Zombies and the History of Consciousness
In this essay in Aeon Magazine, IFF director Margaret Wertheim looks at the history of how consciousness has come to be perceived as a scientific problem. Beginning with a discussion of the philosophical idea of zombies and current neuroscientists’ interest in such creatures, the essay asks why consciousness is considered a “problem” and how has it been framed as one. Medieval theologians didn’t sit around debating whether human are conscious – they knew for a fact that we are – so when and why did this become an intellectual issue? How did the subject enter into scientific discussions, and what paths are scientists now taking to try and get a grip on this ineffable human quality?
In conjunction with the essay, Aeon’s Conversations forum invites readers to weigh in on the question: “How do you know you are not a zombie?”
What do you think? Is our interior landscape of emotions and feelings primary? Are we, as T.H. Huxley proposed, “conscious automata”? Or perhaps merely “meat machines”? Join us for the discussion.
Aeon Magazine is a digital magazine of ideas and culture, founded by Brigid and Paul Hains. Publishing long-form essays, along with opinion pieces and short films, Aeon is committed to asking big questions and seeking out fresh answers by leading thinkers in science, philosophy and society. Essays are supplemented by the Conversations forum which asks readers to join authors in discussing and debating positions.