Zombies, Blade Runner, and the Mind-Body Problem

The next essay in “Zombies, Vampires and Philosophy” is “Zombies, Blade Runner, and the Mind-Body Problem” by Larry Hauser. This essay takes on the sorts of zombies famously used to discuss the mind-body problem, most commonly by David Chalmers. These zombies are creatures that act exactly like us, and are physically exactly like us, and yet they have no mental experiences at all. In other words, they have no qualia at all. So, essentially, they act like they are conscious but actually possess no conscious states at all. They act like they’re in pain, but they aren’t. They act like they love, but they can’t feel love at all. They act in every way like they have the same internal experiences as we do, but they don’t actually have them. The conclusion that is drawn from this is that they aren’t really conscious, and therefore don’t really have mental states, and this is a problem for strictly physical views of mind.

Hauser tries to take this on, but he does it in a fairly standard way. He starts with but moves a bit beyond the standard functionalist reply: if they act like they are in love or are in pain or see things or taste things or whatever, then they really do. He then seems to tie it to a cognitivist view, where he comments that you should not deny their cognitive abilities for those things if, in fact, they can reason out the proper reactions so as to act appropriately to all the inputs. Finally, he seems to make an argument based on Searle that we have to look at it from the perspective of the zombie in order to determine this … but this is what we are denying them by definition. Essentially, we can’t know what their first-person perspective is like, so we can’t know if they are a zombie or not. To take this a step further, if the zombie acts like they have subjective experiences, and even seems to believe that they have subjective experiences, who are we to deny that? At the end, he accepts that they may be missing that, but argues that if they act appropriately what does it matter if they don’t have qualia, for the relatively small number of mental events that absolutely require it?

This is very similar to the argument made by Andrew Brook that I replied to in this essay. Essentially, the argument is that if they have awareness, then that’s good enough for consciousness. If they believe that they feel pain, that’s good enough for us to say that they are in pain. But that essay demonstrates through the examples of someone wearing goggles that filter out colours but where the person can tell what colour things are using a spectrometer that we can be aware of subjective qualities without actually experiencing them. And if we can be aware of those qualities without experiencing them, then we can act as if we had them, even if we didn’t. Thus, we can have a zombie with no subjective experiences at all, but that acts as if it does have them, because, for example, it can know what colour an object is through other means than simple experience. My main theory, then, is that qualia is input level, not representation or belief level; we can form the representations and beliefs in different ways, with qualia being one of them.

So now we can answer Hauser’s last comment: does it matter if a zombie doesn’t gain any beliefs or representations through qualia or subjective experiences at all? In terms of cognitive or psychological abilities, no, probably not. But in terms of consciousness, yes, it really does. And thus when it comes to something like love — Hauser’s Blade Runner example is Rachel — it’s hard to say that someone is really in love with someone if they are only cognitively aware of the state, but don’t feel love at all. Love seems to be something that you actually feel, not something that you merely know. In short, you become aware that you’re in love when you feel that you’re in love, which is true for all emotions: you know that you are angry because you feel angry. You know that you are sad because you feel sad. You don’t look at your life and decide “I’m feeling sad”. You only feel sad when you are, in fact, feeling sad. And this holds for all qualia-essential traits … which are pretty much the ones that relate to actual consciousness. You only see colours when you are seeing colours, not merely by being aware of what colour something is. And so on.

So, the purported good zombies that Hauser talks about don’t provide any protection from the bad zombies of Chalmers and Searle, because their goal was to get at consciousness, and Hauser’s good zombies still aren’t conscious, and it still matters whether or not they’re really conscious. Thus, the zombies still eat brains … at least, the brains of those who are not, in fact, conscious or experiencing at all.

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One Response to “Zombies, Blade Runner, and the Mind-Body Problem”

  1. malcolmthecynic Says:

    This reminds me of the famous C.S. Lewis sunbeam quote. In essence, he said that the difference between knowing about events and experiencing them was the difference between looking at a sunbeam from a difference and actually standing inside of it. Standing in the sunbeam simply tells you different things about it then just looking at it from the outside.

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