Comments on “Can we hunt p-zombies with fMRI? ”


I knew someone who became a p-zombie

I knew someone who became a p-zombie for a week. A tutor at Cardiff University. Towards the end of the week she started saying one or two odd things. Then she collapsed. Turned out she had a brain tumor and narrowly escaped death.

After it was removed, she swore that she had had no experience for large parts of the week, but had continued to function normally, waking up periodically.


Josh's picture

You suggest that in sleep deprivation & depression 'experience' taken as a whole becomes less vivid, and in meditation it becomes more vivid, implying a spectrum that could extend to 0. I'm not convinced it makes sense to speak of experience in the singular here. When contrasting tiredness with meditation, I would agree that individual sensations/thoughts/processes can be more or less vivid, but this seems to relate to the degree to which sustained attention is held on given sensations etc or is instead flitting from one object to the next. For me it's as if lack of sleep causes my attention to become fatigued, and therefore my impressions become more superficial, but I can't imagine what it would mean to be paying attention to nothing at all, and thereby be a zombie.

You also suggest sleep as an example of loss of consciousness accompanying inability to function, but I wonder where might dreaming and sleep-walking etc fit?

Zombies on the march

Thank you all for comments!

Ajattelen — Unfortunately, no, I don't have an institutional affiliation. I hope someone who does is somehow influenced to follow up. Thought experiments are all I have the resources for!

Rin'dzin — That's extremely interesting! It makes me wonder if there's a clinical literature on this—case studies, or perhaps even a named syndrome. If so, the philosophy-of-mind people should be alerted posthaste! I've been trying to think of a Google search phrase that would locate such things, and haven't come up with anything. "Loss of consciousness" is going to mean fainting or coma, which isn't relevant.

Josh — Interesting points. It occurs to me that the meditation literature describes a state in which you are aware, but not aware of anything in particular. That might be relevant to the last sentence of your first paragraph.

Re the second paragraph, I guess I was thinking of dreamless sleep! Or dreams in which you are too stupid to do anything useful, which describes most of mine...

50 Shades of Zombie?

Cha'tsal's picture

I very much agree with your view of varying degrees of "zombification", but with an additional degree of variance; although some people might be more inclined towards one end of the spectrum or the other, from my experience it would seem that the same "shading" applies to individual people.

It certainly does to me; I clearly remember moments of intense clarity, and also episodes of total numbness and "unreality", much like what you've described happened in your computer science class. Most of the everyday experiences seem to me to sway within a central region of the spectrum.

That's of course provided we're talking about the same thing, if you see what I mean.

automatic zombie

Ber's picture

Well, since you asked, more anecdotal evidence. I remember when I was a little kid I would lose contact with reality for whole periods, while continuing to function normally. One day I was coming back home on my bike through the town, and I hit a car: It was parked in the middle of the street and little zombie-me was taking the usual route like an automaton, didn't see it. Another time we were walking with the school and I hit a lamp post. In both cases I had absolutely no memory of being there before the shock. Do those count as p-zombie mode? Anyway unless I misunderstood it, it seems your classroom experience is really common, for example it happens all the time when people drive a familiar route, and end up home without knowing how. Granted, your experience seemed at a higher functioning level. At a higher level I can mention it happens to me when I drink too much: While not looking necessarily drunk and behaving perfectly normally, I will lose all memories of a few hours. Unknown people will greet me like an old friend the day after, because we had such a sincere and profound conversation... I've seen footage of myself like this and it's scary how normal I look in this automatic state. Of course you might say that it is only memory loss due to the alcohol, but due to the feeling of the coming back event, I find no distinction for me between this and the other occurences.

More curiously, I remember when I became aware, at the age of 10. After getting hit in school I was pretty shocked, and lying on my bed that night it dawned on me: I existed. All that happened before was completely passive, dreamlike memories, and all of a sudden there was an experiencer. I swore to myself to remember that experience. Ever since, I have been suffering from depression. If we consider depression a rejection of phenomenal reality, it makes sense that the mind would snap into zombie state from time to time to relieve the burden, so this fits nicely in your zombitude scale.

I often wondered whether some people maybe never had the arising of awareness experience, and live the half life of the undead. So, go on for the experiment if you can, it is damn interesting.


Cha'tsal & Ber — thank you both for the interesting experiences!

