There are so many zombie shows and movies out there, it can make your head spin. Between the Walking Dead, Z Nation, and World War Z zombies are everywhere. I just found out that zombies are even in philosophy. Plato’s cave may have more than allegories. Now it looks like zombies battle consciousness in philosophy discussions.
The zombies we see in movies and TV are basically dead in various degrees. Their skin is gray and falling off in various places, and they usually have a serious visible injury. They also have a penchant for eating the flesh of “live” humans.
Zombies in Philosophy
The zombies in philosophy are different from their TV counterparts. Where the zombies of Hollywood are the walking dead, the zombies of philosophy are the walking unconscious. In other words a philosophy zombie looks and acts just like we do, but it doesn’t have any conscious experiences at all.
Why even have a zombie in philosophy, especially if they look and act just like us? The answer is to highlight consciousness. These zombies are made to focus on the difference between a conscious person and an unconscious one. That difference helps define what a conscious person is. It also helps define what consciousness is and how it can even exist.
That’s important in philosophy because it’s concerned with the idea of what it means to be a person, to have a self, and to be alive. Here’s an excerpt from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
“Few people, if any, think zombies actually exist. But many hold they are at least conceivable, and some that they are possible. It seems that if zombies really are possible, then physicalism is false and some kind of dualism is true. For many philosophers that is the chief importance of the zombie idea.”
Zombies Battle Consciousness
There are a couple of philosophical technical terms in that text that I’ll ignore in this article. The point here though, is that zombies are alive and well, at least to some degree in the study of philosophy. But how do zombies battle consciousness? One aspect of the study of consciousness is whether consciousness is part of an evolutionary process, or why it even exists. Here is another excerpt.
“The apparent possibility of zombies can seem to pose a problem for evolutionary theory. Why did creatures with qualia survive rather than zombie counterparts of those creatures?
How could consciousness possibly have a function? Owen Flanagan and Thomas Polger have used the apparent possibility of zombies to support the claim that ‘There are as yet no credible stories about why subjects of experience emerged, why they might have won — or should have been expected to win — an evolutionary battle against very intelligent zombie-like information-sensitive organisms’: a problem not faced by those who reject the possibility of zombies.”
When you go deeper into the discussion where zombies battle consciousness, the questions can be turned around. Then you might ask, are we the zombies and are some other creatures the conscious beings? It makes a fun and interesting game out of the consciousness discussion. Brought in part, by our friends the zombies.
For more information, Wikipedia is a good place to start learning more about zombies in general. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy as discussed earlier has great info on zombies in philosophy. Zombies on the Web is also a fun and interesting site.
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