problem is comprised of three primary questions:
the sake of symmetry, I suppose we should entertain the
fourth logical question:
Of course there can. There are lots of behaviors that, so far as we can tell, involve no mental activity at all.; Chief among these are three classes of fixed innate behaviors that occur in response to appropriate stimuli.;
None of these innate stimulus-response patterns involves any mental activity on the part of the organism.; Spinal reflexes persist in quadriplegic patients; insects hardly have brains at all; and ducklings don't "want" to follow -- they just do it automatically.
And the same is true for certain
learned behaviors -- at least according to certain
theorists.; In traditional stimulus-response learning
theory, classical and instrumental conditioning occurs
automatically according to a principle of association by
Die-hard behaviorists (whether psychological or philosophical), eliminative materialists, and functionalists don't think that consciousness counts for much anyway.; For them, it's all body (and we're just really smart aplysia).; But Cartesian dualists think that there are lots of bodies out there without minds.; Biological naturalists like Searle, and others who take consciousness seriously, also agree that some animals -- like insects, which don't have much of a nervous system, and paramecia, which don't have a nervous system at all -- don't have (much of) a capacity for consciousness.;;
But a course like this
doesn't care much about that.; It begins, frankly, where
Descartes began -- with the phenomenal experience of
conscious awareness.; Descartes thought that nonhuman
animals were reflex machines, lacking in consciousness,
and thus lacking in free will.; Humans, being animals as
well, also operated by virtue of reflex, sometimes; but by
virtue of consciousness, he argued that we also had a
power of free will that liberated us from reliance
on reflex, and enabled us to engage in voluntary as well
as involuntary behavior -- and which gives us the
possibility of sin (remember that Descartes was a faithful
son of the Catholic Church).In
trying to understand the nature of human consciousness, it
turns out that we can make a fair amount of progress
without getting overly caught up in the mind body problem
-- at least as it's been traditionally formulated.; Rather
than getting trapped at the Cartesian impasse, it seems
more appropriate, as Searle (1992) argued, to break out of
(or, perhaps, away from) received categories like
body and mind, dualism and monism, and simply figure
out what the mind does -- that is, what human
consciousness is, the nature of altered states of
consciousness, and the role that both conscious and
unconscious mental life plays in human experience,
thought, and action.
Which brings us to zombies.;
Chalmers (1996) resurrected the zombie argument against materialism, earlier proposed by Campbell (1970) and Kirk (1974).; The argument begins with a definition of zombies as creatures that are physiologically identical to humans, but lack conscious experiences.
In an alternative formulation, zombies are defined as creatures that are behaviorally identical to humans, but lack conscious experiences.It then goes on to reason as follows:
And if zombies are possible, then materialism leaves something out. There's something about consciousness that is not accounted for by the anatomy and physiology of the nervous system.
The zombie argument, as stated, is logically correct, in that the conclusion (3) follows from the major (1) and minor (2) premises.; If the premises are valid, then the conclusion is valid..
But it's problematic, for at least one reason: It's not at all clear that the minor premise (2) is valid, that whatever is conceivable is possible.; For example, it's conceivable that the ratio of the area of a circle to the square of its radius is some value other than pi, but in fact it's not possible.;;
More important, as Dennett has pointed out, the argument is simply incoherent.; If the brain is the physical substrate of the mind, then a being that is physiologically identical to humans would perforce have consciousness.; Dennett has playfully suggested that we consider yet another kind of creature, a zimbo, which is a zombie that believes it is conscious (and frankly, sometimes, that's what Dennett seems to think we really are).
And I have a similar problem: if we are interested in the role that consciousness plays in behavior, we can't begin by assuming the existence of a creature that is behaviorally identical to humans but lacks consciousness.; That's because the whole point of the zombie argument is to determine whether consciousness makes any difference to behavior.; If consciousness is epiphenomenal, the way T.H. Huxley said it was, then consciousness makes no difference to behavior.
In my view, the
whole zombie argument gets off on the wrong foot.;
David Chalmers has helpfully distinguished between
three different kinds of zombies:
The problem with the philosophical zombie is
that the definition misses the point.; Dennett's right: a
creature that was physiologically identical to humans would
have consciousness, because the brain is the physical basis of
To answer this question, we have to reformulate the zombie argument, defining zombies more along the lines of the Haitian or Hollywood zombies.; To wit:;
Let's first define a zombie as an organism that has lots of information-processing and behavioral powers, but simply lacks consciousness.; That's what a Hollywood zombie is.; That's what a Haitian zombie is.; Zombies are, essentially reflex machines, who lack consciousness.
And then let's ask the really interesting question about zombies: are there any information-processing or behavioral functions that zombies cannot perform, precisely because they lack consciousness?
The inspiration for this reformulation stems from Dennett's visit to Berkeley in September 2004, to give a talk at the Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences.; Sometime during the visit, Prof. Dennett lost his Palm Pilot PDA, and he circulated an email asking ICBS members if they had found it.; Which led me to ask the question:
Put more broadly, the question is this:
If there are such functions, then to that extent consciousness is not epiphenomenal. Consciousness plays a causal role in the material world composed entirely of physical particles in fields of force. The question is important, because it turns out that there are many psychologists who believe that, in our everyday social behavior, we are little more than conscious zombies -- we have consciousness, but we don't use it very often, and it often gets in the way. I call this trend in psychological theory The Automaticity Juggernaut, and to understand it we have to take up the problem of attention and consciousness.
background. Since the mid-1970s, cognitive psychology has bade a
distinction between automatic and controlled
processing. To make a longer story short, automatic
processes are unconscious, while controlled processes are
conscious. A collection of dual-process theories
assumes that performance on any task reflects a combination of
automatic and controlled processes; or, alternatively, that such
tasks can mediated by either automatic or controlled processes.
Social psychologists began to embrace the automatic-controlled distinction in the 1980s, but with a twist. While nominally offering dual-process theories of task performance, many social psychologists have proffered the view that experience, thought, and action are almost entirely controlled by automatic, unconscious processes. This renders conscious, controlled processing redundant at the very least, irrelevant or positively harmful at most. This is a version of conscious inessentialism, or even epiphenomenalism -- a claim that, despite our experience of consciousness, deep down we are really automatons after all.
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