For what it's worth, my teaching incident seemed different from spacing out, absent-mindedness, or the fog/depersonalization/unreality of depression. (All of which I'm familiar with.) I'd say it was a state of zero awareness, whereas those others are low-awareness states (for me). It's something I've only had happen once (if indeed it did, and I didn't just have a memory loss). However, I don't want to make a big deal out of it, because I can't be sure what happened.


Thanks! That's very interesting (and more than a little horrifying).

For what its worth: Jaron

For what its worth: Jaron Lanier suggests a similar idea in "You Are Not a Gadget", going as far as to claim that Daniel Dennet must be a zombie.

Qualia? What qualia?

Carl Feynman's picture

Hello David! You may remember me from MIT half our lives ago.

I don't know if I'm a full p-zombie, but I'm fairly sure I don't have qualia. Back when we were philosophy students, qualia were a big deal, but I could never get the point of what people were talking about. At the time it was perplexing, but I've since decided that the simplest explanation was that I'm not neurotypical that way. Unlike Dennet, who wrote an essay called "Quining qualia", in which he tried to convince other people that qualia don't exist, I'm perfectly willing to admit that other people have them.

Here's somthing I didn't fully realize until I was composing this post. I don't know if this is related, but I can't tell if I'm experiencing certain emotions until I notice how I am behaving. For example, anger is signaled by a rising voice, tightness in the chest, and a tendency toward large limb movements. Until a therapist pointed out to me that I could detect these early signs of anger, I had a problem with blowing up at people before I knew I was angry. Now I can spot the signs and cool off before I make a jerk of myself. I had the same problem with detecting thirst, fear and joy. Now that I know what to look for, I don't get dehydrated, don't embarrass myself with sudden frights, and seek more joy. On the other hand, hunger, embarrassment, and horniness make themselves immediately known to me without my having to actually observe myself. Can other people tell what emotion they're having without checking their behavior and body state? I assumed people were like me, but maybe not.

Qualia hunting

Hi, Carl! Yes, of course I remember you. Nice to see you here (and slightly surprising). There's probably only a few hundred people in the world, and the rest is done with mirrors.

What you say is very interesting. Again it tends to confirm my suspicion that there are big differences between people.

Regarding your second paragraph, I think this is fairly common for those of us on the "autism spectrum."

Here's a funny (parody) video that's relevant:

What if...

Ajattelen's picture


Why several hundred? What if there is only ONE person in the world and time just works so, that you/me/everyone is the same subtle mind in a different stage, history and body?

This would give the idea of "previous lives" a different (physical) interpretation.

My p-zombie experience.

Noah's picture

Hi David.

I'm glad to see you're back writing again.

I have had a sleep-walking incident or two when I was younger (where my mom found me in my boxers with a towel draped over my shoulder staring at the nightlight in the living room at 2am, e.g. :-) -- I have no recollection of how I got there), but the oddest event was when I was in my tweens or early teens, and I was sleeping (or trying to) in my grandmother's basement while I was visiting her.

I suddenly FOUND myself awake, half sitting up (sort of leaning on my arm), staring at a clock on the fireplace mantle. It was 2 or 3 in the morning. I don't remember waking up, and I have no idea how long I had been laying there staring at the clock, but I didn't feel groggy. I just found myself IN THE MIDDLE of staring at this clock. Eventually, after WTFing for a short while, I just laid back down and went to sleep.

A little spooky. :-)

But a good story.

Narcissists are p-zombies with regard to experiencing empathy, yeah? I've known a few narcissists pretty well, and no matter what you try to say, they insist that they feel empathy just like everyone else -- despite their constantly demonstrating that they do not.

"Asperger's High" is so good.

Noah's picture

"Asperger's High" is so good. Oh my gosh! :-)

It's very cathartic for me. My brother has some pretty hard-core Asperger's, which is fine, but my family flat-out refuses to acknowledge it, which is crazy-making for me (but kind of funny):

EVERY family dinner at EVERY holiday get together is one long, rambling, somehow unstoppable quazi-soliloquy from my brother on all the latest and greatest theater lighting and sound technology, complete with serial numbers, soldering techniques, operating systems, acceleration speeds for fly harnesses, entire phone conversations he had with his boss recounted verbatim, and all the rest . :-)

It's like the part of the video where they're all talking 'to eachother' on the bleachers, but my it's just brother talking for a half-hour while everyone else silently eats. Lol.

