Why Physicalism Fails as a Recognized Approach to Science


at Middle, Prudence Louise, a writer on philosophy and religion, explains that the philosopher David Chalmers killed the zombie in cold blood in 1994 and started “a zombie apocalypse”. Sounds like an unusual role for a philosopher.

And the zombie ?: “The philosophical term of a” zombie “essentially refers to conceivable creatures that are physically indistinguishable from us, but have no consciousness (Chalmers 1996)” – Internet encyclopedia of philosophy.

Louise asks us to imagine:

Imagine meeting your doppelganger. Someone who is physically identical to you, atom by atom. The only difference is that the doppelganger has no inner consciousness. They look happy or sad, even tell about their hopes and dreams.

But there is nothing but physical processes that move in response to physical causes. Your lips move and sounds that matter to you come out, but you experience nothing at all. From the outside you are identical. But from the inside, the zombie is a hollow imitation. It’s a philosophical zombie. The physical structure, functions and behavior are identical, but there is no consciousness.

What exactly is the missing ingredient?

Wisdom Louise, “The Incredibly Difficult Problem of Consciousness” at middle (October 30, 3021)

The zombie could in principle exist. At the same time, we all know that we are not zombies in the sense that we know that we are more conscious than we know anything else. And if consciousness is an illusion, well whose Illusion is it?

As Louise further shows, for a physicalist (a person who believes everything is physical) the zombie is an “explanatory nightmare”. It forces us to feel that there is something other than the physical.

Although we can always explain more about the human body in terms of structure and function, no good science-based theory of consciousness is in sight. And when we can explain everything about a person except Awareness, well, we haven’t explained the difference between jane and zombie jane that people generally consider important.

As Louise explains in her short article, “There is a lot at stake. If there cannot be a scientific explanation for conscious experience, it shows that physicalism is wrong. ”One problem is that science explains third-person phenomena, but consciousness is a first-person phenomenon. She then goes into much more careful logical and philosophical details, but here’s the point:

If you put your body in the refrigerator in response to a desire for a snack, take medication when you are in pain, or lock doors for fear of burglars, there is no causal relationship between these states of consciousness and the physical effects of moving your body. This view is not fatal for physicalist theory, but it relies on critical life support. Our mental states cause actions that keep matter moving, which gives us a lot of evidence that this is true. All arguments that these forces are illusory must be stronger than our trust that our conscious states set our body in motion.

Wisdom Louise, “The Incredibly Difficult Problem of Consciousness” at middle (October 30, 3021)

Physicalism was rooted in a mechanistic view of the universe developed by Isaac Newton. And before the zombie even appeared, this view was already being challenged by quantum mechanics, in which the conscious observer plays a key role in what is happening. But for scientists, physicalism isn’t the only game in town:

Alternative metaphysics such as idealism, substance dualism, or panpsychism all avoid the difficult problem by denying the causal inference. They accept the observation that consciousness is non-physical and causally effective, which means that the causal conclusion must be false. In contrast to the observations of consciousness and its causal forces, the causal conclusion is not based on observations of the world. It’s a metaphysical obligation. Physicalism faces a problem that arises because its philosophical obligations contradict our observations of the world.

Wisdom Louise, “The Incredibly Difficult Problem of Consciousness” at middle (October 30, 3021)

Of the three alternatives Louise lists, panpsychism seems to be the one that many scholars are drawn to. Instead of “nothing is conscious”, many now think that everything is conscious. Just recently, the well-known biochemist James Shapiro titled a paper with the title “All living cells are cognitive”. And the well-known neuroscientist Antonio Damasio said that viruses have a kind of intelligence. Other well-known scientific achievers argue that electrons have rudimentary minds.

In response to the criticism of the physicists Sabine Hossenfelder and Sean Carroll, the philosopher Philip Goff points out that panpsychism does not contradict physics. It offers a simpler view of physics than dualism, with fewer gaps than materialism (including physicalism).

In essence, panpsychism offers scientists a way of addressing human consciousness as it is currently understood without explaining it away as an illusion. It would allow them to say that if zombie Jane existed, she would be missing out on something important that Jane has (and everything else, at least to some extent).

Whether this benefit makes panpsychism a better explanation of reality than idealism or dualism is another question. Each of these points of view has its own problems, but the zombie is not one of them.

You may also want to read: Theoretical physicist criticizes panpsychism Electrons cannot be aware of Sabine Hossenfelder’s view because they cannot change their behavior. Hossenfelder’s impatience is understandable, but she underestimates the seriousness of the problem that serious thinkers about consciousness face. There’s a reason some scientists believe the universe is conscious: it would be more logical to say that you think the universe is conscious than to say that your own consciousness is an illusion. You can be wrong with the first idea. You are nothing with the second idea.

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