You’ve heard it before – the old philosopher’s saw about zombies: physically in-tact beings on the outside, unconscious voids on the inside. Poke it with a stick and it won’t feel anything (because by definition it’s an insensate being), yet it’ll react as if it does. “Ouch” it might say, and then return to staring at you blankly and drooling…ogling your brain.
To play along, of course, you have to indulge the theoretical possibility of a zombie existing. Of the many perfectly good reasons to do this, only one generally matters to philosophy of mind inquirers, and that’s to challenge a trio of isms: physicalism, behaviorism, and the baron of the ball, materialism.
Since a zombie would embody human characteristics indistinguishable from your neighbor (with the exception of the severe jaundice and putrid odor), proponents of zombieism argue that physical-behavioral-material facts cannot unequivocally account for consciousness. The presence of the zombie, in effect, separates mental and physical states, and provides additional information apart from the physical facts, which physicalism cannot account for.
To no end has this argument been stretched, including the famous argument of philosopher David Chalmers about an entire zombie world theoretically existing (a world in which facts outside the physical–i.e. whatever is making the zombies tick–exist and can’t be explained by the trio of isms).
You may be surprised to know, as was I, that there is in fact more than one theoretical zombie model available to would-be inquirers. One could be a behavioral zombie, which is the standard sort (often called P-zombies) that looks like a human but isn’t conscious. Or one could be a neurological zombie, which looks human and has a human brain, but still isn’t conscious. Or one could be a soulless zombie, which looks like a human, has a brain, but lacks, wait for it, a soul (as defined by said inquirer).
Against the volumes that have been written around these thoughtless, bad smelling protagonists, there is but one irrefutable response … zombies don’t exist. That pretty much sums it up. We just decide not to indulge the fantasy, however captivating it may sound to live in zombie world, and that’s the end of the argument. Sorry, no zombies.
BUT, for the sake of argument, what if you take your standard fare zombie motif and flip it on its head? That to me is a lot more interesting, because then you have something that actually can exist.
P-zombie, meet I-zombie — aka, the inverse zombie.
He or she appears once or twice out of every 1000 anesthetized patients undergoing surgery. Imagine the possibility of being one of them — you have been intubated (preventing speech), paralyzed (preventing movement), and narcotized (minimizing response to stimuli), and yet you are aware that surgery is being performed on you.
That’s what this study delved into — “anesthesia awareness” — the I-zombie phenomenon, not a trip most would volunteer to take. I think I’d rather visit zombie world.
By the way, you can bone up on your zombie science here.