Wednesday, April 05, 2006

My Talk at Tucson 2006

I'm in Tucson, AZ, at the conference Towards a Science of Consciousness 2006.

There are a lot more people than I expected. It's about as large as an APA meeting, I would say.

I gave my talk yesterday, arguing that conceivability arguments like the zombie conceivability argument are unsound. The zombie conceivabity argument--most prominently defended by David Chalmers--says that zombies (creatures physically identical to us but with no conscious states) are conceivable, hence possible, and hence consciousness is not physical. Most physicalists, i.e. defenders of the view that consciousness is physical, argue that zombies are not possible, and there is a large debate about what it conceivable and whether conceivability entails possibility.

As I hinted before, I am unsatisfied with this debate. I think it would be dialectically more effective for physicalists to accept the possibility of zombies but question whether that possibility is accessible to our world, in the sense of accessibility standardly used in possible world semantics. In my talk, I pointed out that the zombie conceivability argument is committed to the accessibility of zombie worlds. But, I argued, assuming without argument that zombie worlds are accessible begs the question of physicalism. I also argued that the currently standard definition of physicalism is too strong, and should be relaxed to accomodate the fact that some zombie worlds are possible but inaccessible. Finally, I argued that when the issue is properly formulated, property dualism is no less vulnerable to conceivability arguments than physicalism is. Hence, this type of conceivability argument is not going to help settle the question of physicalism.

The line of thinking presented in this paper goes in a direction quite different from all the debates I've seen in the literature. So before presenting it, I honestly wondered whether I was missing something. For instance, would Chalmers be able to easily show me that I missed the point?

David Chalmers was nice enough to attend my talk, and I am grateful to him for being there. We had a lively exchange during the discussion period. Nothing that he said made me think that I had missed anything. So I'll work more on my paper this summer, while I attend the Mind and Metaphysics NEH Seminar at Wash U. Does anyone know who else is going to attend?

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