Physicalism

Are We More Than Just the Physical? Philosophers Argue over Zombies

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Zombies are a big part of our pop culture. They are both a cathartic exploration of what it means to be human and a vehicle for social commentary. The word “zombie” comes from Haitian folklore and refers to a corpse animated by witchcraft. Facing a horrid life, 17th-century Haitian slaves, who worked on sugar plantations in the French-owned Louisiana area, often considered suicide but were afraid to be trapped in their bodies, wandering the Earth as soulless shells.

In philosophy, this idea of a hypothetical creature that looks like a regular human but has no conscious experiences is known as a “philosophical zombie” or a “p-zombie”.

Why do philosophers need zombies?

The concept is kind of a mind trick. Imagine a being that looks and even talks like a human. It goes through all the normal motions of a human and yet has no consciousness. And you would have no idea that it is not like you.

According to philosophers like David Chalmers, p-zombies are an argument against physicalism – the school of thought that everything that makes us human is ultimately derived from our physical characteristics.

Physicalism is based on the success of science in exploring the physical world. According to physicalists, we are essentially intricate arrangements of atoms. Behaviorists, a subset of physicalists, maintain that even all mental processes – thoughts, desires, etc – are just responses to the behaviors of others.

If a p-zombie that is exactly like us, except for the sense of self and consciousness, is possible to logically conceive, then it could support dualism, an alternative view that sees the world consisting of not just the…

From Mind Control to Curing Brain Diseases, a Neuroscience Revolution Is Coming

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If the idea of physicalism is correct — that all of our mental states can be described in purely physical terms — then neuroscience is not only the study of our brains, but the study of our entire existence. Neuroengineering, defined as the application of engineering principles to neurological problems, then becomes how we engineer our relationship with existence itself.

Fifty years ago, nobody but computer programmers knew the personal computer was being developed, and the primary market for the device was thought to be scientists. Today, computers are a ubiquitous.

Digital technology has revolutionized nearly every facet of our lives. Today, neuroengineering is in a similar infancy. While most people would understand the basic idea of using engineering techniques to alter, improve, repair, and study neural systems, most people would lack for ideas on the application.

This article is part of a series sponsored by The Hertz Foundation. Discover more of what remarkable students can do in the sciences: — From Space Elevators to Drone Delivery, Looking for Failure Inspires Innovation

Dr. Ed Boyden is somebody who does not lack for those ideas.

Brain Science: Optogenetics and Expansion Microscopy Edward Boyden

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Brain Science: Optogenetics and Expansion Microscopy

Ed-boyden-hs

Edward Boyden

MIT Professor, Media Lab Synthetic Neurobiology Group Leader

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As professor of Biological Engineering and Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the MIT Media Lab, Boyden has launched an award-winning series of classes at MIT which teach principles of neural engineering, starting with the basic principles of how to control and observe neural functions. While studying neuroscience at Stanford University as a Hertz Foundation Fellow, Boyden discovered that human memories are stored by a specific molecular mechanism, and that the content of a memory determines the mechanism used by the brain.

His work focuses on dramatically improving how the brain is imaged, opening a world of opportunities for people who wish to study the neural pathways that make our brains work. Dr. Boyden’s high resolution 3-D maps of the brain, unlike prior 2-D maps, allow researchers to pinpoint exactly what part of the brain they wish to…