I Know I’m Not a Zombie

Hearts and Brains

Originally uploaded by Pete Mandik

In this, the third of installment of this series, I further unpack the Transcending Zombies Argument.

Recall that the argument runs as follows:
P1. If I know that I am not a zombie, then phenomenal character is (a certain kind of) conceptualized egocentric content.
P2. I know that I am not a zombie.
P3. Phenomenal character is (a certain kind of) conceptualized egocentric content.
P4. Fixing my physical properties fixes my conceptualized egocentric contents.
C. Fixing my physical properties fixes my phenomenal properties.

I devote the rest of this post to a discussion and defense of P2. First, I note that there are two potential ways one might contemplate undermining P2 and we can introduce these potential ways via two different ways of applying emphases in the statement of P2. The first way of distributing emphases is “I know that I am not a zombie” and the second is “I know that I am not a zombie”.

The first way of distributing emphases invites contemplation of potential defeaters that would suggest that whatever things I might know about myself, that I’m not a zombie doesn’t count among them. The second way of distributing emphases invites contemplation of potential defeaters that would suggest that regardless of whether I know that someone or other is not a zombie, I cannot know that I am not a zombie. These points about the two distinct ways of construing P2 will also be useful in understanding P3.

I intend P2 to be equivalent to a claim of certainty regarding my current state, namely that I am certain that I currently have states with phenomenal character. Thus, what is known is known with certainty. Further, what is known with certainty here concerns current states of affairs. Such certainty is unlikely to attach to claims about my past and future states—my memory may be unreliable and there’s little about the future of which I can be certain.

While claims along the lines of P2 have been defended in the recent literature (Horgan & Kriegel, 2007; Lynch, 2006), I will here assume it and point out that it is an assumption that my dualist opponents will readily grant. Further, it is an assumption that they will need to grant. If the claims of first-person knowledge of non-zombie-hood are denied, then this puts dualists at a serious disadvantage concerning the current debate. If they find themselves denying that they know that they have qualitative states, then it is difficult to see how they could have any basis whatsoever to complain that proposed reductions are not, as Chalmers (1996, p. xiii) puts it “taking consciousness seriously”. Chalmers’s accusations that the reductionist is not explaining consciousness but, instead, illicitly redefining it to swap a hard problem for an easy one are (the accusations) predicated on Chalmers knowing what consciousness is in virtue of a first-personal acquaintance that is not mediated by grasping any description or definition of consciousness. As is developed at greater length in Mandik and Weisberg (2008), if Chalmers and other dualists are not in a special position to know that they have conscious states, they aren’t in any position to claim that the reductionists are actually changing the topic.

In the next post I’ll discuss P1.

Previous Posts:
1. Introducing Transcending Zombies
2. Anti-Skeptical Maneuvers

6 Responses to “I Know I’m Not a Zombie”

  1. Josh Weisberg says:


    I would think you get premise 2 for free from anyone who accepts the zombie argument–Dave Beisecker has also been rocking that line for a while, as you know.

    But I wonder about your characterization in terms of being certain about current states of affairs. Could I be wrong about my current state and still know I’m not a zombie? Maybe I misrepresent the particular phenomenal content–I misrepresent a reddish state as purple–but still know that I’m having some phenomenal state or other. That may be all you need, depending on your argument.

    Also, believers in zombies aren’t (ever? usually?) infalliblists about introspection. So they have to allow in some error. Still, they think they know they are not zombies. Perhaps this is not a stable position, but that’s what they claim, I think. Again, not sure if this is at all an issue for your argument, but I take it lots will turn on the epistemology agreed to by the anti-materialists.

  2. Eric Thomson says:

    Ditto what Josh said.

  3. Kelly says:

    So, while I may be fallible about interpretting and categorizing my experiences, or about accurately remembering what I have experienced in the past, or reporting any of these things, it seems to me that I am infallible in my actual experience of what I perceive.

