NYR DAILY

‘Magic, Illusions, and Zombies’: An Exchange

Daniel Dennett: We say that there isn’t any conscious experience in the sense that Strawson insists upon. We say consciousness seems to involve being “directly acquainted,” as Strawson puts it, with some fundamental properties, but this is an illusion, a philosopher’s illusion. Galen Strawson: According to Dennett, we’re not conscious at all, in the ordinary sense of the word: “We’re all zombies.” He can say this because the zombie is conscious in his terms: it has all the “informational/functional” properties of a human being; it is behaviorally indistinguishable from a human being.

The Consciousness Deniers

Lucy McKenzie: Untitled, 2002

Some thinkers have denied the existence of consciousness: conscious experience, the subjective character of experience, the “what-it-is-like” of experience. The Denial began in the twentieth century and continues today in a few pockets of philosophy and psychology and, now, information technology. It had two main causes: the rise of the behaviorist approach in psychology, and the naturalistic approach in philosophy. These were good things in their way, but they spiraled out of control and gave birth to the Great Silliness.