Zombies: The Movie

post by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2008-04-20T05:53:14.000Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 79 comments

FADE IN around a serious-looking group of uniformed military officers.  At the head of the table, a senior, heavy-set man, GENERAL FRED, speaks.

GENERAL FRED:  The reports are confirmed.  New York has been overrun... by zombies.

COLONEL TODD:  Again?  But we just had a zombie invasion 28 days ago!

GENERAL FRED:  These zombies... are different.  They're... philosophical zombies.

CAPTAIN MUDD:  Are they filled with rage, causing them to bite people?

COLONEL TODD:  Do they lose all capacity for reason?

GENERAL FRED:  No.  They behave... exactly like we do... except that they're not conscious.

(Silence grips the table.)


GENERAL FRED moves over to a computerized display.

GENERAL FRED:  This is New York City, two weeks ago.

The display shows crowds bustling through the streets, people eating in restaurants, a garbage truck hauling away trash.

GENERAL FRED:  This... is New York City... now.

The display changes, showing a crowded subway train, a group of students laughing in a park, and a couple holding hands in the sunlight.

COLONEL TODD:  It's worse than I imagined.

CAPTAIN MUDD:  How can you tell, exactly?

COLONEL TODD:  I've never seen anything so brutally ordinary.

A lab-coated SCIENTIST stands up at the foot of the table.

SCIENTIST:  The zombie disease eliminates consciousness without changing the brain in any way.  We've been trying to understand how the disease is transmitted.  Our conclusion is that, since the disease attacks dual properties of ordinary matter, it must, itself, operate outside our universe.  We're dealing with an epiphenomenal virus.

GENERAL FRED:  Are you sure?

SCIENTIST:  As sure as we can be in the total absence of evidence.

GENERAL FRED:  All right.  Compile a report on every epiphenomenon ever observed.  What, where, and who.  I want a list of everything that hasn't happened in the last fifty years.

CAPTAIN MUDD:  If the virus is epiphenomenal, how do we know it exists?

SCIENTIST:  The same way we know we're conscious.

CAPTAIN MUDD:  Oh, okay.

GENERAL FRED:  Have the doctors made any progress on finding an epiphenomenal cure?

SCIENTIST:  They've tried every placebo in the book.  No dice.  Everything they do has an effect.

GENERAL FRED:  Have you brought in a homeopath?

SCIENTIST:  I tried, sir!  I couldn't find any!

GENERAL FRED:  Excellent.  And the Taoists?

SCIENTIST:  They refuse to do anything!

GENERAL FRED:  Then we may yet be saved.

COLONEL TODD:  What about David Chalmers?  Shouldn't he be here?

GENERAL FRED:  Chalmers... was one of the first victims.


(Cut to the INTERIOR of a cell, completely walled in by reinforced glass, where DAVID CHALMERS paces back and forth.)

DOCTOR:  David!  David Chalmers!  Can you hear me?


NURSE:  It's no use, doctor.

CHALMERS:  I'm perfectly fine.  I've been introspecting on my consciousness, and I can't detect any difference.  I know I would be expected to say that, but—

The DOCTOR turns away from the glass screen in horror.

DOCTOR:  His words, they... they don't mean anything.

CHALMERS:  This is a grotesque distortion of my philosophical views.  This sort of thing can't actually happen!

DOCTOR:  Why not?

NURSE:  Yes, why not?

CHALMERS:  Because—

(Cut to two POLICE OFFICERS, guarding a dirt road leading up to the imposing steel gate of a gigantic concrete complex.  On their uniforms, a badge reads "BRIDGING LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCY".)

OFFICER 1:  You've got to watch out for those clever bastards.  They look like humans.  They can talk like humans.  They're identical to humans on the atomic level.  But they're not human.

OFFICER 2:  Scumbags.

The huge noise of a throbbing engine echoes over the hills.  Up rides the MAN on a white motorcycle.  The MAN is wearing black sunglasses and a black leather business suit with a black leather tie and silver metal boots.  His white beard flows in the wind.  He pulls to a halt in front of the gate.

The OFFICERS bustle up to the motorcycle.

OFFICER 1:  State your business here.

MAN:  Is this where you're keeping David Chalmers?

OFFICER 2:  What's it to you?  You a friend of his?

MAN:  Can't say I am.  But even zombies have rights.

OFFICER 1:  All right, buddy, let's see your qualia.

MAN:  I don't have any.

OFFICER 2 suddenly pulls a gun, keeping it trained on the MAN.  OFFICER 2:  Aha!  A zombie!

OFFICER 1:  No, zombies claim to have qualia.

OFFICER 2:  So he's an ordinary human?

OFFICER 1:  No, they also claim to have qualia.

The OFFICERS look at the MAN, who waits calmly.

OFFICER 2:  Um...

OFFICER 1:  Who are you?

MAN:  I'm Daniel Dennett, bitches.

Seemingly from nowhere, DENNETT pulls a sword and slices OFFICER 2's gun in half with a steely noise.  OFFICER 1 begins to reach for his own gun, but DENNETT is suddenly standing behind OFFICER 1 and chops with a fist, striking the junction of OFFICER 1's shoulder and neck.  OFFICER 1 drops to the ground.

OFFICER 2 steps back, horrified.

OFFICER 2:  That's not possible!  How'd you do that?

DENNETT:  I am one with my body.

DENNETT drops OFFICER 2 with another blow, and strides toward the gate.  He looks up at the imposing concrete complex, and grips his sword tighter.

DENNETT (quietly to himself):  There is a spoon.

(Cut back to GENERAL FRED and the other military officials.)

GENERAL FRED:  I've just received the reports.  We've lost Detroit.

