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Argument essay: Chalmers’ “Zombie”

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The question of the connection between consciousness and body has bothered the minds of people, perhaps, since the day a human being identified itself as an individual. The religion representatives prefer to explain this problem as the body and soul dualism. The majority of philosophers and later scientists preferred to identify the mind with the brain. There were others like Rene Descartes who claimed that consciousness is something non-physical which can influence the material world; however, the question of how it is done was not answered. Today, a number of approaches to solve this problem exist in philosophy. One of them is the idea of D. Chalmers, who proves with a “zombie” argument that consciousness does not depend on the brain activity. I find his proof invalid since his premises can prove any argument; his reasoning is based on the idea of a metaphysical world that has no connection or influence on our physical world and cannot be a basis to explain it.

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A mind-body identity problem is discussed by a group of theories of the philosophy of mind, which try to explain the question of what the source of human consciousness is. All theories can be divided into two groups. The first group – materialistic or physicalistic – asserts that the states of mind are identical to the states of a human brain, the processes in the human consciousness are identical to the processes in the brain, and, thus, consciousness is equal to the states of neural activity. Reductive materialism is based on the idea that everything can be reduced to something more simple. Since molecules can be reduced to atoms, the mind can be reduced to the brain. The main idea is that mind is entirely the result of brain activity and, therefore, the nature of mind is physical.

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D. Chalmers is a representative of the dualistic philosophy, which rejects physicalism and asserts that mind is not a physical phenomenon, and it is not reducible to brain and its activity. Chalmers states that there are two problems in the philosophy of mind to be solved by the modern scientists. The “easy” one includes the analysis of the functions of consciousness like mental states or reactions – the control of behavior, the focus of attention, and the ability to react or categorize (Chalmers, 2010, p. 4). The author believes that the answers to these questions of how the brain works someday will be discovered and understood. The “hard” problem puts a question of how any physical system creates the experience and why the experience emerges while the brain processes some information (Chalmers, 2010, p.5).

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The question of the experience origin is one of the main topics of his research. Chalmers’ “zombie” argument is directed to support his dualistic concept of mind and body. With this argument, he tries to prove that physicalistic ideas are wrong and that the nature of the consciousness is not physical. The argument is based on the idea of a “zombie” – an exact duplicate of a real human which has no experience; physically, a zombie is identical to a person, with the same reactions or behavior, but it does not know about it because it lacks consciousness. The argument states that since people are able to imagine a creature like a zombie, zombies are conceivable. If zombies are conceivable, then it is metaphysically possible for them to exist. If there is a world, identical to ours in all physical aspects, where creatures identical to humans live without consciousness, then consciousness is not the result of the activity of any physical object like a brain and is not a physical property. Thus, physicalism is false, and consciousness is not a result of the brain activity. If consciousness is not logically supervenient on the physical features, then materialism is wrong (Chalmers, 1997, p. 124).

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I believe that Chalmers’ argument fails since using the premises he proposes one can prove an opposite thing. In particular, Keith Frankish shows how it can be proved this way that consciousness is physical through creating an anti-zombie, which is the same physical copy of a human that exists in the same physical world like ours and has consciousness. The argument follows premises: 1) anti-zombies are conceivable; 2) if anti-zombies are conceivable, then they are possible; 3) if anti-zombies are possible, then consciousness is physical; 4) consciousness is physical (Frankish, 2007). This argument is a good example that shows that the conceivability of a particular thing does not mean that this thing can influence the real world or be an explanation for a phenomenon of a real world.

Since the nature and the origin of consciousness is still not discovered and no consciousness was artificially created till now, philosophers may bring any explanations and theories of its source, but none of them should be considered as absolutely truthful. Imagination cannot be regarded as a premise of a strong argument. Chalmers builds his argument on a premise of the existence of a metaphysical world that is conceived by the brain and exists only in the brain and is not able neither influence our physical world nor explain the processes in it. Thus, I think that Chalmers’ argument fails to prove that consciousness is non-physical or give an answer to what its nature and origin are.

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