In the last post, I examined the usefulness of the Zombie metaphor as a proxy for consciousness. I think I demonstrated that it depends on the definition of consciousness one chooses. The Idealists and Physicalists are using different definitions but won’t budge on their semantic representations.
It seems clear to me that the Physicalists win the first round of the fight because they can show with empirical evidence that consciousness resides within the brain and is associated with distinct electrical and chemical signatures. That doesn’t mean they’re right about everything, however, because as I said, that only means that consciousness is manifested as a physical process.
This is not what I’m talking about.
I’m going to examine the Idealist view of consciousness briefly, and what it suggests about reality, and what it means to be a zombie. Idealism represents two overlapping views of reality that share the central concept of subjective reality as opposed to the physicalist view of objective reality. Subjective Idealism, as the name implies, posits that reality is a subjective experience, unique to every conscious entity in the universe. Objective Idealism, on the other hand, proposes that there is an objective consciousness that somehow is the core of reality, independently of a human mind. This sounds a lot like some religions to me.
Reality is an illusion from the subjective perspective; however, it is a personal experience, not supplied by an external source like a god or the cosmos. I am the center of the universe, even if my illusion puts me in the worst situation imaginable. Talk about making bad choices.
Am I a zombie?
According to the subjective view, I am not a zombie, but YOU are and vice versa. I can’t help but take this thought experiment (I can’t really treat it as a serious model of reality) to the next level and ask: Does this mean that I’m the only person in my universe? A real person I mean: a non-zombie. The question of agency arises, at least in my mind. If I’m the only person in my world, why don’t I make myself happy and fulfilled, whatever that entails? Why am I not wealthy? Where are my awards and prizes, and all that money?
I don’t have to be a philosopher to answer that question. I’d give the same answer as all the religions that have ever existed: You are a god (maybe God?) and you work in mysterious ways. This is what you really need, or you’re dealing with something more important that has nothing to do with the plane of reality where you’re reading this, and living this life. Of course, the successful might have gotten it right and be living–never mind, they’re nothing but zombies in my world. It’s pretty lonely here.
If the objective idealist viewpoint is correct, we are all zombies. This isn’t as crazy as it sounds, the way I worded it. To the cosmic consciousness, we are zombies, unconscious entities who stumble around, running into each other, unaware of the Big Picture. That’s a pretty accurate image of the world. Remember that we have empirical evidence (for whatever that’s worth in the objective idealist universe) for consciousness, and my thought experiment from the last post. In this view, I am an ephemeral entity, created by some great, cosmic consciousness for their own amusement but, even though I’m a zombie, I have a sense of being alive because my brain (whether real or not) perceives. This world kind of sucks too. We’re all zombies and nothing we do matters, not to us anyway.
I can understand the popularity of the Physicalist’s perspective after giving the subject some thought. Who cares if I’m a figment of my imagination or the cosmic consciousness? I’m stuck here dealing with what seems pretty real to me, so I may as well accept the fact that I’m really living this life. The down side to this perspective is that there is no hereafter: no heaven, but no hell either (that’s a nice idea), but only oblivion just like the birds, bees, fish, trees, rocks, earth, sun, universe.
That’s not so sweet either.
I don’t know if this brief discussion satisfies you, but it’s sufficient to keep me happy for a few months.
After all, the great cosmic consciousness wants me to be happy.