Neural decoding, the Atlantis machine, and zombies

Philosophical Perspectives 37 (1):69-89 (2023)
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Abstract

Neural decoding studies seem to show that the “private” experiences of others are more accessible than philosophers have traditionally believed. While these studies have many limitations, they do demonstrate that by capturing patterns in brain activity, we can discover a great deal about what a subject is experiencing. We present a thought experiment about a super-decoder — the Atlantis machine — and argue that given plausible assumptions, an Atlantis machine could one day be built. On the basis of this argument, we then argue for the rejection of robust notions of consciousness, which have generated numerous puzzles, including puzzles about the possibility of philosophical zombies. In light of the Atlantis machine, it can be seen that robust notions of consciousness do not earn their explanatory or descriptive keep. More modest concepts of consciousness are sufficient to account for all phenomena — in both senses of the term. This kind of antirobustness about consciousness is a deflationary approach to conscious experience that differs in important ways from illusionist approaches.

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Jared Warren
Stanford University
Rosa Cao
Stanford University

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References found in this work

Minds, brains, and programs.John Searle - 1980 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3 (3):417-57.
Epiphenomenal qualia.Frank Jackson - 1982 - Philosophical Quarterly 32 (April):127-136.
Consciousness Explained.Daniel C. Dennett - 1993 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 53 (4):905-910.
Materialism and qualia: The explanatory gap.Joseph Levine - 1983 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 64 (October):354-61.

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