There is exists an interesting concept of philosophical zombie.


To understand problem behind that concept, there is also interesting movie series on HBO called Westworld - https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Westworld_(TV_series)

Technically “host” AI in the movie actually is p-zombie, they are intelligent, sometime too much intelligent, and they actually understand that they different to human, and one of that AI trying to discover that missing part of his intelligence, however for him it seems like labyrinth that don’t have an exit.

There is deeper philosophical problem behind that, the best criteria as fundament for any scientific knowledge is Karl Popper’s theory of falsification, which could tell either any study scientifically proved or not.

There is exist a Chinese Room argument, which tells that Turing test couldn’t be used to discover consciousness:


And if you will try to search more, there is no way to falsify consciousness, to prove or disprove existence of this, we only can subjectively experience that it is real, and it is nothing more scientific than the way believers are believing into existence of the God.

From this point, I would consider existence of self-awareness as dogma, if you disagree with me, so you are not experiencing conscious self-awareness, perhaps you are one of that p-zombies, no reason to read further - I’ve already proved my point.

However if you claim that you are not p-zombie, how would you verify that any other person is not p-zombie, and have same awareness as you have?

The fact that this kind of contradiction could be observed only by those who can experience self-awareness, to understand the concept. And the problem is that non p-zombie, will never be able to explain this kind of paradox to p-zombie.

Conclusion, that I could make here, person:

  • either can accept that hypothetical p-zombie logically could exist, even if in reality they don’t
  • or that person don’t accept this hypothesis, I could assume that this person either don’t have strong enough logical thinking, or if logical thinking and honesty not the case, it could be just due to fact that person simply not experiencing matter of study to fully understand it?

Reading through the internet, time-to-time people subjectively denying existence of consciousness or telling that they sometime can do something unconsciousnessly, for example like first answer in question behimd link bellow, it seems referred to some known philosophers, so I can assume that they have strong logical thinking - so what makes them so confident?

Does anyone assert the real existence of p-zombies?

  • 1
    The same way we are confident that others like us are not hallucinations, have minds at all, or that the laws of physics are the same inside the Sun or in distant parts of the universe we can never reach. Educated analogy and inference to the best explanation available, see SEP, Other Minds. Confidence does not require direct verification or absolute certainty, once that is realized all such questions go away.
    – Conifold
    Commented Feb 17 at 21:40
  • Many philosophers don't believe in p-zombies to begin with, so for those philosophers, it's not really a challenging question - p-zombies don't exist, I'm not a p-zombie and other people aren't either. This is really only a challenging question for philosophers who do believe p-zombies are possible.
    – TKoL
    Commented Feb 18 at 12:39
  • A possible answer is "does it matter?". A P-zombie is by definition, for all intent and purpose, undistinguishable from a normal person when observed from the exterior. The only difference is they have no concious experience, but they would act just like normal people: say "thank you" when you're kind to them, or defend themselves if you agress or offend them. From a functional point of view we would have no reason to treat a P-zombie any differently than a regular person.
    – armand
    Commented Feb 19 at 7:14
  • Does this answer your question? Is it reasonable to believe that others have sentient minds?
    – Dave
    Commented Feb 20 at 20:42

2 Answers 2


One way to find out is to ask a philosopher who makes both claims. Then you'll know how that philosopher can be so confident. My guess is experience.

Just to be clear, I am not a philosopher, and I'm not making any claim that "everyone else are not p-zombie", only trying to answer your question about how some philosopher might have such confidence.

There is no contradiction here -- I'm objecting to your problem statement. I may have a feeling that I'm conscious, but it does not follow that I'm required to have some method of verifying someone else's experience of consciousness.

Another way is to design an interactive protocol (like a Turing test) to evaluate whatever you think is consciousness. This protocol could be similar to a question and answer protocol you might design to evaluate someone's knowledge, or understanding, or awareness of something like how to safely cross the street or what emotion someone is feeling. Then you do it on one person at a time and track the pass/fail numbers. If people keep passing, you might gain some confidence that some, maybe most, maybe all people are not p-zombies.

If you require direct verification of everyone, then the answer is unknowable to you because at just one minute each, it would take you thousands of years to survey all the people currently inhabiting the planet.