Hilarious. :-)

Zombies and Asperger's

Thanks for the night story! Sleep is a bizarre business. Regarding narcissism, that makes sense, but I don't know much about it. Have meant to read more.

"Asperger's High" does really hit it.

Sorry to hear about your family. That is funny for me—possibly in a slightly different way than for you—but I also sympathize with everyone involved. I can picture myself on both sides of that.

I have "high functioning" Asperger's, which mostly means I've gradually learned important life lessons like "don't explain the ethanol dehydrogenase pathway on a first date," so I can pass as neurotypical in nearly all situations.

I'd still much rather discuss theater lighting and sound technology than football or TV, however! Maybe not in such great detail, though.


That was an actual example, by the way. The date seemed to be going very well up to that point :-(


Noah's picture

Sorry to hear that.

I once started trying to explain The Singularity to a young women I happened to be sitting next to at a bar.

It didn't really work out. Lol. :-)

Catalytic Social Reaction

David ,
That isnt Asperger's ( the ethanol dehydrogenase date ) .
This just means you are a geek , and dating the wrong people.
Below , will show you how I know this:

An Aspergers would skip over the working the various enzymes, and describe it in rote, as if we shared the same mind, and could take every laborious detail, as needed or understood, for granted: Like the stagelighting example, above , with full serial numbers.

If I had a date do that ( "explain the ethanol dehydrogenase pathway on a first date" ) But REALLY explain it, I would correctly identify the behavior as foreplay,
I would explain that we should make this a practical "lab" if you wanted me to "get it",
locate a bottle of aged ethanol , then have you* model, step-by step the stages AND MOTIONS of the enzymes involved , ( I am a visual-spacial thinker ) , then wrestle to see who gets to play 'enzyme' and 'substrate' in the 'practical'.

Isn't that what you would Imagine a compatible person would do on a date?

Sure, Mood enters into it. But if you felt compelled to go full on ethanol professor, I am canny enough to know a few interested questions would reboot the "pathway" , after dinner or a second date.

Do you have ANY idea how frustrating it is to be in the opposite circumstances? I dated a Chemist from MIT ( or was it Harvard ? ) and I repeatedly tried and FAILED to get any information about his work... He would just dejectedly mutter "I'm just a lowly chemist. Its a job, thats what I do." No sharing of his research, or favorite reactions or nothing. It was really lame. I queried, I tried.
He didnt even try to create chemistry over chemistry. For some people its just a paycheck.

( Nothing, at all, like this hardbodied , MIT , Eastern-European , mathematician I dated. He didnt hold back at all. Fifth-Dimensional topography was never so orgasmic. I may not be able to picture those 5th dimensional curves, ( some 3 dimensional ones, I remember like yesterday ) but having it explained while fucking and trying to , was one of the highlights of my life.* Rod Serling has it wrong. To me the 5th dimension will always be the sexy dimension. **
* )

  • Um , the hypothetical Philosophical 'You' from your example.
    I didnt knowlingly intend to switch pronouns , and induct you into a chemistry porn fantasy. I dont even know the real you. I am not sure if this is a grammar error or a freudian slip, but i am blaming it on the 'Philosophical Ethanol' .
    Its equally possible , that I have learned and forgotten this pathway; my unconscious mind was fertile ground for matching the motion of the molecules involved, with a romantic encounter, and your story lit the match, nah... catalyzed the reaction more like it.

