Why physicalism fails as an accepted approach to science


TO Average, Prudence Louise, writer on philosophy and religion, explains that in 1994, the philosopher David Chalmers killed the zombie in cold blood, triggering “a zombie apocalypse”. It sounds like an unusual role for a philosopher.

And the zombie? : “The philosophical notion of ‘zombie’ essentially refers to imaginable creatures who are physically indistinguishable from us but who are totally lacking in consciousness (Chalmers 1996)” – Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Louise asks us to imagine this:

Imagine you meet your lookalike. Someone physically identical to you, atom for atom. The only difference is that the lookalike has no inner consciousness. They seem happy or sad, they even tell you about their hopes and dreams.

But there is nothing more than physical processes moving in response to physical causes. Their lips move and sounds that are meaningful to you come out, but they feel nothing at all. From the outside, you are the same. But from the inside, the zombie is a hollow imitation. He’s a philosophical zombie. The physical structure, functions and behavior are the same, but there is no consciousness.

What exactly is the missing ingredient?

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

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

As Louise continues to show, for a physicalist (a person who believes that 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 increasingly explain the human body in terms of structure and function, there is no good scientific theory of consciousness on the horizon. And if we can explain everything about a human being except conscience, well, we haven’t explained, say, the difference between Jane and Zombie-Jane, which humans generally agree is important.

As Louise explains in her short article, “The stakes are high. If there can be no scientific explanation for conscious experience, it shows that physicalism is wrong. One problem is that science explains phenomena in the third person, but consciousness is a first person phenomenon. She then goes into much more detailed logical and philosophical details, but here’s the gist:

When you move your body to the refrigerator in response to a craving for a snack, or take medication in response to pain, or lock doors out of fear of burglars, there is no causal link between these conscious states and them. physical effects of your body moving. This point of view is not fatal to physicalist theory, but it puts it under vital assistance. Our mental states cause actions that are constantly shifting matter, giving us a lot of evidence that this is true. Any argument that these powers are illusory will have to be stronger than our confidence in our conscious states to get our bodies moving.

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

Physicalism took root in a mechanistic view of the universe, initiated by Isaac Newton. And even before the Zombie appeared, this view was already challenged by quantum mechanics, in which the conscious observer plays a key role in what is going on. But, for scientists, physicalism isn’t the only game in town:

Alternative metaphysics, like idealism, substance dualism, or panpsychism, all avoid the difficult problem by denying causal closure. They accept the observation that consciousness is not physical and that it is causally effective, which means that the causal closure must be wrong. Unlike observations of consciousness and its causal powers, causal closure is not based on observations of the world. It is a metaphysical commitment. Physicalism faces a problem created by its philosophical commitments in conflict with our observations of the world.

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

Of the three alternatives Louise lists, panpsychism seems to be the one many scientists turn to. Instead of “nothing is conscious,” many now think that everything is conscious. Most recently, prominent biochemist James Shapiro titled an article “All Living Cells Are Cognitive”. And the eminent neuroscientist Antonio Damasio proposed that viruses possess a certain type of intelligence. Other well-known scientists argue that electrons have a rudimentary mind.

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

Essentially, panpsychism offers scientists a way to approach human consciousness as it is currently understood, without explaining it as an illusion. This would allow them to say that if Zombie-Jane existed, she would be missing something critical that Jane has (and everything in between, at least to some extent).

Whether this advantage makes panpsychism a better explanation of reality than idealism or dualism is a separate question. Each of these views has its own issues, but the Zombie is not one of them.

You can also read: Theoretical physicist slams panpsychism Electrons cannot be aware of Sabine Hossenfelder’s point of view because they cannot change their behavior. Hossenfelder’s impatience is understandable, but it underestimates the seriousness of the problem facing serious thinkers of conscience. There’s a reason some scientists believe the universe is conscious: It would be logically more consistent to say that you think the universe is conscious than to say your own consciousness is an illusion. With the first idea, you could be wrong. With the second idea, you are nothing.


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