Philip Goff discusses a thought-experiment about consciousness.
For the last five hundred years or so physics has been doing extraordinarily well. More and more of our world has been captured in its explanatory net, from the formation of planets and stars, to the nature of space and time, to the very basic constituents of the matter that makes us up. There’s a long way to go: our best theory of the very big, i.e., Einstein’s general relativity, is inconsistent with our best theory of the very small, i.e., quantum mechanics. But many look forward to the day when physicists will resolve these niggling issues and present the public with the Holy Grail of science: a Grand Unified Theory of everything. The hope of many philosophically-inclined scientists and scientifically-enthused philosophers is that this theory will explain the existence and nature of everything there is. Let us call this kind of view ‘physicalism’.
Physicalism is a grand and ambitious project, but there is a thorn in its side: consciousness. The qualities each of us encounters in our conscious experience – the feeling of pain, the sensations of biting into a lemon, what it’s like to see red – stubbornly refuse to be incorporated into the physicalist’s all-encompassing vision of the universe. Consciousness seems to be the one bit of left-over magic that refuses to be physicalised. And it’s all the fault of the zombies.