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David Chalmers Case

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The Zombie Argument is supposed to show that physicalism is false. Explain how the argument is meant to work. Discuss one or two objections to it, including Patricia Churchland's objection. Is she right that it is an argument from ignorance? Consider what Chalmers can say in defence. Weigh up the different sides of the debate and give your reasons for your position. (Focus on the texts covered in the course.)

Physicalism is the belief that everything is physical, or that all our actions, behaviours, feelings etc. supervene from the physical. Physicalists acknowledge that many items in the world may seem biological, physiological, moral or social in nature but insist that even if this is the case they must have resulted from a physical change, the general idea being that all higher-level functions of the body supervene from the physical.

Many people, particularly those who adhere to the views of dualism have argued against the theory of physicalism. Chalmers has developed a dualism-type belief with his Theory of Zombies. In order for the Zombie argument to disprove the theory of physicalism it must be able to prove that the idea of a being without conscious experience is a conceivable idea without any logical arguments as to why this cannot be so. Physicalism as we have already stated believes that the mental supervenes on the physical.

The zombie theory states that an exact replica of a human being, built from the bottom up, atom by atom, being exactly the same in every way possible, both functionally and visually, lacking however in consciousness, is a conceivable idea. Chalmers states that, as the idea is conceivable, and cannot be logically argued or disproved then it must be possible. He does not believe that such zombies actually exist however argues the possibility that they may.

Chalmers states that consciousness is the one thing he believes that we can be certain of. As an individual we are certain that we are conscious, he notes however that we are not certain of anybody else's consciousness and can therefore question whether or not those surrounding us are actually conscious beings also. This is what leads Chalmers to his explanation of what Zombies are. He states that as similar as they are there must be be at least one distinguishing factor between us and them; this he believes is consciousness. Chalmers theory reveals that consciousness may be an individual property, distinct from the physical properties and functions (Philosophy of the Mind and the Hard Problem, 2010). They walk, talk, act, and react like we would however they do not possess a consciousness. Chalmers says that "if you stuck them with a pin they would still say 'ow'" (Philosophy of the Mind and the Hard Problem, 2010). The feelings and thought processes behind these are still there, they are capable of possessing the knowledge to respond correctly to things that may be painful or to acknowledge something that may be beautiful as we can be taught what is painful and what is not and what would or would not be considered beautiful or acceptable. For instance I may never have seen another woman before but I can be told what the most desirable physical features of a woman may be and could describe how beautiful I deem the first woman I see to be, based upon this information. Beauty however is described by many as being 'in the eye of the beholder' so to experience beauty may be a completely subjective experience, however how would I know as I have never seen another woman. In order to help describe the difference between consciousness, and things we know to be true or information that we are aware of / have learnt about certain subjects, objects or material, Chalmers uses Jackson's theory of the woman in a black and white room from 1986.

Chalmers helps us to understand how consciousness differs to physically learnt information with the use of Frank Jacksons Knowledge argument. In Jackon's theory he describes a girl named Mary who has grown up in a black and white room and who is educated through the use of black and white books, television and lectures. Mary learns about every physical aspect of our world and us (Jackson, F. 1986). The colour red for instance, she is aware of its wavelength, how quickly it travels and where it might be found (i.e. on a rose.) Mary however is unaware of the experience of seeing red. When she sees red for the first time she finds that it is not something she can describe and not something she has learnt. It was not that Mary was unable to imagine what it would be like to see red whilst living in a black a white world, it was that she did not know what it was like because the experience of seeing red is not something that can be explained (Jackson, F. 1986). Chalmers uses this as an example to show that there is more to mental processing than just facts and figures. There is some part of experience, which is unable to be predicted or described. To elaborate on this theory he goes on to question why there is an existence of such qualia or subjective experience, in his development of the "hard problem."

Chalmers describes the "hard problem" and the "easy problem" of consciousness as a way of making us see that our consciousness and our physical body are two different entities. Chalmers speaks of the easy problems as being how we figure out which functional physical system produces certain things. For instance how we can speak, move, touch, feel. All of these different activities are controlled by bodily functions. The neuro-physical, physical, biological activities are all results of some sort of bodily function. Chalmers theory of the hard problem is what ultimately backs up his zombie theory. The hard problem is, to Chalmers, the question as to why all of these functions are accompanied by subjective experiences. Chalmers discusses free will and morals as being a likely source and need for consciousness, but states that consciousness may not play a role in any other phenomenon other than itself (What are the problems of Physicalism, 2011.)

Chalmers argument has left itself open for much criticism by not providing and real evidence, and thus many people have developed countering views towards it. Patricia Churchland objects to the idea of zombies with her theory of ignorant belief. Churchland argues that what we do not know for certain about the brain we can only imagine. She maintains that what we can conceive of the brain only comes from the ignorance of what may actually be there or how it may operate. She believes that ignorance cannot be suitable ground for any sensible belief (Churchland, P.S. 1996).

To counter Chalmers use

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