Removing the Head, or Destroying the Brain: Objections

“If humans have feelings and p-zombies don’t, can’t you generate entire categories of statements revolving around having feelings or not? Why doesn’t that distinguish the two concepts?”

Because we haven’t yet established that “feelings”, in the way David Chalmers talks about them, are a meaningful concept. If they’re empty symbols, they don’t add any meaning to sentences, and implications that appear to be distinct could actually mean precisely the same thing.

“What if we reject Chalmers’ definition and go with a looser one?”

Not a bad question.

As the Wikipedia article on p-zombies makes clear, there are other definitions of the term than the strict and highly limiting one Chalmers uses. A broader and weaker definition wouldn’t be vulnerable to the specific flaw that makes Chalmers’ obvious nonsense.

So what if we consider two beings that are initially identical physically, or can be put in equivalent physical states, but behave differently? What if there’s something “nonphysical” that causes them to be different even if they should be exactly the same according to physics?

There are still problems, there.

First, we need to always remember to distinguish between our ideas about how the universe acts (which we call ‘physics’), and how the universe actually does act (which we also call ‘physics’). If a normal human and a p-z look the same, and our understanding says they should be the same, but they don’t act the same, then our understanding is wrong. Physics is never wrong. Physics is never wrong. If it’s either you or the universe, it’s you.

Next problem: if there’s some supposedly nonphysical thing that influences your behavior, how does it interface with the rest of you? Your behaviors are physical. If one of the causes of those behaviors is nonphysical, there’s some point of interaction between the ‘physical’ and ‘nonphysical’ things. Tracing causality backwards from the action, there has to be some boundary that the causal links cross. Once that’s been identified, we can construct a model of the behaviors that encompasses both sides of the boundary – and once we’ve done that, what grounds do we have for excluding part of the system from our understanding of physics?

Because scientific understanding is open-ended and revisable, there’s no way to establish a partition within it. Postulate a new phenomenon, and you’re speculating about physics.

It’s not a coincidence that ‘immaterial’ means both something that is not made of matter, and something that isn’t relevant. Nor it is a coincidence that ‘matter’ means both a substance and a thing that makes a difference and is relevant. You can postulate a soul or spirit all you like – and I acknowledge that it is conceivable that human behavior requires phenomena beyond our current understanding – but it’s always a material and physical thing, even if it’s some freaky energy being.

If you have any further questions or comments, feel free to post them.

8 Responses to “Removing the Head, or Destroying the Brain: Objections”

  1. The interaction problem has been long fretted over by Kantian scholars.

    I agree with your description of the problem. If consciousness has no effect on the universe, then there’s no consciousness. If it does, then consciousness is physical. Postulating the Noumenal doesn’t help, as you then need to either fall in to the nonphysical trap, or cleverly explain how Noumena are (effectively) physical.

    Of course, epiphenomenalism, done well, can help.

    • “The interaction problem has been long fretted over by Kantian scholars.”
      (rolls eyes)

      See, that’s part of what makes me dismiss academic philosophy entirely. Scientists don’t stand for that sort of thing — if your reasoning has holes in it, they point them out, then reject your argument.

      For some reason, philosophers don’t seem to be interested in evaluating arguments; they prefer to talk about how they are presented rather than what they say.

  2. I took philosophy class before. In the discussions we were mostly talking past each other. There is the philosophy that is ‘profound’ and there is the philosophy that is ‘general’. Most people who do philosophy care more about the ‘profound’.

  3. “philosophers don’t seem to be interested in evaluating arguments; they prefer to talk about how they are presented rather than what they say.”

    That hasn’t been my experience at all. Philosophy is largely about evaluating arguments. The comment I made about Kant was just a pointer to a large body of work regarding Kantian metaphysics, where for over a century people have been making/evaluating arguments regarding the interaction problem between the physical/nonphysical parts of self.

    Compare someone postulating that maybe fire isn’t caused by phlogiston, and someone else responding that maybe they should look into contemporary chemistry/physics for an explanation.

  4. Physics and chemistry do not concern themselves with phlogiston theory, except to the degree that it is offered as an example of how outmoded hypotheses are rejected.

    There are plenty of people who will not only use Kantian thinking but defend it.

    Philosophy, as an academic discipline, is mostly about referencing arguments, rather than evaluating them.

  5. There’s a very simple way consciousness could both influence the universe and be not-physical. Physics is mathematical; therefore, consciousness could be nonmathematical. The interface would be something that is both mathematical and conscious.

    And it’s not even this difficult to swallow; there are algebras that are incompatible with the Peano axioms; consciousness could follow a generally incompatible set of rules. The interface would be something that only follows the parts that intersect.

  6. That isn’t coherent enough to be wrong.

    Look, just because I’ll permit idiots to comment here doesn’t mean I want them to do so.

  7. It’s unfortunate that you insult what you can’t understand.

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