Conifold's comment about confidence is very insightful: "Confidence does not require direct verification or absolute certainty, once that is realized all such questions go away."

The people I have met in my life all seem to have consciousness and awareness just like me. I can't prove it, but I recognize it. And if they don't, then their simulation of it is good enough to convince me. And does it really matter if they have it or don't have it? I can predict that if I do certain things, they will have some reaction to it, and that will make my life better or worse, and I act accordingly. It really doesn't make a practical difference if they are p-zombies or not.

A little thought experiment - if you think someone is a p-zombie, is murdering them a crime? My answer is yes, murder of a suspected p-zombie is still a crime, because you could be wrong about them and in any case other people might disagree with you and it's those other people, maybe they are p-zombies too, who will put you on trial and then in prison. No practical difference.

But before you do all that effort, pause to reflect about why you're even asking this question. Do you really have a p-zombie problem? Or are you just pretending to have one?

  • That’s what I am thinking too: there is ethical dilemma, so philosopher could reject that concept, because someone(p-zombie or not) may start divide people not for good, even that Chinese Room argument tells that such Turing Test impossible - people are lying, and p-zombie could simulate consciousness, so no way to known. My interest is mainly driven by scientific curiosity - there is certain imperfections in scientific knowledge, they way we gathering them - Chinese Room and p-zombie great example of that, so looking for answers. Commented Feb 18 at 20:27
  • The "do you really have a p-zombie problem? or are you just pretending to have one?" was merely a joke -- since I don't know you, to me you could be a p-zombie going through the motions of making it look like you're a person with consciousness wondering about philosophy. I'm not actually questioning your motives :)
    – xalqor
    Commented Feb 19 at 13:18

I would say yes. Many philosophers proposed a model of human mind stipulating that while none of us is a pure p-Zombie, everyone has a "zombie" in their head. And it goes many names -- Daniel Kahneman of Thinking, Fast and Slow referred to that part as System 1, in Sigmund Freud's model it's a combo of id + superego, in the Chariot Allegory it's the horses,1 or in Buddha's elephant rider allegory it's the elephant.2

Whatever they call it, the "zombie" is a neural network AI. It learns our "simple" ideas (like what is a chair), it learns to do things for us -- it walks for us, it talks for us, having developed an LLM/chinese room faculty for that purpose. It is responsible for our habitual/unconscious/automatic behavior -- and it alone is sufficient for a person to function in society. Hence the legend of p-Zombies, of people sleepwalking through their lives -- but also the age-old concept of awakening, of enlightenment.

A person awakes when they manage to develop reasonably fully the other part of the human psyche -- System 2, the ego, the charioteer, their conscious mind. Unlike the "zombie" AI, which comes ready of of the box and starts learning its ideas and habits the moment we open our eyes and only stops we die, our human part, the one that gives us the capacity to understand,3 comes bare-bone hardware. It is only as functional as its software, and assembling your own copy is far from easy -- and far from a given. That's why, even though, again, none of us is a pure p-Zombie (and we all have the potential), many of us can be described as... mostly so? somewhat so?

Special thanks for mentioning West World, I still haven’t watched it. All in all, a lot of poetry/fiction appears to allude to various aspects of the “zombie” issue — or calling on us to raise above our circumstances and do something about it (The Matrix, the superhero franchises, etc).

1 The chariot allegory also appears in the Upanishads.

2 I highly recommend Mark Manson's Everything is F*cked... for its perspective on the subject.

3 Understanding is not the same as learning -- they are two different mental faculties. And again, it’s an old news that no amount of learning can teach a person to understand.

  • 1
    This is a serious misunderstanding of the zombie concept in philosophy. Zombies do not have ANY mental experiences, of any type whatsoever. Zombies think in the way that rocks think [i.e. they do not]. They do not have an id (thoughts about desires), superego (thoughts about morality), or System 1 (thoughts about heuristic to simplify decision making). Your subconscious thoughts are still thoughts and therefor not the "'zombie' in your head". What you are describing is completely unrelated to the question being asked.
    – E Tam
    Commented Feb 19 at 5:31

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