** That reminds me, I should go look up that dissertation.

***It occurs to me this might come across as satire. This is actually who I am. :)


P-Zombie as meta(physical) orientation

Consciousness and unconscious states are frequently discussed as a trichotomy: Orientation to outside stimuli, orientation to internal stimuli, and balance between the two (mind-body oneness). Someone focused solely on internal stimuli is dreaming. Someone focused equally on internal & external stimuli is said to be "aware" (reacting to outside experiences, yet at the same time, experiencing them in a subjective manner). Someone who cannot receive either internal or external stimuli is "dead," or "brain-dead" - the stimuli may arise within the body and brain, but the "receiving" apparatus (neuro-net) is disabled and nonfunctional. The one remaining state would then be the P-Zombie, which is a person who is able to receive external stimuli, and process the stimuli in such a way as to approximate "normal" behavior, but is incapable or receiving internal stimuli. The P-Zombie has been declared to be physically impossible, since it has been stated that all human beings dream, and dreams are nothing but the receipt and processing of internal stimuli (such as memory) while sensory inputs and outputs are shut down (so-called "sleep paralysis," that shuts off motor function). However, we need to postulate that P-Zombies may be the subset of people who are only capable of processing internal stimuli while actually sleeping. While the P-Zombie is awake, he or she is not capable of processing internal stimuli and in fact has no consciousness of having dreamed; this explains the phenomenon of the many people who claim that they "don't dream," physical evidence (via EEG) notwithstanding. Is the P-Zombie then in a "liminal" condition? Or does "liminal" in some way apply to the delicate balance between internal and external stimuli, which often goes out of balance to result in various (so-called) psychological disorders, e.g., Asperger's or depression? Meditation therefore being a tool to tune up or "balance" the engine of the mind, sort of like a wheel alignment for your automobile.

Where do I fall on the Asperger's scale? I'm clumsy, socially awkward, and I'll have to leave to the reader's discretion whether I use language atypically. I don't expound at length on favorite subjects in conversation, but then, I don't actually have all that many face-time conversations.

Where do I fall on the P-Zombie scale? I have never had a true "P-Zombie" experience, though I have sleepwalked a couple of times; I often used to "zone out" while thinking and not be aware of people talking to me for several minutes; and I once fell asleep during a Spanish test in school. I often "lose track of time" when concentrating, but don't have actual "lost time" episodes of no memory at all; I just look up to see that ten minutes has turned into an hour. Also, it takes an amazingly long time for me to become aware of the alarm clock ringing in the morning, which was not a problem back when I did more yoga and felt more "in balance," so to speak.

Where do I fall on the "awareness of my emotions" scale? I have very physical emotions, such as hyper-adrenaline jitters where I can't stay still, but only when I'm very stressed. I believe I know what emotion I'm feeling, although once a (supposedly) trained psychologist tried to convince me that when I believed I was feeling anger, I was actually feeling fear. (Nope. Was that wishful thinking on his part, or projection?)

Anyway, I only wish I'd discovered this discussion sooner! Thanks for the awesome page. :)

Hi David,

Duckland's picture

Hi David,

I'm also reading You're Not A Gadget by Lanier, as the above commenter was years ago. I'm wondering if you ever read that article you found by Lanier. It appears the link you posted is dead; but there's a live link that can be found quickly on Google (can't post because of filter).

The corresponding excerpt from his book is shorter. I would have given you the Pastebin to cajole you into reading it if you didn't have the time, but again the spam filter got me : (

I see a lot of overlap between you and Lanier. I'd love to see if you have any disagreements with him. I'm sure your reading list is overflowing but at the least I'd highly recommend some of his vids. He has many on Youtube and was featured on Closer to Truth (along with Dennett, Searle, etc) which can be viewed for free. You seem to me a fit for the show too.


Arguing with zombies

I went and looked at Lanier's paper just now. It didn't seem familiar, so I don't think I read it back then. I've skimmed it quickly.

It's interesting that we both came to the same suggestion, that Dennet is actually a p-zombie.

I didn't read the article carefully because I'm not much interested in philosophical arguments about the mind/body problem. They never go anywhere! If we can get some experimental evidence, maybe progress will be possible.

Spam filtering

By the way, I apologize for the spam filter. It's awful, but it's basically the only one (Mollom) available for the web software I use (Drupal). I think I understand why it is so bad, but that's not actually helpful!

No problem about the spam

Duckland's picture

No problem about the spam filter. If I ever really feel compelled to send you a link I'll tweet it or whatever.

Yes, I would guess you and Lanier are the few people to have thought of that argument. It's difficult for me to tell, however, how serious Lanier (or you!) is. I like to think you are both being similarly playful but also sincere in acknowledging the possibility.


That's funny... In a draft version of my reply, I explicitly said that I wasn't sure how serious either Lanier or I were! It's definitely a funny idea, but perhaps also true. It's hard to know!

There's something very interesting—and funny!—about the fact that one can be unsure about one's own seriousness.

For me there does sometimes

Duckland's picture

For me there does sometimes seem to be a delight in confusion, ignorance, and ambiguity. It is interesting. It would be convenient and validating if there were a word for this. If there isn't I/we should coin one.

