Sunday, June 05, 2011

Zombies and Atheism


[We just aren't aware of it, but this is what we really are.]

According to Daniel Dennett in Consciousness Explained, p. 406, "We are all zombies."

What I believe he is saying is that from an atheistic point of view, humans are merely soulless bags of chemicals controlled entirely by the laws of nature. Any sense of having free will or that we inhabit our bodies but we are not only our bodies is merely delusional. We are really all zombies imagining ourselves to be humans.

This is one atheistic belief which I think even few atheists are able to fully accept due to it's incredibility.

29 comments:

Michael said...

For everyone's info, Dennett specifically footnotes that bit saying that it would be a stunning piece of intellectual dishonesty for someone to quote that bit out of context. So the quoting of that very bit out of context and using such misinterpretation takes this blog to a new level of chutzpah.

jewish philosopher said...

Can anyone explain how I am using this quote in a deceptive or misleading way?

Brian Westley said...

Can anyone explain how I am using this quote in a deceptive or misleading way?

To you? No.

We can explain this to each other, but you yourself are incapable of honest debate, so no, nobody can explain to you how you are using this quote in a deceptive or misleading way.

jewish philosopher said...

I guess I'm not the right kind of zombie.

Jeff said...

Even if we are without cause or creator, how would this impact free will? How would no higher cause also mean no free will?
To equate free will with a creator is more troubling than to argue for free will absent a cause. For example, we have the watchmaker's argument for Intelligent Design. A watch is the design of its maker, and does not have the ability to alter its motion. The analogue is of course self-evident.
At one time scientists believed that if one could know the position of all physical objects in the universe then one could predict their movement. Now, with the advances of quantum physics scientists know that such an idea is not possible.
This would apply to human behaviour as well. We know that observation can affect the behaviour of sub-atomic particles, so even if we are but bits of cosmic matter how would this affect our ability to behave randomly? If we are without cause would we not be able to effect our own cause?

jewish philosopher said...

The Heisenberg uncertainty principle applies only to subatomic particles. 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncertainty_principle

Most people are a bit larger than that.

Jeff said...

On what level does our brain operate?

natschuster said...

Jeff:

If reality is not rigidly deterministic, then that gives our free-will room to operate.

jewish philosopher said...

"On what level does our brain operate?"

About the same level as a computer. Does your computer decide on it's own to do things? Did you ever take your computer to be repaired and when asked why it's not working the repair man explained "Oh, it doesn't feel like it."?

Jeff said...

natschuster:

I am not arguing for determinism.

Joseph said...

A large fraction of "progressive" thought is based on a bait-and-switch: First, you are given the bait of self-actualization and then told there is no self to actualize.

NC said...

" Any sense of having free will or that we inhabit our bodies but we are not only our bodies is merely delusional. "

A pile of warm, steaming dog crap smells repulsive to a human being, but smells like perfume to a dog. Neither the dog or the human can be said to be "delusional", with respect to the other.

Saying we claim that free will is a "delusion" is wrong. Its a feeling, not a delusion (which implies false cognition). Its like love, or pain. Ever heard of phantom pain? Its not a delusion. There's a big difference.

It wasn't until religious thought developed that the sensation of self awareness and consciousness was translated into the cognitive idea of "free will".

I doubt that prehistoric man thought too much about "free will".

So, properly speaking, I could say that you are delusional in thinking about your free will/soul idea as reality. In contrast, your having the feeling of self-awareness and choice is simply a perception, which is as real as any other sensation. Your need to interpret that feeling as empiric evidence of some metaphysical entity-- well that's your problem, but doesn't have anything to do with reality.

jewish philosopher said...

So rather than "delusion" you would prefer "hallucination"?

Semantic hair splitting, I think.

natschuster said...

On those occasions when I choose not to speak loshon hora, or resist the temptation to look at a woman other than my wife, it certainly seems like I am exercising free will. To say otheriwse is To say that it isn't really free will is to deny the obvious. If it isn't free wil, then what is it? Ifs ther any real good naturalistic explanation? Or wiil ateists have to say "We hope to have an answer for you someday," yet again

NC said...

Phantom pain is not a hallucination, either. Amputees are not psychotic. The pain is a sensation, based on the physiology of our nervous system. There is no phantom limb in reality, its just a feeling. So is consciousness.

Nathan- so you decided something. What does that prove?

jewish philosopher said...

A delusion is an idiosyncratic false belief that is firmly maintained in spite of incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary.

http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/_/dict.aspx?word=delusion

Atheists apparently believe that a belief in free will and a belief  that we inhabit our bodies but we are not only our bodies are delusions.

The feelings themselves of free will and self consciousness would apparently be hallucinations, the perception of something that is not really there.

http://encarta.msn.com/dictionary_/hallucination.html

natschuster said...

NC:

It proves that I can choose to not do something because it is wrong. That is, I have free will. If it isn't free will, then what is it?

natschuster said...

NC:

So why do we have these feelings of consciousness and free will if they don't exist? Did they evolve? If so, why? Or is this another example of something you will get back to me later on?

NC said...

"So why do we have these feelings of consciousness and free will if they don't exist? "

Why do we have pain? Does pain really "exist"?

With the phantom limb phenomenon I already demonstrated to you that "feelings" don't necessarily correspond with something outside of ourselves that exists, other than a sensation in our own nervous system.

Natcshuster, you are using inductive reasoning, claiming that the feeling of consciousness and free will (and I don't deny that feeling) correspond to some metaphysical being, because feelings always correspond to something. But I don't know what you base that conclusion on. Please bring me other examples, please, of an organism that experiences such feeling who turns out to have a soul. Lacking such examples, you are just making something up.

