Zombies Must Be Dualists

David Chalmers, who coined the phrase “Hard Problem of consciousness,” is arguably the leading modern advocate for the possibility that physical reality needs to be augmented by some kind of additional ingredient in order to explain consciousness—in particular, to account for the kinds of inner mental experience pinpointed by the Hard Problem. One of his favorite tools has been yet another thought experiment: the philosophical zombie.

Unlike undead zombies, which seek out brains and generate movie franchises, philosophical zombies look and behave exactly like ordinary human beings. Indeed, they are perfectly physically identical to non‐zombie people. The difference is that they are lacking in any inner mental experience. We can ask, and be puzzled about, what it is like to be a bat, or another person. But by definition, there is no “what it is like” to be a zombie. Zombies don’t experience.

Gene Page/AMC from The Walking Dead

The possible existence of zombies hinges on the idea that one can be a naturalist but not a physicalist—we can accept that there is only the natural world, but believe that there is more to it than its physical properties. There are not, according to this view, nonphysical kinds of things, such as immaterial souls. But the physical things with which we are familiar can have other kinds of properties—there can be a separate category of mental properties. This view is property dualism, as distinct from good old‐fashioned Cartesian substance dualism, which holds that there are physical and nonphysical substances.

The idea is that you can have a collection of atoms, and tell me everything there is to say about the physical properties of those atoms, and yet you haven’t told me everything. The system has various possible mental states. If the atoms make

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