Robert Anton Wilson used the word 'hilaritas' to partially describe this attitude but I don't think the literal definition quite encompasses it. I've seen hilaritas considered synonymous with "light-heartedness" which you use yourself in your All Dimensions page.

Anyway, I feel the hilaritas in your writing and appreciate it. If I find a better word or something written about it I'll drop another comment.

me zombie too

Dennett mostly makes a lot of sense to me. I haven't read "consciousness explained", mostly because like you I find the topic tiresome. But I also completely don't get qualia or the hard problem of consciousness. It's easy for me to believe that I am a signal processing control mechanism optimized to produce more of the same. As near as I can tell, people seem to believe that the vividness of subjective experience is some sort of relevant evidence, and while I have some sympathy for the power of this naive realism, to me it obviously pertains to a different emergent level, and can't tell us much about the implementation of mind.


A Possible datapoint

I was composing a post on my blog, when I felt the need to quote the part of this article relating your anecdote. Part of the section I quoted contained the 'please leave comments' section at the end, which made me realize my own anecdote might be relevant.

I'll just quote what I wrote there:

The idea is amplified, in my mind, by a particular quale that there isn't much common knowledge* about. Occasionally, some odd thought will be triggered in my mind that typically isn't, and a memory of the last time I experienced it will accompany it, giving me a particular sense of time passing. It feels like bits of my awareness fall silent, only to re-join the gestalt again sometime later, like a cyclic ship of Theseus. Perhaps clearer: that when this does happen, it feels as though that fragment of 'me' has been completely unaware that whole time, giving a certain jolt of awareness.

*(this probably wasn't clear from context, I meant common knowledge in the sense of everybody knows it, and everybody know everybody knows it.)

Long-dormant bits of me momentarily re-awakening

Thanks! I've had that same sense, and noted it, and thought "this is probably important," but have never taken it further than that.

I would say that the older I get, the more disjointed my experience of time becomes, for just this reason. Whatever I am thinking right now may pick up exactly where I left off at 2:38pm on September 5th, 1983, in just the same way I may pick up a thought I left off ten minutes ago.

(The old man's complaints about "coming unstuck in time" in the first episode of The Vetali's Gift are based in part on this observation.)

Thank You

Chance's picture

Just read up to the most recent publication of Vetali's Gift. First off, thank you for writing it and exposing me to alternative parts of tantra and Buddhism. I'd love to read the rest when you get time. Just letting you know that I read it and am waiting for more, so don't give up thinking no ones read it.

Thank you too!

Thank you; I'm glad you like it!

I'm gratified by web statistics that show people do still read the fractional-novel, and occasional comments from people who express appreciation and ask for more. I still very much want to return to it and finish it, but other writing projects seem more important (although less fun!). So it's backburnered until some day when I have much more time to write. I hope that day comes soon!

Beliefs about internal reality

Hey David,

I read this post a few months ago and have been thinking about it off and on since then. It is a very powerful idea and I am fond of it. I am currently reading Schwitzgebel's Perplexities of Consciousness. I highly recommend it if you haven't read. His main thesis is that our ability to introspect on internal experience is likely very bad. Most of the book is evidence and thought experiments in this direction.

He goes through a variety of modalities studied in psych experiments, with self report being all over the map (stuff like people who have no internal visual imagery vs better-than-real, and the famous colored vs black-white dream question), and concludes it is hard to believe that our internal experiences are so fundamentally different (person to person), and that rather what we are facing is the very difficult nature of reliable introspection.

Specifically, at the end of chapter 7 I think he underlines the main point well, and it is related to your line of argument here. If we flip Descartes on his head and think for a moment, it doesn't seem so crazy to say something like: Well, actually the outside world seems to be much more stable and knowable than my moment-to-moment internal conscious experience/qualia and its character.

"Maybe people are largely the same except when they introspect...Maybe we all have a phenomenology of thought, but introspection amplifies it in some people, dissipates it in others; analogously for imagery, emotions, and so forth."

So, rather than some of us being conscious or not, we are probably just facing a reality of some of us being better (more often) at introspecting/analyzing our internal state. After writing all this, I am realizing that perhaps you two are actually in agreement here and your model of consciousness in this post is precisely that of the ability to introspect.