I repeat, JP, it is neither a hallucination or a delusion. Maybe illusion is a better word.

We certainly know of many optical illusions, see http://www.michaelbach.de/ot/

We also experience auditory illusions, like the doppler effect.

Why would the phenomenon of this consciousness as an illusion be so surprising to you?

jewish philosopher said...

NC, you can try to continue semantic hairsplitting, however it would appear to me to be accurate to say the following:

According to atheism, the belief in free will and the soul are delusions. The feeling of free will and self consciousness are hallucinations. The truth is that we are zombies.

I would say that anyone really believing the above nonsense would probably lose his sanity, which I suspect is what happened to Nietzsche.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friedrich_Nietzsche#Mental_breakdown_and_death_.281889.E2.80.931900.29

NC said...

"I would say that anyone really believing the above nonsense would probably lose his sanity, which I suspect is what happened to Nietzsche."

Anybody who focuses too much on his own mortality, the apparent randomness and transience of life and death can go crazy. That is why we have healthy defenses and coping skills. Nietzshe was depressed, as were many geniuses.

Focusing on calling us "zombies" does nothing to clarify either the moral or metaphysical questions of our existence, other than mockery. Somewhat like me mocking god as a stupid cruel psychopathic bearded man in the sky does nothing to clarify the question or settle the argument.

natschuster said...

NC:

There are two possible explanation for these feelings. We evolved them via Darwinain process, or we were created that way. IF these feelings don't provide a survival avantage , then they won't evolve via Darwinism. The remaining explanation is that we were created that way. If A or
B are true, and B is not true then A must be true.

jewish philosopher said...

I think saying "zombie" is concise, accurate and informative.

From the point of view of atheism, again nothing is what it obviously is but rather it's all something entirely different.

NC said...

"We evolved them via Darwinain process, or we were created that way. IF these feelings don't provide a survival avantage , then they won't evolve via Darwinism."

False dichotomy. You don't understand evolution. There are spandrels and other mechanisms for survival of traits. Read about it, or write to an expert.

"From the point of view of atheism, again nothing is what it obviously is ..."

A soul is obvious? I suppose demons and ghosts are obvious as well. Enjoy your visions.

Who is the one with delusions here, you or I?

NC said...

Let's recall some of the uncomfortable facts of life:

1. We all die, and will probably suffer before doing so.
2. Our loved ones will also die.
3. There is lots of suffering in the world of apparently innocent people.

These are very disturbing if we think about them alot. We could be (a) depressed and anxious; (b) nihilistic, or (c) deny it. For some people, perhaps you, JP or Nathan, the idea of the immortal soul is comforting in the face of this reality. We don't really die. And all that suffering is really god's love and for a just purpose. But its you who are denying, not me.

Personally, even if I assume the existance of an immortal soul, I don't find it comforting at all. Since this soul is disconnected from everything human that is important to us-- our loved ones, our memories and identity, and our ability to act-- it represents no continuity and therefore would be inconsequential to me. In fact, I find it more disturbing than comforting. The thought that a departed loved one, rather than just ceasing to exist, continues to float around for eternity as an inert and detached entity , is really rather scary and sad.

Therefore the entirely hypothetical and unprovable assertion of a soul simply doesn't matter.

So calling us "Zombies" doesn't bother me either. I console myself by finding meaning and purpose in my actions and my connection to my loved ones and friends. When you die, you die. Yes, JP, you, too, will die like a dog.

Can't say I'm happy about it, but thats how it is whether I like it or not.

jewish philosopher said...

"A soul is obvious?"

i think atheists admit that we seem to have free will, but don't, we appear to be designed, but weren't, the universe appears to have had a beginning but did't, and so on and on.

natschuster said...

NC:

A spandrel does serve a purpose. It holds the dome up. It just looks like it might have been made to paint on. What purpose do these feelings serve? If they don't have a survival advantage then they wouldn't have evolved by a Darwinian process. Again, you are saying that there must be an answer, we just don't know what it is.

NC said...

"It holds the dome up. It just looks like it might have been made to paint on. "

Huh?

"Again, you are saying that there must be an answer, we just don't know what it is."

No. We give a model, that explains most of what we see, and can make predictions. Any model explains most, but not 100% of any phenomenon. Its a good approximation. Particle physics doesn't explain 100%, does that mean its wrong? Weather prediction isn't right 100% of the time, does that mean its wrong?

"What purpose do these feelings serve?"

I could think of many things, like forethought and planning, but it would just be a guess at this point. But your question reflects an incorrect understanding. You could ask, "why did humans evolve, apes were doing just fine!"

Evolution takes just some of many possible directions, some by chance. Like why didn't we evolve with 6 fingers, or 4? Or why don't we have wings, or gills in addition to lungs, like amphibians? Wouldn't that give us an advantage? You see, you're asking the wrong question.

And don't be tempted to retort to me about vestigiality, which isn't the same-- that's when a clearly functional structure in one species appears in another where it has no obvious function. That's a different problem.

natschuster said...

x A spandral is a arch that supports a dome. S.J.Gould used it as a metaphore for evolution coopting a pre-existing thing, and using it for something else. He tried to get around the problem of highly complex systems evolving from scratch.

I'm asking why we would evolve feelings like the ones mentioned above. IF they don't serve a purpose that increases our survivabilty or reproductive success, then they wouldn't have evolved via a Darwinian process.
I could ask, why these feeling evolved, if apes don't need them.
And lots of animals, including gorillas, display forthought and planning and all kinds of complex behaviors, and they need to feel that thney have a soul to do so.