CAPTAIN MUDD:  I don't want to be the one to say "Good riddance", but—

GENERAL FRED:  Australia has been... reduced to atoms.

COLONEL TODD:  The epiphenomenal virus is spreading faster.  Civilization itself threatens to dissolve into total normality.  We could be looking at the middle of humanity.

CAPTAIN MUDD:  Can we negotiate with the zombies?

GENERAL FRED:  We've sent them messages.  They sent only a single reply.

CAPTAIN MUDD:  Which was...?

GENERAL FRED:  It's on its way now.

An orderly brings in an envelope, and hands it to GENERAL FRED.

GENERAL FRED opens the envelope, takes out a single sheet of paper, and reads it.

Silence envelops the room.

CAPTAIN MUDD:  What's it say?

GENERAL FRED:  It says... that we're the ones with the virus.

(A silence falls.)

COLONEL TODD raises his hands and stares at them.

COLONEL TODD:  My God, it's true.  It's true.  I...

(A tear rolls down COLONEL TODD's cheek.)

COLONEL TODD:  I don't feel anything.

The screen goes black.

The sound goes silent.

The movie continues exactly as before.

Elizombies PS:  This is me being attacked by zombie nurses at Penguicon.

Only at a combination science fiction and open-source convention would it be possible to attend a session on knife-throwing, cry "In the name of Bayes, die!", throw the knife, and then have a fellow holding a wooden shield say, "Yes, but how do you determine the prior for where the knife hits?"


Comments sorted by oldest first, as this post is from before comment nesting was available (around 2009-02-27).

comment by Cyan2 · 2008-04-20T06:08:19.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Eliezer, are you by any chance a fan of the Silent Hill videogame franchise? Those zombie nurses strongly remind me of those games.

comment by Elver · 2008-04-20T06:57:49.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This needs to be turned into a short film. Now!

comment by Roland3 · 2008-04-20T07:55:22.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Eliezer, could you please define epiphenomenal?

Replies from: Technologos
comment by Technologos · 2009-12-23T02:52:31.614Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The SEP has one here.

comment by Hopefully_Anonymous · 2008-04-20T08:29:56.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Eliezer, is this enlightenment or foil-seeking? You don't seem to be addressing the strongest discussions of uncertainty regarding the subjective conscious experience, which is where the action should be in a blog community this relatively ingtelligent. It seems to me you're looking for easy foils to slay, sort of like Dawkins, Hitchens, and Randi (and before them, Gould). I think that's sucking up discussion oxygen here, and'll end up driving away the more intelligent posters to other online venues. Worst case scenario, it'll help dampen interesting discussion by smart people, like was done for years regarding the distribution and heritability of intelligence (in this case regarding the subjective conscious experience and discernment technology).

Replies from: EZstar, kragensitaker
comment by EZstar · 2009-10-15T14:39:21.131Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I disagree Hopefully Anonymous. Its important for Dawkins and Randi to address things like psychics and intelligent design, even though reasonably intelligent people could be talking about deeper things, because a lot of reasonably intelligent people still believe in them. There are a lot of well qualified philosophers (David Chalmers is even mentioned in the post) who believe this sort of thing and would probably very much like to have a discussion about it here.

It's possible Eliezer's rhetorical style is tripping you up (although if you've read much else of his it shouldn't), but personally I think putting this argument in movie script form makes it much more accessible to lay-people. Sometimes intelligent discussion includes things other than finding the most plausible point in an opponents argument and attacking it with a detailed and well reasoned 10 page post.

comment by kragensitaker · 2011-08-12T01:30:33.962Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Need it be one or the other? I was just reading Chalmers's Singularity paper, came to the bit where he says, "Although I am sympathetic with some forms of dualism about consciousness," and decided to reread this page. Which is hilarious.

comment by Michael_Fridman · 2008-04-20T08:42:41.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think Dennett would be flattered!

Replies from: diegocaleiro
comment by diegocaleiro · 2014-03-17T08:43:50.993Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

He was.

comment by Brian_Jaress2 · 2008-04-20T10:31:07.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hopefully Anonymous, if you think a point should be addressed, make that point.

I say Eliezer has finally dealt with the zombie issue as it deserves.

It's a silly idea that invites convoluted discussion, which makes it look sophisticated and hard to refute.

comment by Caledonian2 · 2008-04-20T11:41:49.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
You don't seem to be addressing the strongest discussions of uncertainty regarding the subjective conscious experience,

Oh? And what are those, exactly? Be specific.

Our universe does not contain 'subjective' things, at least in the formal sense of the word. It contains only objective things, some of which are more or less accessible to limited human perception / technological detection.

The zombie idea isn't only wrong. It's also stupid. If you can't inhibit your innate sense that "minds are magic" long enough to recognize that your intuition is baseless and rather silly, you have utterly failed as an intellectual being.

comment by Caledonian2 · 2008-04-20T11:49:07.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh, and before I forget: the definition of epiphenomenalism

Please note that by this definition, declaring an epiphenomenon to be real has absolutely no implications for 'material reality' that declaring it to be unreal doesn't also have, and vice versa. In other words, it doesn't exist relative to material reality at all.

Trying to use it to explain the properties of material reality is therefore pointless.

comment by Dan3 · 2008-04-20T12:23:15.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"There exist sophisticated arguments for philosophical zombies, but I won't tell you them!"

However, I also agree that enough attention has been paid to zombies, except for me it's on the basis that they're badly-founded from the start. However, a movie about an epiphenomenal virus is, in fact, far too funny not to enjoy. My only complaint is that the philosophers use real words, when we all know that real philosophers speak badly-mangled Latin mixed with made-up words.

comment by Tanasije_Gjorgoski · 2008-04-20T12:57:06.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This was very funny...