Anyway, thanks for the great writing, as usual!

Is introspection inaccurate

Hi Gary,

Thanks, that's very interesting! I didn't know about the book.

actually the outside world seems to be much more stable and knowable than my moment-to-moment internal conscious experience/qualia and its character.

This seems right... particularly in view of most beginning meditators realizing that their ordinary state of mind is pretty different from what they had thought, because they hadn't paid attention to it before.

perhaps... your model of consciousness in this post is precisely that of the ability to introspect.

I don't think it was anything like that coherent, I'm afraid! I find the concept rather frustratingly diffuse.

I'm a p-zombie - mostly. When

I'm a p-zombie - mostly. When I'm not, it's also indistinguishable from delusion. There's 'waking up' from this p-zombie state, but then an aftermath, in which observer-world duality is re-established. The p-zombie state seems to be acting with the world - as opposed to controlling it. For a while I was also deeply interested in the problem of qualia - from reading the paper "Epiphenomenal Qualia" by Frank Jackson as an undergraduate. 3-4 years - I thought I'd make a go of it as a grad student in this area on this question but it wasn't to be. Intellectually my intuitions were against the knowledge argument - of course we only live in a physical world. Also, I related quite deeply to the 'something it is like' of subjective experience. However, this whole obsession / question dissolved after "do nothing" / "just sitting" meditation. I haven't been able to articulate this intellectually in the discourse of analytic philosophy in a way to say this question is 'solved', but I'll give a shot at articulating it to you - because there might be enough experience / discourse in common. What I'm going to do is talk in the sort of language of thought I have about these issues, at the risk of sounding like a mad man. :) Please forgive the 'hand-wavy' ness of what follows - articulating these aspects is something I'd like to devote some time to.

What's going on with red, why does 'red' seem to have a subjective character, that is its redness?

I'll say the thought of qualia (that is a 'redness of red') occurs after the experience - is the objectifcation of that experience - and the raw experience - attention of red - is indistinguishable from the phenomena. If one stays there / rides the wave (hard to do, because you can't be 'trying to stay there' - that reestablishes duality) there is no 'red' - the concept of color, vision, seeing, internal experience disolves and there's just an ebb & flow of interchanging things (form is emptiness, emptiness is form). Sometimes even staring at a color, the color dissolves. It's rather like saying a word many times until it loses meaning, or putting the attention on somewhere in say a vipassana body scanning practice - into emptiness - then the sensation comes 'online'.

Attention/consciousness is this change itself - the 'difference that makes a difference' something comes into our attention from emptiness, and leave our attention into emptiness. But with a wholehearted sincere direction of attention to the world, this characteristic is indistinct from the world - is perhaps change itself.

The "something it is like" is a conceptual grasping after the thought - once we feel we've 'experienced' something, it goes static - we don't see the actual phenomena any more and are projecting - our concepts change the nature of what we observe - "it's not until you look at ants through a magnifying glass that you notice they have a tendency to spontaneously burst into fire".

p-zombiehood may just be stepping into the river of experience.

Did this make sense at all? I'm working on trying to articulate some of these intuitions I have about these topics in light of my recent interest in buddhist mediation.

The color dissolves

Mostly I just find this matter confusing. However,

If one stays there there is no 'red'—there's just an ebb & flow of interchanging things (form is emptiness, emptiness is form). Sometimes even staring at a color, the color dissolves.

Yes, that's a thing. I don't know what it means. I hadn't thought to connect it with the question of qualia. What you say does seem to make sense!

I think I am a rolang /

Zach Horvitz's picture

I think I am a rolang / neurological zombie. How do I get out of this state? Do I have to die?

Is that enjoyable, or unpleasant?

Hmm... interesting... It sounds like you don't like being a p-zombie?

It's hard to make any confident suggestion about this, because the existence of p-zombies is generally doubted, and as far as I know there is no body of knowledge on how to stop being one.


If you actively dislike being a p-zombie, that dislike sounds rather like a quale (a subjective experience of what-things-are-like). Being a p-zombie means not having subjective experiences at all... Maybe this dislike is a crack in zombitude that you can drive a wedge into?

Perhaps it would be helpful to become angry about being this way. That might be better than resignation or despair; it might provide some useful energy. And then you might investigate: what is this anger like? That would also be a quale.

