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The zombie problem is a variation on the other minds problem but I hope to show that it is not an inactive variation It offers I think a vivid way of conceptualizing the philosophical questions about consciousness Suppose there is a world much like our own except for one detail the people of this world are unfeeling They engage in complex behaviors very similar to ours including speech but these behaviors are not accompanied by conscious experience of any sort These beings will be called zombies This scenario though surprising is a possibility suggested by a theory recently referred to by Owen Flanagan as conscious inessentialism which is defined as follows The dominant philosophical theory of mind computational functionalism was and still is committed to the view of conscious inessentialism This is the view that for any mental activity M performed in any cognitive domain D even if we do M with conscious accompaniments M can in principle be done without these conscious accompaniments Flanagan 1991 Conscious inessentialism requires that any given behavior could also occur without the accompaniments The only reason why one would suppose that certain behaviors do require conscious accompaniments is that the behaviors in question appear to require mental activity of some sort Since conscious inessentialism tells us that no mental activity requires conscious accompaniments it follows that no obvious behavior requires them either So if conscious inessentialism is true zombies are possible Of course if conscious inessentialism is true it is quite possible for an entire world of zombies to evolve which is the basis of the current thought experiment It is behaviors that are subjected to evolutionary selection pressures If those behaviors do not require consciousness then evolution is indifferent to it It is concluded by Robert Kirk that the zombie problem may have significant metaphysical implications Robert Kirk stated in a paper on the topic it is hard to see how any intelligible version of Materialism
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