Leibniz and the zombie hypothesis

Themba asked:

Does Leibniz’s conception of the relationship between physical and mental events get rid of the Zombie and Mutant possibilities? Why or why not?

Answer by Jürgen Lawrenz

I may be out of touch, but certainly I am not aware of real zombies existing anywhere. In fact, the last time I looked, it seemed plain and perfectly obvious to me that zombies can’t possibly exist. However, I don’t think Leibniz was responsible for this. It’s just a plain fact. So this part of your question has really got to be addressed to the sci-fi entertainment industry, where people with over-ripe fantasies dream up such creatures. But don’t get confused with what you see on TV. Zombies are fictions, and on screen they’re nothing but computer-generated images! Unless a law is passed to stop these dreamers from dreaming, zombies will continue their non-existent ