(An extract from Susan Blackmore’s introduction to consciusness, 2003)

Dennett introduces the concept of the zimbo.

Imagine there is a simple zombie; some sort of creature (biological or artificial) that can walk about and behave in simple ways appropriate to its needs.

Now imagine a more complex kind of zombie. In addition, this complexzombie also monitors its own activities, including even its own internal activities, in an indefinite upward spiral of reflexivity. I will call sucha reflective entity a zimbo. A zimbo is a zombie that, as a result of self-monitoring, has internal (but unconscious) higher-order informational states that are about its other, lower-order
informational states.
Imagine a conversation with such a zimbo. Forexample, we might ask the zimbo about its mental images, or about its dreams or feelings or beliefs.
Because it can monitor its own activities, it could answer such questions — in ways that would seem
quite natural to us, suggesting that it was conscious just like us. As Dennett concludes ‘the zimbo would (unconsciously) believe that it was in
various mental states — precisely the mental states it is in position to report about should we ask it
questions. It would think it was conscious, even if it wasn’t!’ (ibid.: 311).

This is how Dennett comes
to make his famous claim that ‘We’re all zombies. Nobody is conscious — not in the systematically mysterious way that supports such doctrines as
epiphenomenalism!’ (ibid.: 406).
A zombie is a creature identical behaviourally to a human, with the exact same neurons, etc., except they have no consciousness
Ah, but do we even have free will?

A seminal experiment in this field was conducted by Benjamin Libet in the 1980s, wherein he asked subjects to choose a random moment to flick their wrist while he watched the associated activity in their brains. Libet found that the unconscious brain activity leading up to the conscious decision by the subject to flick his or her wrist began approximately half a second before the subject consciously decided to move. This build up of electrical charge has come to be called readiness potential. Libet’s findings suggest that decisions made by a subject are actually first being made on a subconscious level and only afterward being translated into a “conscious decision”, and that the subject’s belief that it occurred at the behest of their will was only due to their retrospective perspective on the event.
A related experiment performed later by Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone involved asking subjects to choose at random which of their hands to move. He found that by stimulating different hemispheres of the brain using magnetic fields it was possible to strongly influence which hand the subject picked. Normally right-handed people would choose to move their right hand 60% of the time, for example, but when the right hemisphere was stimulated they would instead choose their left hand 80% of the time; the right hemisphere of the brain is responsible for the left side of the body, and the left hemisphere for the right. Despite the external influence on their decision-making, the subjects continued to report that they believed their choice of hand had been made freely.
Eroticohio, that was a first-class answer, one of those great few who give yahoo answers a good name- if only everyone was like you!

Do you, then, believe that this ‘hard problem’ of consciousness is insoluable, i.e. humans are ‘cognitively closed’ to the answer, or do you think that it can be solved, but only through a new understanding of the universe?

12 Comments

  • I can’t speak for you but I can say this with absolute certainty, I’m not a zombie or zimbo. Are we too intelligent that we can no longer be contented to being human that we want to elevate/reduce ourselves to a reflective zombies?

    I am not a zimbo. Maybe, you are?

  • well the sleeping, or stupid people are zombies. the ppl who know and are aware of higher consciousnesses are the ppl in the horror movies running from the zombies and screaming while trying not to be eaten and mutated into one. Stupidity is a horrible epidemic, and its spreading faster than false roumors and tabloids.