Alternatively, if you can find something you do like, you could investigate what this "liking" feels like. I would guess that being a p-zombie is related to nihilism and depression, and getting curious about what "liking" is like is the best way out of nihilistic depression. (Although it can be artificially difficult if, when depressed, you adamantly refuse to like anything!)

I don't know; it may be possible to like and dislike things without having a corresponding quale. How about suffering and enjoyment? It's hard to imagine that you could suffer, or enjoy, without qualia. Those are prototypical qualia, pretty much!

In any situation, there is something to enjoy, even it's microscopic. There's always some texture or color around that, when you examine it, has some positive emotional value (if you can set aside how miserable you are). Paying attention to that, and allowing it to grow, is a way out of depression, at least.

But maybe that doesn't work for p-zombies. I don't know!

It's an intriguing question. Let us know if you make progress!

Thanks for your insight. I

Zach Horvitz's picture

Thanks for your insight. I may have some mild form of cotard's syndrome, not sure... I also have a kind of energy blockage in the head. I wonder if energy blockages / imbalances are common with zombie types... Either way, I try my best to just settle into the experience without too much judgement...

Nihilism, depression, Cotard's, energy

Hmm... Well, again, I am very far from expert here. But, for what it is worth, I did a quick google for how Cotard's is treated, and the answer is basically that depression treatments are often effective. (Along with anti-psychotics in the short run; but it doesn't sound to me like you are psychotic, whereas it does sound like you might be depressed.) The available depression treatments aren't as good as one would like, but they do work something like 50% of the time (for depression—Cotard's is rare enough that there don't seem to be statistics). So if you haven't already, it may be worth seeing a doctor to see if depression treatment would help.

Depression is, I think, often an energy blockage issue. (I'm speaking here more from personal experience and Buddhist theory than from what little I know of clinical psych.) I wrote about that in "Unclogging":

Unfortunately, it is not possible to turn off—or even turn down—individual energies. It would be handy if we had a row of volume knobs and could adjust anger and lust up or down as needed. But our bodies don’t work that way...

Another strategy is to turn down the master volume knob on your whole being. If a particular problem energy is too strong to deal with, you can’t turn it down, but you can drain energy out the whole system. This produces low-energy stuckness. It can appear as depression...

Both strategies rob you of potential. Much of your energy may go into suppressing yourself. By the time you reach adulthood, that has long since become habitual, and may seem normal.

The discussion there is unhelpfully esoteric. It's my intention to write something more down-to-earth here, but that page is still just a stub.

I try my best to just settle into the experience

Experience is what p-zombies lack. Maybe we are up against the limits of language here; but if you have an experience, you aren't a p-zombie.

without too much judgement

Hmm. You shouldn't listen to anything I say, because I have no relevant qualifications. However—

Almost always, I recommend suspending judgement. However, depression is a major exception. Suspending judgement is one of depression's main stratagems. Feeding that listlessness is exactly the wrong thing to do. That kind of non-judgemental attitude is what keeps you from taking the steps that lead out of depression.

That is why I suggested getting angry about it. Anger is not usually a helpful emotion—but it can be a way out of depression. There are other ways out that are less risky—but anger may be easier to access. Depression is often anger turned against oneself, and then concealed or suppressed. In that case, the anger is right nearby if you look for it—and you can use its explosive energy to blow a hole through the wall.

(The problem is that this can have collateral damage—which is why I wouldn't usually recommend it. But sometimes it's the only option.)

Among The Living

Angus O'Connor's picture

Wow, am I glad I found this page and that it's still recently active. I have had suspicions that I have Cotard's for years and seem to have been debating the problem of qualia for years in my own autistic schizotypal way that never arrives at belief in my own conclusions or that there is any such thing as "consensus reality". I don't know where to begin to describe my "experience" or "lack of lack" of it as it were and I tend to be a major graphomaniac in my attempts to make up for a total lack of affective resonance with a lot of words.

