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“Zombies” and the Mind Subject of Next Video at Meditation Center

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By Frank Simons

The Meditation Center presents part 21 of the Great Courses series Mind-Body Philosophy, “Of Mind, Materialism, and Zombies,” on Thursday, May 31.

A “zombie,” as discussed in this lecture, is not the blood-dripping, brain-eating creature of modern culture but a denizen of philosophical thought experiments. A zombie is a creature that acts like a person but has no conscious, subjective experience as most people do. Zombies offer a thought experiment to test, on reflection, whether dependence materialism is plausible.

Suppose you have a zombie twin. There is only one difference between the two of you: You have a rich inner life and are conscious. Your zombie twin does everything you do, but it’s all just a physical operation, without subjective awareness. People who say such a zombie is possible are antimaterialist.

Materialism says that if the two of you were physically identical, you would have to be mentally identical as well. A physically identical but mentally different zombie would be impossible if the mental depends on the physical.

Suppose we have a weaker form of identity: you and your twin are not physically identical but behaviorally identical. One view of behaviorism is that mental states are dependent on behavioral states. Could you and your zombie twin be behaviorally identical while you are conscious and your twin is not? If you think that kind of zombie impossible, you are not merely a materialist, you’re a behaviorist as well.

Hilary Putnam is a philosopher who believes that pain isn’t a physical but a functional state. His functionalism is a descendant of behaviorism, emphasizing a functional organization that includes internal states as well as behavior. Since mental states are identified by a functional role, functionalism believes that mental states can be manifested in various systems, perhaps even computers.

Consider your functionalist zombie twin. It has internal states that correlate with each of your mental states. Is it logically possible for you to have a functionally identical zombie twin like that but for you to be conscious and your twin not to be?

As Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, Professor Patrick Grim has provided his students with invaluable insights into issues of philosophy, artificial intelligence, theoretical biology, and other fields. Professor Grim was awarded the university’s presidential and chancellor’s awards for teaching excellence and was elected to the Academy of Teachers and Scholars.

“Of Mind, Materialism, and Zombies,” will be presented at 5:30pm at the Meditation Center, callejón Blanco 4. There will be an opportunity for discussion following the video.

Presentations of the center are offered without charge. Donations are gratefully accepted.


Video Presentation

Mind-Body Philosophy Part 21: “Of Mind, Materialism, and Zombies”

Thu, May 31, 5:30pm

Meditation Center

Callejón Blanco 4

Free, donations accepted

044 415 156 1950




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