On more serious not, there is nothing wrong with zombie argument. It just says that physicalism claims that you can a priori deduce the facts about conscious experience (e.g. if there is conscious experience/exactly what kind of conscious experience there is) from the physical facts about the system. Notice that 'a priori'. So, it is not just that we can come to know which physical facts are correlated with what facts about consciousness, or which physical phenomenon gives rise to consciousness, but that we can deduce like we deduce mathematical truths.

So, zombie argument just says, that given what our idea of physical system consist of now - i.e. the patterns of behavior of complex structures of elementary physical particles, governed by physical laws which take form of mathematical equations... you can't deduce anything like facts about conscious experience. So, it says, there is no way, without the knowledge based on the science which would relate this behavior to our conscious experience, that one could go from the description expressed in mathematical equations which relate different measurables of the systems, like position, energy, momentum, etc..., and A PRIORI deduce facts, like if there is conscious experience, or the facts about what kind of conscious experience one has.

"But 'physical' is not just what we know about the world now, it means everything that will be approachable by physical science in future also!"

Well, that's OK, but if those equations are still nothing but mathematical equations which show how different measurables relate, there is no way to start from THAT, and a priori deduce facts as e.g. there being conscious experience, or the facts about it. Again, it is not if we can scientifically know based on the physical facts if there is, or not conscious experience, and know again based on scientific research what kind of conscious experience there is.

It is about impossibility to deduce a priori this conscious experience, from descriptions which are in terms of concepts which are incommensurable with conscious experience. We might as well, try to deduce the mass of Earth solely from the Pythagorean Theorem.

"But... epiphenomenalism, the view that consciousness is epiphenomenon is silly"

Yes, it is. But that the zombie argument starts from some position taking some assumptions of physicalism and refusing others, and as a result has epiphenomenalism as conclusion, is nothing but reductio ad absurdum of those other assumptions which epiphenomenalism shares with physicalism.

Anyway... hope I don't spoil everyone's joy with the post, as it was pure comedy gold!

comment by Q_the_Enchanter · 2008-04-20T13:44:59.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Best exchange:

GENERAL FRED: Are you sure?

SCIENTIST: As sure as we can be in the total absence of evidence.Brutal.

Tanasije Gjorgoski, I don't quite understand the argument. Science doesn't "a priori deduce facts." It generates and tests explanatory structures that purport to account for observed regularities. Physicalism (ontological naturalism) isn't an a priori theory of scientific methodology; it's an induction from the success of the scientific project. (Science generally proceeds within a physicalist framework because physicalism has worked well, whereas its competitors haven't. Operationally, this means that when scientists grapple with the phenomenon, the presumption is that whatever scientific explanation there is to be had resides within the physicalist framework.) The zombie argument, then, is an a priori argument that seeks to defeat this induction over the phenomenon of consciousness.

comment by Hopefully_Anonymous · 2008-04-20T13:52:02.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Caledonian: "___ isn't only wrong. It's also stupid."

"If you can't _, you have utterly failed as an intellectual being."

Brian Jaress: "I say Eliezer has finally dealt with the ___ issue as it deserves. It's a silly idea that invites convoluted discussion"

Dan: "However, I also agree that enough attention has been paid to _, except for me it's on the basis that they're badly-founded from the start."

These type posts are part of why I suspect this whole string of posts has its root in foil-seeking, more than enlightenment. More of a search for a soft target that can still put up a bit of dialectical frisson, perhaps for some utility in-group building and hierarchical construction.

But it seems to me to be a less interesting use of this site than other posts and series of posts, including from Eliezer.

As for what I think are "the strongest discussions of uncertainty regarding the subjective conscious experience", please see my blog, as they feature heavily in recent posts there, and I've already discussed them more than once here on OB.

comment by PK2 · 2008-04-20T14:07:00.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Maybe it wouldn't be such a bad thing if humanity was overcome by the zombie virus. I mean look at those skirts, they are very short, very!

comment by Tanasije_Gjorgoski · 2008-04-20T14:27:07.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hi Q,

Science doesn't, and naturalism doesn't (commit to the claim that one can a priori get from physical facts to the facts about consciousness). But that is THE commitment of physicalism. Physicalism is not equal to science. It is just yet another metaphysical position. Physicalist's position is usually defined that metaphysically there is no difference without metaphysical difference. And the metaphysical necessity is a priori necessity. (Some try to say that physicalism doesn't need to claim a priori necessity, but only Kripkean a posteriori necessity, but that is , seems to me, really just hiding the commitment of a priori deduction. I could say more on this, if needed).

So, when person presents zombie argument, he doesn't give argument against science, nor physics, but against this metaphysical commitment of physicalism (defined as "no difference without physical difference). I wonder if lot of negative reactions to the zombie argument in this series of post is mixing up the naturalistic/scientific view on the world with the claims of physicalism. (Of course there is also the silly consequences of the epiphenomenalism, but as I said, we can take that as a reductio.)

comment by Tanasije_Gjorgoski · 2008-04-20T14:28:37.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oops, that should be "metaphysically, there is no difference without physical difference". Sorry about that.

comment by Pyramid_Head2 · 2008-04-20T14:32:20.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Laughed VERY loud here. And the zombie nurses picture was priceless. Big fan of Silent Hill here, as my nickname can attest...

comment by Dan3 · 2008-04-20T15:23:53.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

HA: I think there's sort of a boundary between what you mean and what people are reading from your comments. Specifically, I don't know that you and the people you're arguing with mean the same things when you say "zombie", which kind of messes things up. Your definition of zombie appears to be nonstandard, and also really vague as expressed. I think the biggest problem, though, is that other people assume you mean one thing (basically the Chalmers version of "zombie") when I don't think that's precisely what you mean. If I've got your position at all right, it roughly boils down to the fact that "something funky seems to be going on in our heads that we don't really understand, and which a Turing test couldn't necessarily measure" - which I'd actually agree with, although I still find Chalmers' zombies to be dumb, illogical, question-begging, etc. Before getting into the finer points, it usually helps if everyone means the same thing by a given word, or at least knows who means what by it. Honestly, I'd suggest dumping the term "zombie" in favor of something else if you don't mean Chalmers' version because otherwise it will lead to misunderstandings.

