Top critical review
Circular and self-contradictory arguments for dualism that ultimately undermine themselves
on 30 December 2016
This is quite a thorough argument against the case for dualism - unfortunate since Chalmers intention is argue for it.
The author spends almost no time at all in the world of actual facts about consciousness, ignoring, for example, that single every aspect of consciousness can be switched off through physical changes in the brain and is clearly therefore dependent upon the physics of the brain for its existence.
Instead, he prefers to waste his intellectual energy putting forward arguments *from* dualism as arguments *for* it. He conveniently forgets, for example, that that we must first hold it to be axiomatically true that consciousness is causally separate from the physical world in order to conceive of phenomenal zombies and inverted spectra. Having forgotten this he eventually gets around to asserting them as proof of dualism.
The circularity of his thesis is both obvious and frustrating.
Chalmers spends a good deal of the middle of the book twisting himself up in the resulting contradictions, obstinately refusing to let go of dualism. On the whole the book is intellectually honest and carefully constructed, but I believe it's corrupted at heart by his own lack of honesty with himself. He claims early on that he has no attachment to the idea of dualism but the dishonesty of this statement is revealed by arguments that run along the lines of, "God could have created things this way... therefore they must be possible." He claims to be atheist so perhaps this language is used for the benefit of his audience, but a fundamental belief in dualism is clear and runs throughout.
The author is thorough and deserves credit for this. He sees through the consequences of dualism all the way to realising the implication that qualia cannot be causal in a dualistic model. But when a philosopher who has spent the opening parts of a book insisting on how awe-inspiring and moving his qualia are (so much so that they drive him to spend most of him time thinking and writing about them) and then tries to argue that they're acausal and not the drivers behind our conscious actions... well, how can we take him seriously? The two facts are in direct contradiction but he holds them simultaneously to be true.
What's also frustrating - and more than a little odd - is that Chalmers happily entertains logically incoherent ideas like phenomenal zombies, yet seems incapable of imagining their counter examples, that perhaps, just perhaps, conscious *is* 'what it is like to be' a system that behaves indistinguishably from us. It seems in the end he just prefers the company of invented facts to actual facts. and no amount of pointing out trees is enough to convince Chalmers of the woods.
Like a blind Egyptologist obsessed with only the top stone of a pyramid (which he feels keenly) he absolutely rejects the importance of the parts played by any of the stones beneath and, because he hasn't felt all of them, resorts to magic to explain how it hangs there.
A frustrating read, but worthwhile for anyone who wants to explore the logical contradictions inherent in dualism.