Re: Michael Harris • Are Your Colleagues Zombies?
What makes a zombie a legitimate object of philosophical inquiry is its absence of consciousness. And today’s question is whether mathematical research requires consciousness, or whether it could just as well be left to zombies.
There are many things that could be discussed in this connection, but coming from a perspective informed by Peirce on the nature of inquiry and the whole tradition augured by Freud and Jung on the nature of the unconscious makes for a slightly shifted view of things compared, say, to the pet puzzles of analytic philosophy and the varieties of cognitive psychology that repress any thought of affects, emotions, and unconscious dynamics.
There is almost always in the back of my mind a question about how the species of mathematical inquiry fits within the genus of inquiry writ large.
That raises a question about the nature of inquiry. Do machines or zombies — unsouled creatures — inquire or question at all? Is awareness or consciousness necessary to inquiry? Inquiry in general? Mathematical inquiry as a special case?
One of the ideas we get from Peirce is that inquiry begins with the irritation of doubt and ends with the fixation of belief. This splices nicely into the frames of our zombie flick for a couple of reasons:
- It harks back to Aristotle’s idea that the cognitive is derivative of the affective.
- It reminds me of what my high school biology texts always enumerated as a distinctive feature of living things, their irritability.