Tanasije: It would be a lot easier to agree or disagree with you if I didn't have to decipher what precisely you mean by "metaphysical", "a priori", and so on. See, these words don't come loaded with hard-and-fast universal meanings, so when you use them you should probably define them or many responses are going to (continue to) come in the form of confusion.

comment by Tanasije_Gjorgoski · 2008-04-20T16:03:09.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sorry Dan,

Let me try to explain those words, as they are very important for the zombie-argument to makes sense.

"Metaphysical" when talking about "metaphysical necessity" (or possibility), means that some claim is true, not because it happens to be a fact in this world, but that it is contradictory for it to be otherwise. An example would be e.g. that it is metaphysically necessary that if you have one and one more apple, you have two apples. So, when we talk about this kind of metaphysical necessities, we can have as examples truths from logic, mathematics, conceptual necessities (e.g. if we define bachelor as an unmarried male, it would be contradictory to claim that some bachelor is not male), etc... Because metaphysical truths are supposed to be true independent of the how the world happens to be, you don't need to know any particular fact from the everyday experience in order to know them, so their knowledge is independent from knowledge gained from particular experience, and that is what that other term - A PRIORI means.

The physicalist claim is now, that the facts about there being consciousness and exactly what consciousness it is, are metaphysically necessary given the physical facts about the same system. So, basically one claims that facts about consciousness follow (as in logic/math etc..) from physical facts (a priori). So, for physicalism the truth about consciousness relation to physical IS of the same nature as the nature of math truths, i.e. independent of the way the world happens to be.

Hope this helps.

comment by Q_the_Enchanter · 2008-04-20T16:29:10.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"[Physicalism] is just yet another metaphysical position."

I don't think that's correct. Scientists presuppose naturalism when they study a phenomenon. For historical reasons, a special word has been coined for the standard presupposition when it is applied in the context of consciousness. That word is 'physicalism.' In this sense, physicalism is merely a sound methodological induction (as is the subsidiary induction that methodological naturalism tells us something about the likely ontological constitution of the world).

Alternatively, 'physicalism' is also the name for a philosophical project that aims to give a formal account of, or justification for, this presupposition (both in its methodological and ontological guises). There are some who insist that this philosophical physicalism somehow must amount to an a priori thesis, but by my lights there isn't any good reason to do so.

comment by Tanasije_Gjorgoski · 2008-04-20T16:43:54.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


In most places I've seen where the physicalism was attacked or defended, it was in the terms of the supervenience (i.e. that metaphysically there is no difference without physical difference). Be it when physicalism is being attacked, or really defended by the physicalists. E.g. in relation to the zombie argument, or to the Jackson's knowledge argument.

But if you want to use "physicalism" synonymous with "naturalism", I can't really stop you. I guess we should then distinguish the discussions about "physicalism" in one sense, and "physicalism" in another sense. :) But anyway, zombie argument is not supposed to be against what you describe as "physicalism", so to argue that zombie argument fails to give arguments against it, is to miss its point.

Anyway, it seems to me that what you are describing is empiricism of Quinean type, and not physicalism.

comment by Caledonian2 · 2008-04-20T17:04:55.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think that's correct. Scientists presuppose naturalism when they study a phenomenon.
No. When scientists find a phenomenon that doesn't fit into the current understanding of what the natural world can do, they change their understanding and expand the list of natural things.

What scientists DO presume is that the world can in some measure be described and understood.

comment by Dan3 · 2008-04-20T17:39:02.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Tanasije: That works, yes. Thanks for the clarification.

comment by Grant · 2008-04-20T18:09:28.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I call BS. I've been to open-source conferences, and I've never seen attractive women at them, zombie nurses or otherwise!

Good story, though.

Replies from: bigjeff5
comment by bigjeff5 · 2011-02-03T21:13:27.507Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Clearly you need to go to the SF / Open-Source conferences, since Eliezer did state the zombie nurses were a result of just such a combination.

comment by Roko · 2008-04-20T18:47:44.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Grant: I call BS. I've been to open-source conferences, and I've never seen attractive women at them, zombie nurses or otherwise!

maybe Eliezer has acquired groupies?

comment by Hopefully_Anonymous · 2008-04-20T20:40:55.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Dan, If you reread my recent posts, I think you'll find I've already stopped using "zombie" to describe what I'm talking about. Although I suspect many of the posters here have latched onto Chalmer's definition of zombie, not because it makes the most sense or is the most practical definition of the term, but because it makes it an easy foil, for reasons I've described above.

comment by Caledonian2 · 2008-04-20T20:44:04.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Or maybe it's because that is what the word 'zombie' is used to refer to in philosophy, and trying to redefine the term arbitrarily is pointless.

If you have a different concept you'd like to discuss, use a different term - or provide some good reasons for why you must adopt an already-existing term with an already-existing accepted meaning.

comment by Anonymous22 · 2008-04-20T21:15:44.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Tanasije, I'd say "Quinean empiricism" plus scientific realism (if I may sum those two) gives you physicalism, or something near enough. In any case, what is "supervenience" if not an account of what metaphysical naturalism is, on the one hand, or an explanation for the success of methodological naturalism, on the other?

