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Could a Zombie Exist?

Can zombies exist?

Poll closed Nov 12, 2007.
  1. Zombies would inevitably betray themselves.

    2 vote(s)
  2. Zombies are possible, but only if developed by humans.

    3 vote(s)
  3. Zombies are possible and could have (and probably would have) evolved on their own.

    4 vote(s)
  1. Oct 13, 2007 #1


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    For a brief overview of what is a p-zombie, see also Chalmers:

    Per Susan Blackmore:
    Todd Moody argues that zombies, although possible “if they grew up in our midst”, could not originate the same arguments about consciousness that humans do.
    His arguments appeal primarily to our intuitions, using for example, the inverted spectrum problem. For the case of a zombie with no ability of internal seeing, how could this possibly be translated? One of the better arguments Moody gives IMHO, is this:
    Polger and Flanagan (P&F) on the other hand, point out that nothing Moody suggests is conclusive, and in fact, there is nothing physically impossible about a zombie. A zombie does not violate any known laws of physics. This alone seems a fairly strong statement at first, but remember that suggesting there are planet sized celestial bodies made from cheese similarly does not violate any known laws of physics, nor do many religious beliefs. Regardless, P&F provide an excellent rebuttal to Moody, starting with:
    I see no problem with this, and I believe even Moody would have to concede this possibility. But of course, step-two is more difficult. Step-two “involves denying that a zombie, or an isolated population of zombies, could “originate” our mentalistic vocabulary.”

    For step-two, P&F would have us imagine a world where zombies have evolved and might try to communicate with each other. He asks us to “consider this possibility:”
    In essence, P&F are suggesting that such terms as seeing, hearing, or even terms for qualia such as color, might in fact serve a function for zombies which corresponds to the function served by humans.

    Why are we even concerned about all this talk about zombies? P&F summarize nicely:
    So what's your opinion? Could zombies exist?

    Moody argues that zombies could not have evolved.
    http://faculty.uca.edu/~rnovy/Moody -- Conversations with Zombies.htm
    Polger and Flanagan argue that zombies could have evolved.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 13, 2007 #2
    Can a zombie be distinguished from a person drunk enough?
  4. Oct 13, 2007 #3
    Aren't we all zombies at one time or another? I mean this sincerely, even excepting the drunk example. Consciousness in a very real way is about self-reflection, when one is engaged in some dangerous or all encompassing, engrossing, task, are we not somewhat like a zombie? And if thats true, how fragile and dynamic consciousness must be.
  5. Oct 13, 2007 #4


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    A p-zombie has nothing to do with drunkenness, acting drunk or stoned, nor absent-mindedness, being engrossed, etc…

    If you’re interested in the philosophical implications of this concept, please read over Chalmer’s overview, or at least the cartoon with the dinosaurs here:
  6. Oct 13, 2007 #5
    if a zombie perfectly modeled every detail of our brains then would it not be human?

    if our brains are entirely responsible for our consciousness then doesnt that make us zombies by your definition?
  7. Oct 13, 2007 #6
    Or you could re-read that article and look at the note on the 'zombie within'. Unconscious action is exactly what p-zombies are about.
  8. Oct 13, 2007 #7
    The p-zombie is a thought experiment about the nature of consciousness. Think about what the difference would be between a human and a functioning artificial intelligence. At some point could an AI have the complexity to fake passing a turing test for instance? And if it could fake it, simply by giving the correct responses based on rules, as opposed to having self awareness, how would we know?
  9. Oct 13, 2007 #8
    I agree. I think most people are "zombies" MOST of the time. It takes way too much energy to be "aware" at every moment. You'd be, crazy if you were that aware.
  10. Oct 13, 2007 #9
    Many proponents of computationalism, 1 the view that cognition is computation, are busy trying to practice what they preach: they are trying to build artificial persons....

    This is from 2001! I'm shocked to find out that people are still doing this? I thought this agreement was over. I mean between complexity and still crude state of computing isn't this just... silly? But I see this paper is taking down Daniel Dennett... (good!) Hmm this zombie stuff is new to me. I'm going to read more.
  11. Oct 13, 2007 #10
    But could a being exist that functions like a human, but is completely unconscious... all the time? That is the p-zombie question. Basically, its a question about the nature of consciousness itself.
  12. Oct 13, 2007 #11
    I think I *know* people like that.