  • I have read a lot of Dennett’s work. He is a very good writer and famous philosopher, but most philosophers do not agree with his views on the nature of consciousness. What he is trying to “solve” is something called “the hard problem of consciousness.” This is the problem of how to explain the qualitative character of our experience based on physical properties (like the activity of our brain cells.) The hard problem is trying to explain why any sort of physical system should “feel like” anything. Why should red look like red, for example. We can imagine complex machines that could behave like we do without experiencing anything (it would be like what Dennett is calling a zombie). So why do WE experience anything? Why aren’t we zombies, in Dennett’s sense? Dennett’s answer is that we are confused by the language we use to when we talk about consciousness. According to many philosophers (David Chalmers, for example) the qualitative character of our experience — the “what it is like” to experience something — is an additional fact about our universe. Suppose you have a completely perfect description of all physical activity in your body, right down to the activity of every little subatomic particle. How could you logically predict (if you didn’t already know, by your own first-person feelings of experience) that all this physical activity is associated with experiences, like the feeling of what it is like to see the color blue, or what it feels like to have a toothache? It seems that the EXPERIENCE of a physical system (the first-person sensations of what it feels like to BE the physical system) is a completely different sort of fact about the world than all the third-person physical facts you could describe. Or to put it another way, it is one sort of question to ask: “Why does anything exist?” and another sort of question to ask: “Why does anything EXPERIENCE the world?” We think we can imagine a world without anyone around to experience anything (like the earth before life evolved), so why did experience evolve? Dennett’s answer to the hard problem is to claim that there really is no problem because conscious experience does not really add any “extra fact” about the world. He says there is no valid distinction between you and a zimbo (a creature that behaves like you but has “no experience”). I disagree with Dennett. I think experience is fundamental to existence, and I believe that because of this we need to START with experience itself if we ever want to explain anything (rather than starting with physical theories, then trying to explain the nature of experience). My approach is called “phenomenology”. All we know is the qualitative character of our experience, so that is the foundation upon which we must build all of our explanations.

    Additional thoughts:
    If we take experience as fundamental, then the nature of the hard problem changes. There is no problem of trying to derive experience from physics because, by definition, if experience is fundamental, then it cannot be derived from anything. Unfortunately we then have a new problem: Can we understand the nature of experience in such a way that we can derive physics from it? This could be a new sort of “hard problem” that is just as tough as the traditional hard problem, but personally I suspect it is not quite so hard. To see why, we have to keep in mind that phenomenology is not the same as idealism. Idealism claims that everything is a product of mind (the “external world” is just a big, fancy dream), but phenomenology accepts the reality of the external world, although it transforms our understanding of the “external.” In my own version of phenomenology (I borrow a lot from Heidegger) we are composed of the world — we are the world itself taking different perspectives upon itself. The traditional notion of “external” now becomes just a matter of perspective. What seems external from my perspective is just defined by the limits of my perspective. Every unique perspective, however, is actually the world taking a limited perspective upon itself, so ultimately there is no “external” in the traditional physicalist sense of the term. The basic question thus shifts to this rather famous question: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” The fundamental nature of the world itself IS experiential, so the traditional Hard Problem gets replaced by the problem of why there is something rather than nothing. I think this is an eternal mystery at the root of Being — a question that even God cannot answer, beyond something to the effect: “That’s just the way it is.”

    I have explained more about the nature of conscious experience, etc., in some of my other Yahoo answers, so I won’t repeat all that stuff here. But returning to my earlier question (“Can we derive physics from phenomenology?”) In principle it seems possible. We would need to develop a theory of phenomena — perhaps identify some fundamental qualia and rules of evolution such that all other qualia can be derived (including the qualia associated with understanding the theories and experimental results of physics). (By the way “qualia” is the word used to refer to the phenomenal characteristics or “what-it-is-like-ness” of experience.) What would then be left unexplained would be the fundamental qualia and the fundamental rules — but since ALL explanation must start with some fundamentals, this is not a weakness of the theory. It is, however, a fundamental mystery at the root of Being itself.

  • Sort of the equivalent of the Turing question in computer science. How do you know if you are talking to a machine or a human?

    The answer to your question I think is free will. If you have it, you cannot be any form of zombie because you have to have consciousness in order to use it.

    Though I have to admit a large percentage of the population certainly ACT like zombies at times.

  • that’s kind of depressing i mean to be a zimbo! i think we are much more than that and what about emotions what about dare i say or inner needs to believe and to have a faith that fill our voids and if consciousness was an illusion then everything else is an illusion and if everything else is an illusion why are we living!
    this is just too simplistic

  • Yes, yes, yes – someone is compelling me to type this, we have no free will, we have no consciousness…

    I must stop this now. Time for beer, peanuts, jocularity and then some ritualized unconsciousness…

  • u have written so much, but my answer would depend on ur definition of a “zombie”. Do that n i’ll reply…

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