(Yes, some scientists are in a sense metaphysically pluralist, since they grant or pressuppose the nonmateriality of abstract objects like mathematical entities or theories [profigately, in my view]. The point here, though, is that with respect to the phenomena they study as scientists, they presuppose physicalism.)

comment by Dan3 · 2008-04-20T21:17:14.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Chalmers gets the attention because his type of argument is both popular with philosophers and full of implied dualism (boo! hissss! dualism!). It's not so much foil-seeking as chasing the red cape, in my opinion. I would choose a nicer metaphor, but I seriously doubt any philosophers involved would change their opinion on the matter for any reason that's anything short of earth-shaking. For instance, if Chalmers caught an epiphenomenal virus ... but, yes, you get the idea.

comment by Tanasije_Gjorgoski · 2008-04-20T21:41:33.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


I'm not sure you insist of calling this combination "physicalism", contra all those discussions of physicalism in philosophy. First, one can be empiricist and scientific realist, and not be physicalist. For example there is nothing contradictory in thinking that the all the beliefs are revisable in the light of new empirical data, and also believe that sciences give us explanation of the real world, and still not believe that that the mental phenomena can be deduced from the physical facts. Of course you may be a physicalist, who also is scientific realist and Quinean empiricist, but it is good to keep on mind that those are not equal.

You point to the status of disciplines like math and logic, but it is not just that. Biologists and cognitive psychologists are scientists no? But they don't have to have any particular belief of how the phenomena they research are related to the level of e.g. elementary particles.

I would point to what Caledonian said... "What scientists DO presume is that the world can in some measure be described and understood."

I think that nicely captures the science in general as not committed to a certain metaphysical view.

comment by Hopefully_Anonymous · 2008-04-20T22:35:56.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'll discuss this further on my blog, including addressing all of Caledonian's concerns in his latest post in this thread (actually, I think I've already done that on my blog), so as not to hijack/flood this thread with further posts.

comment by Silas · 2008-04-20T23:03:01.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Make this a South Park episode.

comment by Zubon · 2008-04-20T23:54:45.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is there a genre of Daniel Dennett fan fiction yet, or is it still in its infancy?

comment by Jason2 · 2008-04-20T23:59:53.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

the story continued...

The XXII World Congress of Philosophy 2008 inaugurated emergency gathering to solve this philosophical zombie problem.

Chalmers: We must find the neural correlates of consciousness.

Searle: No, lock them up in the Chinese room and see if they "understand" Chinese.

Kim: No, we must find the condition for these zombies to supervene consciousness again.

Putnam & Fodor: No, we should make consciousness to be not reducible to physics. Let's make these philosophical zombies multiply realizable!

Paul & Patricia Churchland: It's all over, everyone. Folk psychology is completely lost in them. They are all goners...

Turing: First thing is first. Make them write a Turing test and let's see if they are zombies or not.

McGinn: Fuck it. Chalmers is right. We cannot solve the Hard Problem of consciousness.

comment by Q_the_Enchanter · 2008-04-21T00:15:42.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Tanasije, you said "Quinean empiricism," not empiricism simpliciter. Quine was at least epistemologically physicalist (to whatever degree physicalism can be so restricted), so I thought adding realism made the point cleanly enough.

Anyway, I'm arguing that the reason successful, productive scientists presume "the world can in some measure be described and understood" is that they presuppose a rough-and-ready physicalism with regard to the phenomenon they study. (As I see it, the lack of any scientifically productive appeal to "intrinsic properties" or the like as an explanans is suggestive enough.) The claim, then, that there's no logical contradiction in doing otherwise is beside the point I was making.

I'll otherwise submit. Last word's yours if you want it.

comment by Caledonian2 · 2008-04-21T00:31:36.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think you need to explain what you mean by "physical" facts.

What are some examples of things that you consider physical, and what examples are not? What defines that category and contrasts it with things not within it?

comment by Nick_Tarleton · 2008-04-21T01:41:31.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Foil-seeking/attacking soft targets can be useful for clearly demonstrating a point (Follow The Improbability, here).

I still can't stop laughing at "BRIDGING LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCY".

comment by mtraven · 2008-04-21T04:13:37.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The current plotline of Battlestar Galactica is not entirely unlike this movie. Which is one reason I find this allegedly superior show rather unsatisfying.

comment by Ben5 · 2008-04-21T09:25:28.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Haha, this was great. I think you pulled the punch on one of your jokes, though. You should have added, "...at the middle of humanity as we know it."

comment by Wintermute · 2008-04-21T15:55:53.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You mean to tell me that I spent my entire weekend at PenguiCon with... Zombies?! Perhaps it's best that no one else knew, otherwise one particularly trigger-happy member of the panel on "Surviving a Zombie Apocalypse" probably would have shot all attendees in the head at least once, just to be safe.


comment by Scott_Scheule · 2008-04-24T07:00:08.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Perhaps the most embarrassing part about all of this--and there is much embarrassing in silly insults aimed at one's opposition being thrown around at a blog named "Overcoming Bias"--is that epiphenomenalists know the arguments, know quite well the apparent absurdity of the position, and have responses, and none of these seem to show up in all this discussion. For example, here. Alas, rather what we have here seems to be a gleeful variant of Ludditism: "Look at those fancy philosophers with their logic and their rationality and their big words! What a bunch of assholes!" Presuming one's opposition is stupid does not strike me as a reliable or respectable means of converging on the truth.

One gets the feeling that Overcoming Bias is to bias as O'Reilly's No Spin Zone is to spin.

