Inverse Zombies, Anesthesia Awareness, and the Hard Problem of Unconsciousness

Document Type: 
ASSC Conference Item
Article Type: 
Other (See topic area)
Unconscious States Processing
Anesthesia, Anesthesia Awareness, Zombies, Hard Problem
Deposited by: 
Dr. George Mashour
Date of Issue: 
George A. Mashour, Eric LaRock
Event Location: 
Las Vegas
Event Title: 
11th Annual Meeting of the ASSC
Event Type: 
ASSC Conference
Presentation Type: 
Philosophical (p-) zombies are constructs that possess all of the behavioral features and responses of a sentient human being, yet are not conscious. P-zombies are intimately linked to the hard problem of consciousness and have been invoked as arguments against physicalist approaches. But what if we were to invert the characteristics of p-zombies? Such an inverse (i-) zombie would possess all of the behavioral features and responses of an insensate being, yet would nonetheless be conscious. While p-zombies are logically possible but naturally improbable, an approximation of i-zombies actually exists: individuals experiencing what is referred to as “anesthesia awareness.” Patients under general anesthesia may be intubated (preventing speech), paralyzed (preventing movement), and narcotized (minimizing response to nociceptive stimuli). Thus, they appear—and typically are—unconscious. In 1-2 cases/1000, however, patients may be aware of intraoperative events without any objective indices. P-zombies confront us with the hard problem of consciousness—how do we explain the presence of qualia? I-zombies present a more practical problem—how do we ensure the absence of qualia? The current investigation compares p-zombies to i-zombies, exploring the multiple dimensions of this “hard problem” of unconsciousness with a focus on anesthesia awareness and persistent vegetative states.
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