A zombie is a “person” that looks like a person, behaves like a person, reacts and speaks like a person, and reacts on hits with a “pain”; but has no conscious experience about all mentioned.
It seems like zombies could live only in a dualistic world in which the mind (our mental experience) separates from matter (neurons, chemistry and electricity). If the necessary link from matter to mind exists, then neural causation would necessarily exclude a situation of neural activity without a mental one. It seems like if consciousness and mind emerge as a necessary consequence of neural activity, then not only is there no mind without neurons but as well no neurons without a mind.
The question namely arises in all emergencies: what is the lowest level of complexity that already produces emergencies? While we know that complex systems follow a power law, meaning that for each complex system, there is a tipping point where in-proportionally many emergencies happen, there is no such instance in any system that emergencies would stop completely. That means that even three combined neurons could, in principle, already produce emergencies in the form of mind and consciousness. Such consciousness would be extremely weak compared to that of humans, but it would nevertheless exist.
But one can easily find other examples that allow us to consider both emergence and zombies as compatible. We all experience the appearance and disappearance of the mind in the form of consciousness. In a deep sleep, we do not experience our consciousness, but at the same time, we know that despite what we know from neural activities taking place during deep sleep, “there must have been something”, but something we do not perceive. We ARE zombies while we take a deep sleep.
The question of zombies is even more interesting and compelling if we don’t take it personally. A thought experiment mentioned in Susan Blackmore (Blackmore 2003) and explained in a previous post seems to imply either/or an answer. Either we take qualia as real and do not take a teleportation trip, or we take a trip since we believe nothing like qualia exists.
I was really confused about this question for more than 10 years. Until I recently realised either/or fallacy. It is not that qualia is or is not. According to Dennett (Dennett 1991), but also to Bennet and Hacker (Bennett and Hacker 2003), consciousness emerges, but qualia is or is not. It does not make sense! Both qualia, as our private experience of self (consciousness) and mind emerge, meaning that it can happen but also not happen. It can happen strongly, but it can happen weakly. Qualia emerges from our body whenever and wherever. Teleportation would not stop that process because the qualia that we have in one moment differs very much from the one in the next. And we also experience moments without qualia, like in deep sleep or in deep meditation, when the self completely vanishes.
But even more. If we say that qualia emerge on top of the physical phenomena of our body and brain, we have to consider that our body constantly changes. Not only that new cells being developed all the time while we live, but also cells with different genetic codes enter our body and take a role in further development. We are more or less mosaics made of stuff that changes quickly over time. A matter that “produces” emergencies change, so one should expect qualia to be changeable and unreliable. Is there any difference between sleep and teleportation? No, there is not. As a matter of fact, we wake up in the morning with much more changes as if we would take a perfect teleportation to Cape Town! So we could expect our consciousness and qualia reinstalled in Cape Town easily after such teleportation.
We, as zombies, are alive as much as we put our energy into making a coherent story of selves out of scattered emergencies.
Bennett, M. R., and P. M. S. Hacker. 2003. Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience. 1st edition. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.
Blackmore, Susan. 2003. Consciousness: An Introduction. 1st edition. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press.
Dennett, Daniel C. 1991. Consciousness Explained. Back Bay Books. Little, Brown.