On the fascination with zombies

What is all this fascination with zombies? Just take a look at the list of zombie movies and the list of zombie novels. Even philosophical essays!   I blame David Chalmers for this 🙂

David Chalmers is one of my favorite philosophers. His web site is a treasure. His web page on zombies is a portal to serious philosophical work in this area.

Hollywood zombies are different than philosophical zombies. Hollywood zombies are dead but re-animated. Here is David Chalmer’s  definition of philosophical zombies:

“Zombies are hypothetical creatures of the sort that philosophers have been known to cherish. A zombie is physically identical to a normal human being, but completely lacks conscious experience. Zombies look and behave like the conscious beings that we know and love, but “all is dark inside.” There is nothing it is like to be a zombie.”

Chalmers says that the zombie concept can be useful in philosophy:

  • “It can be used as a way of illustrating the “hard problem” of consciousness: why do physical processes give rise to conscious experience? This question might equally be phrased as “why aren’t we zombies?”. If any account of physical processes would apply equally well to a zombie world , it is hard to see how such an account can explain the existence of consciousness in our world.”
  • “It can be used to raise questions about the function of consciousness: why did evolution bother to produce us if zombies would have survived and reproduced just as well?
  • “And it can even be used to argue against materialism. If there is a possible world which is just like this one except that it contains zombies, then that seems to imply that the existence of consciousness is a further, nonphysical fact about our world. To put it metaphorically, even after determining the physical facts about our world, God had to “do more work” to ensure that we weren’t zombies.”

I did not go through all the papers listed by Chalmers but it seems to me that all this philosophical discussion is about the “waking consciousness” which is different from Consciousness – the ultimate reality. The other terms for ultimate reality are Brahma, Absolute Being, Godhead. The “waking consciousness” is not the ultimate reality. The “waking consciousness” is a state of mind involving ego. Without ego “waking consciousness” is not possible.

The philosophical zombie does not have a “waking consciousness.” This implies that it does not have a mind with ego. It may have a primitive mind that animates its physical structure but clearly the ego is missing. Plants and most animals lack ego too but they are not zombies. On the contrary plants and animals have feelings. So, it is important to add that zombies do not have feelings either. We could say that plants and animals are guided by a species ego. It is ego of a collective nature. There is no no collective ego for zombies either.

Does the philosophical zombie have a soul? Human soul needs a mind with ego to function. Zombies are soul-less.

When I say “soul” I am referring to the core of our (human) being. The core of each entity whether it is a human being or an inanimate (or animated) object has a mysterious connection to the Cosmic Soul. In general the core is known as the “unit consciousness” (atman in Sanskrit). The same core is known as “soul” in a human being. What is the difference? In human beings the soul expresses itself through the human mind which is distinguished from animal and plant minds by the individual ego. Human mind has an individual ego. Plants and animals have collective egos.

I would like to remind you that the entire Cosmos including the physical universe in it is a transformation of Consciousness. Since zombies are possible in the physical universe they would be special expressions (transformations) of Consciousness too.  But, they would not have a human soul. They would still have a “unit consciousness”, however, because there is no entity that does not have that core which is unit consciousness. Existence is not possible without unit consciousness. Even the elementary particles have a unit consciousness.

When the individual ego is dissolved as a result of spiritual practice does the “waking consciousness” still work? Do we become zombies when we attain spiritual enlightenment? NO! My intuitive understanding is that when the individual ego merges with the Cosmic Mind we still have an ego. It is a special type of ego that I would describe as cosmic ego. Some teachers referred to this special consciousness as superconsciousness. When the individual ego is dominant we have the “waking consciousness.” When we attain Mukti (merger of individual mind in the Cosmic Mind) we have superconsciousness.

Mukti is known as “baqa” in Sufi literature. The literal meaning of “baqa” is eternal life. After Mukti human mind transforms into a subtler form and attains the cosmic view, the cosmic hearing and the cosmic life. This is completely different from having a primitive mind with no ego. You can be sure that we do not turn into zombies when the individual ego is dissolved.

So why do we have an individual ego then? The individual ego must be a a necessary stage in our spiritual journey.

Philosophical discussion is interesting but we still have not answered the original question: why is there so much fascination with zombies in the popular culture? This is a question about psychology not about philosophy.

The only thing I can think of at this point is that zombies provide contrast to our human nature. We are experiencing the nadir of materialistic culture. We are living through the darkest hour. We have almost forgotten our souls. In this darkness, disturbing visual images and stories describing what it would be like to have no soul provides contrast and reminds us that we have a soul.

About Suresh Emre

I have worked as a physicist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and the Superconducting Super Collider Laboratory. I am a volunteer for the Renaissance Universal movement. My main goal is to inspire the reader to engage in Self-discovery and expansion of consciousness.
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