Seeing something substantial addressed, as opposed to a secondhand reading, would be useful in that it would 1. move the discussion forward, and 2. show some evidence that the poster has actually taken the time to read the opposition and consider its best arguments.

Replies from: HungryHobo
comment by HungryHobo · 2013-07-15T21:27:05.497Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've read those arguments you link and they always seem to boil down to thin self referential definitions and using synonyms as if they're explanations.

"For example, my concept of phenomenal 'redness' is grounded in the phenomenal quality of redness that I experience"

you might as well say that my concept of wibble is grounded in the wib quality of ble that I experience. it shares the same level of insigtfulness.

Replies from: Juno_Watt
comment by Caledonian2 · 2008-04-24T14:41:40.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It doesn't just appear to be nonsense. It actually is nonsense.

And that is the crux of the problem right there. The intellectual standards of academic philosophy are incredibly low, and as usual the Law of the Minimum applies. It takes real effort to exceed Sturgeon's Law, but the field of philosophy has managed to do so.

Actual philosophical thought, as opposed to mere sophistry with a new hat, comes from people working in disciplines that have high standards for consistency, coherence, and permittable evidence. Their professional work has illuminated questions that 'philosophy' left in darkness for a thousand years - and because they possess skill at thinking, and have developed that skill through meeting those standards, their amateur philosophy is still infinitely better than the 'professionals'.

In this manner, philosophers have demonstrated the dangers of being self-righteous, of setting for yourself the standards that you strive to meet. They have done this by becoming an object lesson.

comment by Z._M._Davis · 2008-04-24T16:39:20.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"In this manner, philosophers have demonstrated the dangers of being self-righteous[...]"

Cal, you're really not helping our cause here.

comment by Caledonian2 · 2008-04-24T18:16:17.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What? They're absurd! Why should we not point, and laugh, at their folly?

For the record, I am no kind of righteous, self- or otherwise.

comment by The_Last_Real_New_Yorker · 2008-04-25T00:05:24.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

@ mtraven; can you expand an the similarities between this blog post and BSG? That would be very interesting.

comment by Hopefully_Anonymous · 2008-04-25T01:03:27.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Caledonian, It's possible that you're right, but the evidence increasingly seems to be that you're pretending to knowledge and certainty about both academic philosophy and the physical sciences that's unjustified based on your level of competency or literacy in either field. In that sense, your skepticism about the level of useful contributions to enlightenment by recent academic philosophy could, by your own standards, be reasonably turned towards your skepticism about those claimed contributions.

As for me, I'm woefully illiterate about the recent work of academic philosphy and (compared to the best contributors in the OB community) about the recent work of physical scientists. Also, my skill levels are such that I lack the core competencies to understand the recent work of physical scientists (which I suspect is math skills at the level of someone with a masters in applied math). That may apply to the recent work of academic philosophers too (not sure what those core competencies would be, separate from literacy of recent work done in that field). I hope to rectify this, particularly my current level of competency in applied math, but that's where I stand at the present time.

It might help our assessments of your posts, Caledonian, if you also share your level of competencies and literacy in these fields, transparently, with your fellow community members.

comment by Caledonian2 · 2008-04-25T15:26:17.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
It's possible that you're right, but the evidence increasingly seems to be that you're pretending to knowledge and certainty about both academic philosophy and the physical sciences that's unjustified based on your level of competency or literacy in either field.

Ah, I see where you've become confused. What you're asking for is credentials, not competency. Richard has credentials. I have competency.

The question them becomes: how can one demonstrate competence in the absence of credentials, when your audience doesn't have the level of competence to which you're laying claim? It's easy when the argument whether, say, heavier-than-air flight is possible - you simply build the flying machine, and convincing the opposition of the wrongness of their argument is accomplished, even if they can't comprehend the flaw in their position. When you're dealing with highly abstract verbal arguments, though, the inability of the opposition to perceive the wrongness with their arguments is generally insurmountable. If they could perceive the problem, the conflict itself wouldn't be taking place.

What has academic philosophy accomplished, HA? I can answer that question for physics, mathematics, neurology, chemistry, psychology, engineering - for practically any established field you can name - without needing more than a few moments to think of examples. What can you offer for academic philosophy?

Take all the time you need.

comment by Richard4 · 2008-04-25T17:19:02.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Richard has credentials. I have competency."

Funny. Again, just out of curiosity, what is your basis for thinking yourself philosophically competent? A self-gratifying intuition, perhaps? (Credentialing by acknowledged experts, though an imperfect guide, is at least some protection against quackery.) I haven't even seen you make an argument, let alone a good one; all you do is make unsupported assertions and attempt to ridicule people who know more than you do. You appear to suffer delusions about your own abilities and the extent of your understanding. (As you say, "the inability... to perceive the wrongness with their arguments is generally insurmountable" -- what puzzles me is why this doesn't make you more humble about your own intuited greatness, given that nobody else is nearly so impressed.)

Now, you change the subject by shifting the burden to others, asking them to list the accomplishments of academic philosophy. (It's beyond dispute that our understanding of thousands of philosophical problems has advanced significantly in the past century -- just browse through any entry of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, or my own dozen favourite 'Examples of Solved Philosophy' -- though of course philosophical progress does not readily translate into technological progress the way that progress in other disciplines can.)

The question HA is raising (and that I can readily confirm) is that you do not seem to know what you are talking about. From what I can tell, you are completely ignorant of the field of philosophy and the work that goes on in it; so there is no reason for anyone to take seriously the unargued denunciations you offer from on high. You don't even know what it is that you're denouncing. You are to philosophy what young earth creationists are to biology.

Of course, if you offer a reasoned argument then others may consider it on its merits. (Even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and all that.) But you lack the authority to make mere assertions and expect anyone to take your ignorant pontificating seriously. That's all.