I seem to be someone who has retained a state of prenatal and somehow adversarial object relations. Klein's bad parts of self in full bloom. I was born with forceps and think I may have "opted out" to isolated schizoid withdrawal, narcissistic mortification at birth, and then pretty much flunked every subsequent developmental phase, other than to grudgingly acquiesce to "acting" more or less appropriately; never understanding why all the bother about "having a life" or a "narrative". I seem to inhabit a negativistic "view from nowhere" with a sort of Shiva complex that has been attributed to INTP types, which I am. I seem to have been "born against", but at a scale where it is not humanity I have it in for, but the very idea that precedes them. Pan Galactic straw boss, quantum psychopath or something. lol

I have had several calamitous episodes of trying to emerge from this. Totally ungrounded, full of rage at society and the necessity to "push objects around in this shit world" and yet full of giddy glee to subversively show everybody the error of their belief in the "real". I have actually had the "body without organs" experience where food seems to vanish from the back of one's mouth.

I am presently right on that threshold again. This time I have somehow managed to clear some major blockages and feel sensation in my body all the way down to my feet. Curious to see where it goes...

Monstrous qualia

Thanks, I found this interesting (and you write well!). I also test as INTP, and as mildly autistic, and "schizotypal" is probably not so far off either. I don't seem to have Cotard's-like symptoms, though.

From what you've written, it's possible that some of what I have written elsewhere on this site could be relevant. I'm thinking particularly of the "black magic" series, and the series that begins with noble monsters and "eating the shadow."

By coincidence, I've spent the past week writing several follow-on pages to "Eating the shadow"—seven years after I posted it!

I am presently right on that threshold again.

Try to be good to yourself in times of intensity :)

Awww Shit

Angus O'Connor's picture

Ha, you're the first INTP I've encountered since I became aware of the MBTI. That was only like a year ago and was a real eye opener. I mean, I'm 43 and I really needed to see a whole system laid out to get the whole "theory of mind" thing and bring it to belief that not everyone thinks like I do and we're all of the same mind (mine) anyway. No boundaries.
I actually had to teach someone a process today at work, which I did, but there's still this underlying part of me that like "why don't you just see it?". I'm tons of fun to move a couch with me in 10 words or less. I think I got really hung up at Lacan's whole mirror phase, and the names of the father thing. They say INTPs tend to gravitate to primitivism. And then there's the whole "Demon Function", Introverted Feeling. I read something funny on a forum "what's the cure for being INTP?" One answer was "Hang out with an INFP". I am finding this to be true. Today my INFP friend said "you came out broken", making fun of me for being left handed. Funny I had just alluded to forceps birth, which no one takes seriously except Otto Rank and a few people in Australia. Oh and Grof with his perinatal matrices.
Anyway, lots of great stuff in this thread. I'll have to read it like a thousand times to get it past my "everything is bullshit filter". Other ones that are great for this are "The Narcissists Time" by Superstar Sam Vaknin and "Values of People With Schizophrenia" by Stranghellini. Really good descriptions of how one gets outside of space and time and refuses to be taught anything from without.
The Cotard thing is really a thing unto itself IMO. People will speak of deadness in an "as if" way for any number of reasons from depression to dissociation or what have you, but this is a real ego syntonic checking out in total incredulity of being. It's like being a self made "empty set" waiting for an answer to everything that some part of you splits off in search of, and in the mean time it's like life hasn't started yet. The prefatory quote to Vaknin's essay the "Delusional Way Out" describes this perfectly. Or the Lowen/Reich description of "schizoid/dreamer" character on Michael Samsel's site. Permanent postponement. Apocalypse Dudes Interrupted. It does actually create a weird "doomed to (boring) immortality" sense of things.
And yet its just some dum dum double bind tavern puzzle in the mind that some part is just too stupid and primitive to give up on....right?

The Bioenergetics of Berdache

Angus O'Connor's picture

I shifted gears from soul sucking genocidal gas cloud to whimsical schizotype dream time shaman and this whole other view to "how can I think I am the living dead, or death itself?" presented itself.
The berdache thing is sort of intriguing. Especially in the instance of a contra-lateral gender associated split between feeling and reason/left right brain resulting in libido being split and turned against itself, rather than back at the self object or image. Perhaps this is the distinction between classical narcissism and the bizarro theory of "anti-narcissism". Stewing in ones one juices frantically substantiating negative self image rather than ideal, becoming anti-matter.
And yet, I can relate. I feel like "I" am more a festering "battery", always whipping up rage and revenge as a fuel, than the machine I operate my body as. I seem to be very attuned to acidity and corrosiveness in my way and in everything I consume.
And yet I feel I'm coming out of it. I wonder what an fMRI would reveal right now...How big a deal is it?

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