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July 25, 2005


Damon Woolsey

Regarding conceivability and modal arguments:

There are some things that cannot be imagined. A square circle is a good example. An object being both a square and a circle is a direct contradiction.

However, when we imagine something, it is often the case that an inherent contradiction is hidden away in the complexity of the object being imagined. Take, for example, Lewis' disembodied talking heads (On the Plurality of Worlds, 87-88). When we imagine such a thing talking, it is in the normal manner of expelling air from lungs that it does not have. That is a contradiction, yet it does not inhibit us from imagining such a thing. I conclude that there is no possible world that contains such a thing.

This is relevant to your zombie world argument (from The Conscious Mind). We can imagine a world just like ours, only lacking consciousness. While I hold that such a zombie world is not a possible world, our ability to imagine it shows that physicalism provides an incomplete picture of our world.

I am in the process of revising a paper on genuine modal realism that accounts for this (and more). I've put a link to the draft below, and comments are welcome.

Tennessee Leeuwenburg

Actually, perhaps what is shows is the faultiness of our imagination.

Eray Ozkural

I disagree with Damon Woolsey.

I don't believe that our ability to imagine a zombie world shows that physicalism provides an incomplete picture of our world. For the physicalist must necessarily cling to nominalist metaphysics, and must dismiss the extra-physical as superstition.

I can very much imagine all sorts of demons, angels, and deities. But this does not mean that physics provides an incomplete picture of our world. Thus the "hardcore physicalist" would not feel at ease with thought experiments that seem to ask us to constantly violate the laws of physics. Then, I will imagine the omniscient, the omnipotent, and frame my thought experiments in the language of muddy medieval metaphysics, approximating a religious doctrine. That is hardly philosophy.

To be fair to your philosophical zombies, I will suggest that we must listen to Tim Williamson very carefully indeed on this matter. There is no useful distinction to make between counterfactual empirical arguments and other kinds of (metaphysical, etc.) arguments. When I am talking about intelligent agents that lack subjective states, I am venturing into the unknown, entertaining a possibility as a scientist does. Might there be a blackhole at the heart of our galaxy? It is not sensible to ascribe a higher significance to a slightly more elevated language. (Then we would look into novels to seek truth)

I think we can have an acceptable theory of qualia if and only if we approach the subject like a scientist does, paying little heed to the philosophical air of self-sustaining skyhooks.


Damon Woolsey

Re: conceivability

Something's being conceivable does not guarantee that it is possible. However, it does set up a logical dilemma. Either, what we are conceiving is in fact possible, or we don't have knowledge of the relevant facts required to show that what we are conceiving is in fact impossible.

So it is with physicalism and consciousness. Either Chalmer's zombie world is in fact possible (and I don't think it is), or physicalism provides us with a grossly incomplete view of the world in relation to consciousness (which I believe to be the case).

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