Zombie intuitions

Cognition. 2021 Jun 18;215:104807. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2021.104807. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

In philosophical thought experiments, as in ordinary discourse, our understanding of verbal case descriptions is enriched by automatic comprehension inferences. Such inferences have us routinely infer what else is also true of the cases described. We consider how such routine inferences from polysemous words can generate zombie intuitions: intuitions that are 'killed' (defeated) by contextual information but kept cognitively alive by the psycholinguistic phenomenon of linguistic salience bias. Extending 'evidentiary' experimental philosophy, this paper examines whether the 'zombie argument' against materialism is built on zombie intuitions. We examine the hypothesis that contextually defeated stereotypical inferences from the noun 'zombie' influence intuitions about 'philosophical zombies'. We document framing effects ('zombie' vs 'duplicate') predicted by the hypothesis. Findings undermine intuitions about the conceivability of 'philosophical zombies' and address the philosophical 'hard problem of consciousness'. Findings support a deflationary response: The impression that principled obstacles prevent scientific explanation of how physical processes give rise to conscious experience is generated by philosophical arguments that rely on epistemically deficient intuitions.

Keywords: Comprehension inferences; Experimental philosophy; Meta-problem of consciousness; Philosophical intuitions; Zombie argument; ‘Hard’ problem of consciousness.