Replies from: bigjeff5
comment by bigjeff5 · 2011-02-03T21:27:00.403Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If the twelve examples of solved philosophy you link to are actually your favorite, then I really, really don't understand why anybody bothers with it at all.

All twelve seem completely useless to me.

Replies from: JoshuaZ, Perplexed
comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-02-03T21:52:53.131Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I understand why you might think that for most of his list, but I'm confused as to why one would have that attitude about some of them, such as number 7, the Bayesian solution to the raven paradox. A more substantive critique seems to be that many philosophers who are taken very seriously don't consider many of these problems to be solved.

Replies from: bigjeff5
comment by bigjeff5 · 2011-02-04T00:08:22.067Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Upon reflection, I suppose I was not considering all of what philosophy can entail, particularly since Richard's list was incredibly underwhelming. I was also thinking of metaphysics when I wrote that, and I over-generalized. Logic, for one thing, I think is very useful when it is applied, and that is considered a philosophical discipline.

So, I take back my statement, somewhat. Philosophy just seems mostly useless, but I'll concede that I could be wrong.

comment by Perplexed · 2011-02-03T22:11:32.621Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

They strike me as useful enough to practicing philosophers (to the extent that they are correct, that is!). But it appears that you are looking for something more immediately useful to ordinary people.

Sorry. Just ain't going to happen. But you did get something useful from that list. The realization that you are probably not cut out to be a philosopher (at least not in the English-speaking world).

Replies from: bigjeff5
comment by bigjeff5 · 2011-02-03T23:29:09.563Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It just seems to me that philosophy itself, as a separate discipline, isn't particularly useful for anything outside of philosophy.

Perhaps that is a little clearer.

And actually I think I would be pretty good at philosophy - I love to argue, and often quite accidentally take absolutely useless positions. ;) (I'm kidding! Sort of.)

Replies from: Perplexed
comment by Perplexed · 2011-02-04T01:49:37.865Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Everytime a philosopher does something useful outside philosophy, they kick him out of the philosopher's guild, name a new scientific or mathematical discipline after him, and make him work for a living as a scientist or mathematician. (I'm kidding too! Sort of.)

The real reason to knock philosophy as a discipline is that when they finally do solve a problem, and the solution is actually useful (as with, believe-it-or-not, that black raven / red herring thing), most philosophers don't accept the solution, even though the solution is in use out there in the real world (if AI research counts as the real world).

comment by Caledonian2 · 2008-04-25T19:36:17.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

From what I can tell, you are completely ignorant of the field of philosophy and the work that goes on in it;
Because there is no work that goes on in it!

But you lack the authority to make mere assertions
There is no amount of authority that justifies mere assertions. It wouldn't matter if I descended directly from Heaven on a sunbeam, carrying a potted burning bush and the Reader's Digest Condensed Edition of the Ten Commandments on pocket-sized tablets. Authority is not a concept that determines the validity of arguments.

comment by DL · 2008-04-25T20:45:16.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Caledonian, perhaps if you had taken even a high school philosophy course, you would have learned that to dismiss the worth of philosophy is to engage in philosophy. I'm not sure whether your comments deserve to be ignored or mocked. They're that ridiculous.

comment by GeniusNZ2 · 2008-04-26T22:00:56.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

OK Caledonian, I think it would help to make explicit your position (others too but first yours) tell me how much I have right....

1) you think that there can be philosophical progress (i.e. not the strong position being argued against above)

2) you think that progress tends not to happen in the field of philosophy (I presume because of how philosophy forms free floating ideas rather than ones 'grounded' by their attachment to empirical evidence)

  • the practical implication being that philosophy should no expect answers to some questions before groundwork is done in other areas.

3) you evaluate 'progress' and 'useful' in a different way to Richard and HA, Richard would find a interesting logical debate 'useful' you would ask if the logic can be used to make a car or feed the hungry or whatever. to get slightly more philosophical - maybe it is 'empirically verifiable truth'?

4) To try to use data created by a feild you dont trust to create good data to prove that the feild doesn't create good data seems unlikely to be unproductive (shutting the door to the 'why don't you argue from the literature').

comment by Caledonian2 · 2008-04-28T18:20:00.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think there is an equivocation being made between the various usages of 'philosophy', primarily between a type of thought and a profession, and my observation is that those who are professionals supposedly dedicated to that type of thought rarely even try to engage in it, and when they do they're not very good at it. If 'philosophy' is 'what philosophers do', I hold that philosophy is useless in every sense. If 'philosophers' are 'those that practice philosophy', the professionals are almost universally undeserving of that title. In that light:

Yes to #1, YES to #2, no to #3, yes to #4.

comment by Gaylen · 2008-05-19T14:54:00.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I stumbled upon this page, and am new to this site. I love the movie script, but it seems to me that qualiaphobes are making a difficult topic even more difficult than it needs to be. As I see it, 'qualia' is just a term that makes it easier for us to discuss the nature of our experiences. Experience is complex. At any given moment I am aware of many different colors, shapes, sounds, smells, etc. Complexity implies a multitude of elements that constitute a complex system. The constituent elements of a complex system (so far as we are able to identify them) need not necessarily be "fundamental" in any absolute ontological sense, but in any case we can better understand the nature of a complex system by being able to discuss compositional elements. As I said, experience is complex. It is convenient to have terms that help us to understand this complexity. Among the elements of my current experience, I find the color blue. We can talk about electromagnetic waves, chemistry in the retinal cells, neurotransmitters, etc., but it just seems awfully doggone handy to also be able to refer to the brute experiential nature of blue – that qualitative feeling of experiencing blue that serves as the basis for my ability to distinguish this color from some other color, or this visual sensation from other sensations like sounds or tastes. Yes, this does lead us into some profound philosophical and scientific puzzles, but I don't see this as a good reason to deny that these elements of my experience exist. The term 'qualia' is handy for referring to the elements of experience. Why muddy the waters by claiming that qualia don't exist? I might agree that qualia don't exist if we want to get into the Buddhist notion of emptiness (everything is interdependent and thus there are no ontologically isolated substances, that survive over time, etc.), but in that sense, nothing exists, so it’s a whole different ball game. But existence is a handy concept for purposes of science and everyday discussion, and if you want to assert that computers exist, then I see no reason to deny that the qualitative blue of my experience exists as well. The blue quale is simply "that element of my experience" that constitutes my felt capacity to distinguish this part of my computer screen (the blue part) from another part (e.g., the white part).

