Friday 10 July 2009

Zombies and Epiphenomenalism

NCIB ROFL gives a nice daily roundup of amusing articles published in the PubMed database. Highlights include medical articles on optimal methods for extracting the zipper-entrapped penis an ergonomics article on the force required to drag sheep over various surfaces.

Perhaps there's no equivalent in the humanities because it would be too easy. Here's the latest from Dialogue, a Canadian philosophy journal. Andrew Bailey's work on Zombies and Epiphenomenalism. doi:10.1017/S0012217309090076
ABSTRACT: This paper examines the relationship between the claim that zombies are logically/metaphysically possible and the position that phenomenal consciousness is epiphenomenal. It is often taken that the former entails the latter, and that therefore any implausibility in the notion of conscious epiphenomenalism calls into question the genuine possibility of zombies. Four ways in which the zombist might respond are examined, and I argue that two — those most commonly encountered — are inadequate, but the others — one of which is rarely formulated and the other new — are more forceful. The upshot, nevertheless, is that the zombist may indeed face an unwelcome commitment to conscious epiphenomenalism.
If there actually are zombies, an unwelcome commitment to conscious epiphenomenalism is the least of our worries.

I had a look because of the intriguing title, but the article goes into some interesting work on theory of mind. I was unaware that the metaphysical possibility of zombies had been raised as a counterexample against physicalist theories of mind. Bailey concludes:
Finally, however, to the degree that the notion of causal gaps (or causal agents that are neither physical nor phenomenal) can be made plausible, it might be possible for the zombist to evade even this commitment and sever the link between the zombie hypothesis and phenomenal epiphenomenalism entirely.

This last move will be attractive to — perhaps even necessary for — the zombist, given the widespread wariness that exists, among physicalists and anti-physicalists alike, about phenomenal epiphenomenalism. Yet it has as yet been little explored, and remains highly speculative. Perhaps this is the front on which the next battle of the “zombie wars” is to be fought.
I'll have to ask the philosophers at the staff club to fill me in on the zombie wars.


  1. Metaphysical zombies neither shamble nor hunger for human flesh, unfortunately. They have the same physical properties and behaviour as regular humans but have no subjective experience.

    The argument is basically that it's possible to imagine this; therefore it's possible that this is the case; therefore there's more to consciousness than the physical properties of the body and brain.

    Stupid argument. We can imagine something being the case => it's possible in reality?

    Give me Mary the colour scientist any day.

  2. Ah, so it's like Nozick on the emergence of the State then.