Friday, May 23, 2008

Quick Poll

Commenting on Richard Brown's post, GNZ writes:
I honestly am curious if anyone else besides Richard C could actually read all exchanges between the two of you and leave with the impression that Richard C seems to have of what happened.

I guess there's one way to find out.* What do y'all think?

[See also: Zombie Review, Assessing Arguments and Begging Questions.]
* = Then I promise to waste no further time or blogspace on this silly dispute. It just annoys me to be subjected to unjustified insults. Confirmation from impartial spectators might lead the misguided accuser to reconsider. And I know I would want to be corrected if I were ever in the situation of making unjust claims myself.


  1. Richard,

    I'll happily read the dispute and give you my opinion, as I'm interested in the issue--and, moreover, am not sure who is correct. Could you specify where the dispute takes place with a series of links?

  2. Hmmm. So the physicalist zombie scenario says we imagine that all the physical stuff is a certain way (there's lots of things we don't know about the physical stuff, but we wave our hands vaguely at this and pretend we can specify it well enough), and says that this is compatible with qualia being there and with qualia not being there.

    RB's non-physicalist zombie scenario says do the same hand-wavey stuff with the non-physical; just say we have it all specified. RB says he's just as able to imagine his hand-waved spirit world with qualia and without as he is with the physical worlds.

    It seems that your response is that that the analogy fails because the qualia advocate thinks the qualia are part of the non-physical stuff, so the spirit worlds with and without qualia can't be non-physically identical. But surely the non-eliminative materialist thinks the qualia are part of the physical stuff, and so that the physical worlds with and without qualia can't be physically identical. So it still looks like a pretty good analogy to me.

  3. Okay, there are quite a few, so I'll italicize those that I think are more central to the dispute...

    1. RB's Non-Physical Zombies parody argument, and my initial response: how to imagine zombies.

    2. His replies: how not to imagine zombies and Beating an Undead Horse.

    3. A paragraph in my Zombie Review refines my criticism of his NP analogy (as well as clarifying the original argument, to avoid certain worries about conceivability that had arisen way back when).

    4. RB on the role of reduction in the dualism debate; my response; RB with the final post on the analogy (see also comments).

    5. RB charges that the zombie argument is question begging. I respond here and here.

    6. Having wondered why I've spent so much time arguing over the same basic points, I write a more general post exploring 'The End(s) of Discussion'. Though it never actually mentions any specific interlocutors, RB seemed quite offended. In that last comment he accuses me of saying, "gee, isn't this guy stupid; he can't see that my intuitions are right". I respond that our dispute has not been about intuitions at all, but meta issues (what makes for a sound analogy/parody, what is begging the question, etc.). This final exchange continues on RB's blog.

  4. In my experience when discussions go south and tempers get heated it's usually best to just drop it. Misunderstandings are easy to occur - especially on the Internet. But it just makes things worse to belabor it.

  5. Protagoras - my response isn't just that the dualist thinks qualia are "part of" the non-physical stuff (because as you say the physicalist obviously is in the analogous position of thinking that qualia are part of the physical). Rather, the disanalogy concerns whether qualia are an irreducible or fundamental part thereof, and hence whether 'P' (a specification of the fundamental physical facts) and 'NP' (fundamental non-physical facts) must include explicit mention of qualia.

    The physicalist thinks there is some such P which includes all physical facts but makes no explicit mention of qualia. The disanalogy is that there is no such NP for the dualist. That's why (P &;amp ~Q) will be conceivable even according to many materialists, whereas (NP & ~Q) will not be conceivable according to any dualist.

  6. A further point for Protagoras -- a quick way to bring this out is to trace the analogy backwards, i.e. start with the NP argument, and ask what an analogous physical zombie argument would look like. The answer is that it would be a zombie argument against a Type-F "physicalist/panprotopsychist" who thought that qualia were fundamental additions to physics. I agree this Type-F view is very clearly immune to the zombie argument. But the original argument only targets other, more standard, forms of physicalism. ('Physicalism' is instead used as shorthand for the view that reality is fundamentally third-personal.)

    At it's heart, though, the zombie argument is best understood not as targeting 'physicalism' per se, but rather any view on which qualia are reducible to something else (be it brain states, or whatever). As it happens, the standard physicalist view treats qualia as reducible to other physical states, whereas the dualist view treats them as irreducible (rather than reducible to some other soulish state!). So that's the key to understanding the whole debate. [I'm using terms slightly sloppily here though; it's clarified in this post.]

  7. Well, yes, if you get a physicalist to admit to a contradiction -- that given two universes with equivalent microphysical descriptions, one can be different than the other -- there's clearly a contradiction.

    The nature of this disagreement seems to be that the other Richard feels it's painfully obvious that the flaw is in the reasoning -- accepting the zombie universe as possible, when it would clearly not be possible from a physicalist standpoint. Whereas this Richard assumes that the physicalist's reasoning is flawless, so the contradiction must exist in their premise.

  8. Therac-25: the zombie argument is logically valid, so we're all agreed the controversy is in the premises. I'm not sure how your first paragraph relates to the dispute over the NP parody and the nature of question-begging.

    Clark: that's probably good advice in general. But when you have a case where both parties have accussed the other of misunderstanding while confidently insisting that they have understood matters perfectly well themselves, it seems like the best possible outcome would be to (i) have the participants drop it; and (ii) have knowledgable spectators inform the genuinely misguided one of their mistake.

    So, I don't plan to continue the dispute with RB. But closure would be nice, so if anyone's actually been following all the arguments, I hope they will offer their informed judgments (and not just refrain out of some misguided sense of politeness, say).

    I should also note that I'm happy to clarify the zombie argument for newcomers, as per my above comments. But maybe this thread isn't the best place to do it. So I'd ask anyone who's unclear or new to the issue to instead comment on my Zombie Review or another appropriate thread. Thanks.

  9. Well - Given this thread and given a week has passed - I suppose we can consider my curiosity satiated.

  10. Well, we were interested in the conditional question how others would respond if they were to carefully read all those exchanges. Since nobody bothered to do so (understandably enough), we're simply left with our own judgments. That's good enough for me -- (though securing a widespread consensus would have been even nicer, naturally) -- so I guess it's time to close this thread and move on. Here's hoping I do a better job of avoiding online interactions with idiots in future.