    Okay, let me try to be serious. Okay, one of the papers on the site had the idea that if you can't tell the difference then what is the point? For the idea of a zombie to have meaning you need to be able to identify a zombie.

    That said, I think that consciousness is a much more fleeting a rare occurrence then some of these papers describe. The majority of our actions are done without conscious thinking or real awareness.

    The distinguishing feature of conciseness is the tension it creates between autopilot actions and thoughts. That tension, is the essence of a good play or movie-- it's what makes people seem human. It's going to be really hard to replicate, short of just cloning a person-- which I think misses the point for artificial intelligence people like Dennet.

    And its not just about replicating the symptoms of a aware and conflicted minds, it's about making the process of conflict identical. Once you do that you're not writing a program anymore, your trying to make a functioning mind.
  13. Oct 13, 2007 #12
    Difficult to replicate I think is an understatement, however, not because I think true artificial intelligence would be impossible to create, but rather because any intelligence we create would likely have a completely different type, that is, a completely alien form, of consciousness. And really why do we need to recreate our own limited consciousness.

    Our consciousness evolved, based on our limited senses and environment, we grow into it as we age, but what effect would the 'artificial' process have on the type of consciousness that is 'creatable'? If AI is doable, I think it will end up being very different from what we have.

    As to zombies, I think its probably more of a spectrum type thing... differing levels of consciousness.... to a degree it becomes impossible to make a clear demarcation between what is conscious and what isn't. Although of course examples of both exist.
  14. Oct 13, 2007 #13


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    I think it might be helpful to understand exactly what a zombie is. As JoeDawg says, it is unconscious, but I think that can be misunderstood. A zombie experiences nothing more than a rock. Saying they are unconscious might imply that they can be conscious but they simply aren’t at the moment.

    Zombies are hypothetical beings that simply don’t have any experience of anything, ever. We say that they can react to such physical cues in the environment such that we could not distinguish between a zombie and a sentient person. And we also say they can act so much like a real person that they could pass a Turing test. There would be no way to distinguish them from humans.

    In fact, we can even propose to give these hypothetical beings a body that is identical physical body to ours, as granpa suggests. And if we say that brains are in fact what make us sentient, then we might get confused at this point and think that since these beings are physically identical to us, then either we are zombies or zombies are sentient.

    The answer is neither.

    We are different from zombies because we are sentient and they are not. And the only reason for creating this hypothetical being is as JoeDawg mentions, this is a thought experiment. Not a great one I suppose, but an interesting one. Once we’ve concocted this bizarre creature, we then ask the question, “Could such a thing exist?. What differences are there between humans and humans that have no experience of the world? Would there be any way of telling?"

    If we accept there is no way of telling, we might also then ask if such a creature could evolve.

    I would have to go along with the idea that they could be created, at least hypothetically, if not in practice. If we say as granpa suggests, that since these hypothetical creatures are identical to us in every way, then we have a problem since they are us and we must accept these things create the same phenomena as our own bodies and brains do, including consciousness or lack thereof. Ok, let’s get around this issue by suggesting they only communicate with us through some kind of holographic unit that makes it ‘seem’ as if they are physically identical, but they are not. Kinda like that one old Star Trek episode where Kirk wants to shag this hot babe who crash landed on some Maritain planet, and the Martians put her back together wrong and she really looks like the hunch-back’s bride but of course, Kirk has the Martian beer goggles on and thinks she’s hot.

    - ok, end of tangent.

    Let’s just say these zombies have some physical difference that we have no ability to identify.

    Could they be created? Maybe. Not by humans in the foreseeable future perhaps, but maybe in a thousand years or a million or a billion. Maybe.

