Thursday, 5 September 2013

Why I gave up dualism through philosophy

I'm not a dualist.  I don't believe that mind and matter are in any way separate.  I used to believe this, but I was forced to rethink my position because of a clever philosophical argument - a philosophical argument FOR dualism!

The philosopher making the argument was David Chalmers, in his excellent book "The Conscious Mind".  Chalmers says that the one thing we can be sure of is our own consciousness, and we can see that consciousness isn't the same as the physical mind because we can conceive of a reality where everything is physically identical to our reality, and yet no being has consciousness.  Because we can conceive of this, then consciousness is clearly not just known physics.  Chalmers called these unconscious beings 'p-zombies' - where 'p' stands for 'philosophical'.

This convinced me for some time, until, one day, I really thought hard about it and I was shocked by what I realised.  According to Chalmers, everything that I could say about my own consciousness would be said by my equivalent p-zombie.  Except (Chalmers says) what my p-zombie says is false.  I realised that nothing I said about my own consciousness being non-physical could possibly be justified, because no matter what arguments I came up with, the same words would be spoken by my zombie twin.  Therefore, no thought I have about consciousness being non-physical can be justified by my own thinking, because whatever thinking I do, my zombie twin will report exactly the same thinking!

Chalmers' argument FOR dualism became, for me, the strongest argument AGAINST dualism.

So what was the difference between me and my zombie twin?  It took me some time to come up with an answer.  It may not be the right answer, but it's an answer that works for me so far.  The difference is that my zombie twin doesn't exist.  It's fictional.  We can have consciousness because we exist.

4 comments:

Diacanu said...


If his core argument was such drivel, what makes the book excellent?

....I really would make for a very mean book critic.
Good thing I don't get paid for it.

Steve Zara said...

Because it's much more than just that argument - it's a summary of the subject.

Steven Reeve said...

See what Daniel Dennett has to say about philosophers' zombies in "Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking", chapter 55, entitled "Zombies and Zimboes"

djs56 said...

I'm not so well read on these subjects, but this sounds like an argument along the lines of assuming x, then x. Is the real question is x true.... ?

I'm not so sure how you can conceive of something that is exactly like a consciousness entity that is un-conscious.

Or have I missed something...