    On section 3.4 of “Type-Q Materialism”:

    As far as Fred, Twin Fred, and dancing qualia, to me this example seems irrelevant to the #3 claim of “I am undergoing an orange sensation”. If no differences are APPARENT, then neither Fred nor Twin Fred experience any differences. They only undergo the sensation of seeing orange (or red), regardless of what goes unnoticed. Their claim of experiencing only orange is true.

    You say:

    “One needs, additionally, to rule out the skeptical hypothesis that maybe one’s visual field houses unnoticed dancing qualia.”

    It seems to me that if events are unnoticed, then they are by definition not qualia. A red quale is “what it’s like to see red”. If you aren’t conscious of seeing a red object, then there’s nothing that it’s like, thus there is no quale, and thus there’s nothing to explain. The question isn’t unconscious neural processing. It’s conscious experience.

    In order for one to have “a red quale on the right side of one’s own visual field”, one must be conscious of the red. There MAY have been red input stimulus on the right side of one’s own visual field, but for whatever reason this stimulus did not get translated into red quale. In order for an input signal to become a quale, you must become conscious of it. There must be something that it’s like for you to see it. You are conflating/confusing raw input signals with conscious experience of those input signals. Raw input signals are raw input signals. The conscious experience of your visual system’s processed representation of raw input signals are qualia.

    As for the kleptomaniac demon and beliefs, it sounds similar to Anton-Babinski Syndrome, a condition where people who are blind still believe that they can see. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anton-Babinski_syndrome.

    To me this thought experiment seems more to do with the nature of belief than the nature of conscious experience. In that conscious experience is removed, and then we consider how beliefs might be used to cover up this fact. What if we have a demon who makes you believe that you are NOT having wine-qualia, even though you actually are?

    What if I believe I lived in France for 5 years even though I actually didn’t? What if I believe I’m in France now, and everyone including me is speaking French, and we’re all drinking wine, EVEN THOUGH I’m in the USA and no one is speaking anything and I’m drinking water??? I don’t think any of these situations sheds any real light on anything.

  4. Kelly says:

    What if I believe I’m a human, but actually I’m a bat? Ha!

    On the demon thing, does the difference between belief and knowledge come into play there?

  5. Pete Mandik says:

    Hi Josh, Eric, and Kelly,

    Thanks for the comments. One thing that I’d like to make clearer, especially in future versions of this work, is how the Transcending Zombie argument (TZ) is supposed to hang together with the lines of thought Josh and I develop in “Type Q Materialism” (TQM). As I see it, it all fits together as a big dilemma posed for anti-materialists about qualia. The gist of the dilemma goes something like this. Either we have first-person certainty about qualia or we don’t. If we do, then via TZ, physicalism. If we don’t, then via TQM, physicalism. Either way, physicalism. People like Josh and, I guess, Eric, who are prone to first-personal skepticism really only need TQM. People more like Kelly, I guess, are more comfortable with first-person certainty claims and are going to be more likely to be persuaded by TZ. But whatever path you take, there’s a nice physicalist light at the end of the tunnel.

    Josh (and Eric):
    I think that (i) there can be knowledge without certainty, (ii) fallibility is consistent with knowledge, and (iii) fallibility is NOT consistent with certainty. Also, as will come up again in the next post, when someone is certain of their non-zombie-ness, there’s some specific set of qualia that they correctly believe themselves to have.

    Your position that there are no unnoticed qualia strikes me as pretty reasonable but that is not a view shared by many of the people that Josh and I are arguing against in TQM. The possibility of unnoticed qualia leaves them vulnerable to the skeptical hypotheses in a way that you perhaps might not be.
    You write: “To me this thought experiment seems more to do with the nature of belief than the nature of conscious experience”. Which is close to something that Josh and I can agree with you on since we are not so interested in section 3.4 of TQM in making claims about the nature of conscious experience as we are about the nature of the justification of beliefs about (or knowledge about) conscious experience. More specifically, the point of those thought experiments is to show that the Duhem-Quine Thesis applies to beliefs about conscious experience.

  6. [...] here continue my elaboration of the first premise (P1) of the Transcending Zombies argument by spelling out another way in which K* falls short of capturing [...]