    Could such things have evolved on another planet? This is where it gets sticky. I'm not sure. We have to ask ourselves what purpose consciousness plays in our evolution, but can we even suggest that consciousness plays some crutial role? If so, we have to accept that there is a difference between humans with and without consciousness. We may be forced to change how we model reality and accept that our objective understanding of nature is flawed. If not, we are forced to conclude that consciousness is an epiphenomena, and if you are Dennett, you might be forced to conclude we are all just zombies ourselves.
  15. Oct 13, 2007 #14


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    Hi futurebird. Computationalism is the standard model used for studies on consciousness today. It is generally assumed that cognition is computation.
  16. Oct 16, 2007 #15


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    I rather like Mike Kearns’ take on this:
    Ref: http://www.kearnsianthoughts.com/index.html

    A zombie animal of any kind can have no understanding, no comprehension and nothing can ‘mean’ anything to it. So Kearns suggests that phenomena such as meaning or understanding is a survival advantage which evolution has taken advantage of.

    I don’t see how such phenomena as meaning CAN’T be a survival advantage. Pain, pleasure and various qualia all exist for virtually all animals IMHO, even animals without proper brains such as clams or starfish. Thus, it seems every animal that has ever evolved has also evolved qualia along with it. Is it too much to suggest these phenomena lend animals some kind of survival advantage? What argument is there against qualia being an evolutionary advantage?
  17. Oct 16, 2007 #16
    That's a really strong statement. Isn't it more like there's a huge debate about if cognition could be computation... and if that question even has a meaningful answer?
  18. Oct 16, 2007 #17


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    Hi futurebird. Check out wiki :
    Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computationalism

    and Chalmers:
    Ref: http://consc.net/papers/computation.html

    There are many more. That's not to say computationalism isn't debated - it is. But cognitive science, as Chalmers points out, bases cognition on computationalism (and perhaps to a lesser degre, functionalism).
  19. Oct 16, 2007 #18


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    Our sentient nature is a result of the zombie-like characteristics of our neurons and glandular responses. These corporeal components that form the foundation of our "conscious awareness" have no more special ingredients than a rock. An AI machine can be built to mimic these functions but it is so far more efficient to pro-create and manipulate an offspring's upbringng with perpetual violence, bad food and poor education. There may be advantages for an institution to develop a work-force based on non-sentience and lack of conscience, the task is already attempted by-way of re-educating and re-training militants or raising children in a militant fashion. They don't bump into trees but they also don't appear to be able to stop killing or being killed either.

    I'm not sure that sentience is the ultimate distinction between a zombie and a regular citizen of the planet. I might propose that a zombie is distinguishable from others by its genuine lack of respect for life.
  20. Oct 16, 2007 #19


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    Hi baywax,
    Yes, this is part of the standard model of computationalism. "Emergence" is often used to explain how all these "zombie-like characteristics" might produce the phenomenon of consciousness.


    All this is a perfectly legitimate way of looking at ‘brainwashing’ of people as is done by “militants” or any cult or religious group. But please understand, you are not talking about p-zombies here. P-zombies have a very specific definition which is not to be extended to people that have been brainwashed or otherwise made unaware of their surroundings in some way such as by drugs, alchohol, etc… as previously suggested in this thread.

    Sentience is indeed the ultimate distinction between a p-zombie and a human. I’m only refering to the use of the term as is used in the philosophy of consciousness, and that has nothing to do with a lack of respect for life. In fact, p-zombies might be insulted-z that you are suggesting they are less respectful of human life than they are. :wink:
  21. Oct 16, 2007 #20


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    Oh... (red faced smirk) a p-zombie. Let's see, there's plenty of them in chronic care in the hospital. They don't feel it when you poke them with a needle or a catheter and they're pretty well unaware of the difference between individuals.

    These are people who have served as citizens even heroically yet are now shells of their former selves with responses that don't match what they are experiencing. Some of them are actually killed with overdoses of morphine because the learned behavior of their facial expressions denote pain when they actually feel nothing at all.

    But, for the most part, since a p-zombie is a tool that's been crafted for argumentative endevours and thought experiments it seems to be a superfluous creature.

    The idea that "regular" zombies might evolve to become dominant in a universe that demands response to stimulus ie: cause and effect, is at most an impossibility. Zombies, like polititicans and other mal contents will always be shooting themselves in the foot or their friends in the face.

    Last edited: Oct 16, 2007
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