It is logically possible for me to response unconsciously to different elements of my environment. A subliminal image of a Coke can might cause me to take a sip of my drink. In this sense one might say I am acting "like a zombie" – following through on a specific behavior due to sensory inputs I'm not consciously aware of. (Blindsight is another example.) But what is it that I'm "not aware of"? I respond to the subliminal image without experiencing the image. 'Qualia' is a handy term we can use to refer to "that which is missing" in the subliminal image, but present in my experience if I become aware of the image. There is "nothing it is like" for me to be exposed to the subliminal image, as such, even though I am in some sense exposed to the sensory information, but there is something it is like for me to actually notice the image. The difference is the qualitative nature of my experience, verses the non-qualitative nature of subliminal stimuli. Trying to claim that the qualitative character of my experience "doesn't exist" or is "just an illusion" is unnecessarily confusing. I would also add that there is no logical reason that qualia have to be nonphysical, or intrinsically private. Qualia can be universals, and thus shared. Qualia could be a physical form of energy. None of this would prevent qualia from also being the compositional elements making up my complex "lived experience".

comment by Goldenrodfairy · 2008-06-03T04:59:00.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was just looking around for more Penguicon pictures, and came across this one.

I am amused by the responses to it. ^-^ (And yes, we are from Silent Hill.)

- Amanda, the Zombie Nurse on the right.

comment by John9 · 2008-11-20T02:44:00.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This post was just linked to from the Freakonomics blog: http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/11/17/the-social-upheavalzombie-movie-index/

comment by b1shop · 2010-08-28T20:24:20.254Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I sent a link to Dennett. He wrote back:

"Wonderful. I’ve saved it for future use. Thanks. DCD"

Replies from: Furcas
comment by Furcas · 2010-08-28T20:27:28.434Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm amazed no one thought to do that before.

Replies from: b1shop
comment by b1shop · 2010-08-28T20:50:58.300Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree. Bystander effect?

comment by diegocaleiro · 2010-09-17T06:23:15.817Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This, of all the "directed to IQ greater than 125" entities of the world, is the funniest thing I have ever seen. The first time, I cried, fell, laughed, set myself straight, read more, woke up my father, and eventually offered hosting for life for Eliezer, in case he ever came to São Paulo. Now, reading it again, I have laughed, cried, contorted, and am wondering what to eat to celebrate.

comment by danlucraft · 2012-04-11T16:41:07.949Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by Brent_Allsop · 2012-06-05T03:23:12.435Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

pfft, clueless not in the expert consensus qualophiles. Too bad they don't see the error in Dennett's only argument "we don't have qualia, it only seems like we do" (anyone else see the obvious error?) And to bad nobody is aware of what Chalmers really believes, especially about Type F materialist theory (A.K.A. Material Property Dualism see: http://canonizer.com/topic.asp/88/7 ). That theory predicts a slightly different type of 'abstract' zombie, that isn't atomically identical. It answers all these issues, and describes how to objectively eff the ineffable (see: http://canonizer.com/topic.asp/88/6 ). All this describing how you can know, objectively which are zombies, and which are not.

comment by soreff · 2015-08-24T00:44:04.057Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Would David Chambers have written "A P-zombie in Carcosa"?

comment by Alex_Arendar · 2015-12-05T14:17:26.127Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Personally I enjoyed the movie :) Just because I am consciousness ))

comment by TobyBartels · 2018-09-14T04:33:42.491Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Greg Egan (who, you may remember, started out in supernatural horror before he switched to hard science fiction) has now written (and published) a p-zombie horror story: https://www.tor.com/2018/07/19/the-nearest-greg-egan/

Replies from: cousin_it
comment by cousin_it · 2018-09-14T11:55:28.580Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The story isn't far off from reality, there have been cases of people murdering their loved ones due to Capgras delusion. The only fictional part was describing it as a contagious disease.

comment by xSciFix · 2019-06-13T21:14:54.107Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah. This is basically a great summation to the philosophical zombie question; what does it even matter? It's as you mentioned with the dissolving the question posts: what do the pro-zombie people think a world in which they are correct looks like? What do we learn from this thought experiment which is just basically another flavor of solipsism?

I'd say "inevitably generates the worst sort of Mysterious Answer to a Mysterious Question" is pretty spot on. The Zombie thing doesn't really tell us anything new or let us predict anything. Just a bunch of sophistry really.

comment by Vmax · 2020-08-09T04:04:28.979Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Absolutely excellent and hilarious! I think these Bayesop's Fables are exactly what the world needs right now. The humor really puts everything into perspective.

Also, I just have to mention: Eliezer looks a lot like one of my Chemistry professors who happens to have a similar sense of humor. (Could one gasp be the zombie version of the other?! I'll need to run some epiphenomenal experiments to determine the total absence of evidence . . .)

Replies from: Benito
comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2020-08-09T07:30:25.260Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Bayesop's Fables is a great name, I'm stealing it.