so dumb she tries to shave her legs with Occam’s razor.
  2. You mam’s so fat the back of her slacks looks like two of Buridan’s asses.

I thought that was the end of it until I accidently stumbled on this blog where the original post of mine was pasted. That was surprising but what was even more surprising was that in the comments section of that post were a lot more jokes! Some of them are actually funny. I list what I think are the best below, for the full list see the post linked to above.

  1. Yo mama is so dumb, whenever someone asks her for modus tollens, she pulls out seventy five cents
  2. Your mama is so dumb, she thinks a straw man fallacy is a Scarecrow’s penis
  3. Yo mama is so dumb, she thinks that syllogism is what you get when you perform fellatio on Socrates
  4. Yo mama is so dumb, she thinks pluralism means an open relationship
  5. Yo mama is such a geek, she swears she saw Sapir-Whorf on Star Trek
  6. Yo mama is so dumb, she thinks monism is being loud in bed
  7. Yo mama is so dumb, she thinks Plato was once a planet
  8. Yo mama is so dumb, she thinks Alvin Plantinga is one of the chipmunks

You’re welcome, world 🙂