Monday, January 14, 2008

Zombies: Can they distinguish tea from coffee?

I had a wicked migraine this morning from all the thinking last night. So I decided to temporarily disengage my noggin from my torso. Here am I, headless and seeking respite. (Alright, I'm really just looking out the window.) With headache dispatched, it was time, yet again, for study. I returned to the contemplation of sentience and the escalation toward self-awareness and enlightenment. While surfing for published research on the subject, I stumbled across a paper entitled Are Zombies Logically Possible, And Why It Matters, penned by William Seager at the University of Toronto at Scarborough.

It turns out there is a considerable amount of scholarship on zombies within the context of the philosophy of mind and the science of consciousness. I was gobsmacked. The Web site MindPapers contains a bibliography with, count 'em, 18,357(!) citations on that and related topics.

Here's an excerpt from Seager's paper that will surely keep me awake tonight:
Consider this from the side of the zombie. Suppose a zombie is asked to think about or "internally compare" the tastes of coffee and tea. The zombie thinks for a while, and carefully sips some tea and coffee, then soliloquizes about this "difference" for awhile, doubtless saying many things that are true of the tastes of tea and coffee. But the zombie's remarks are grounded in utterly false beliefs simply because the requisite experiences are just missing. Of course, this kind of zombie would never seriously entertain the idea that it is a totally non-conscious being. It's epistemic situation is the same as mine and if I have no good reason to wonder whether I am a zombie then neither does it. But that doesn't eliminate the possibility that it is a zombie, any more than the fact that I have no good reason to believe that I am a brain in a vat shows that it is logically impossible that I am a brain in a vat.
Not to be outdone, William Robert Webster, in the journal Synthese 151:(2):297-310, countered with his article Human Zombies are Metaphysically Impossible. I have not read it yet. There is only so much a cat, even a self-aware one, can digest in one sitting.

I am left with this question: Is there a feline-approved dosage of Ambien?

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