Yudkowsky’s very amusing take on Chalmers’ p-zombies. I’d say I found it funny, but I expect there are some funniness qualia tokens which got lost down the back of the sofa. which may be instantiated if I weren’t a p-zombie.
philosophy of mind
On the train last night I was listening to an episode of Laurie Taylor’s excellent Thinking Allowed programme, and they had that Marilynne Robinson on talking about her book ‘Absence of Mind’ (which I haven’t read). She spends so much time banging on about the mind, you’d think that the New Atheists were dogmatically attached to some form of hardcore eliminative materialism about the mind. Funny that, because when I read Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens, I can’t remember them spending much time worried about the mind at all. Dennett and Harris obviously have philosophical theories about the mind, but quite what philosophy of mind has to do with their views on the intersection of theology and politics1 I couldn’t gather from their writings on atheism.
Robinson is pushing a very dubious argument: she seems to be saying that if you are a new atheist you are by extension a denier of souls, and if you are a denier of souls you are a denier of minds. Ergo, atheists whether New or not deny minds and all the philosophical baggage that goes with them. Suffice to say, it is all a bit more complicated than that.
I mean, why pick out Dawkins et al.? Surely, if you want to attack “mind-deniers”, there are much better targets. Paul and Patricia Churchland, maybe. (Oh, but nobody outside of philosophy has heard of the Churchlands, but they have heard of Richard Dawkins. Or something.)
The argument for atheism is not in the least bit dependent on specific arguments about the mind, although if you are an atheist, you certainly will have some metaphysical commitments that will shape which theories in philosophy of mind you find plausible. And, blimey, the political and moral arguments have absolutely nothing to do with it.
Robinson’s arguments – disclaimer: I haven’t read her book and am not planning to – seems to be a giant red herring. Robinson rather reminds me of those people you hear at any public lecture who stand up and start pontificating; you sit there politely waiting for them to actually ask a meaningful question knowing in your heart of hearts that they never will. That’s how I feel most of the time when people start discussing philosophy in public; Robinson triggers that reaction whenever I hear her.
If by ‘New Atheism’ we mean some conjunction of atheism and either antitheism or some strong form of political opposition to religion. ↩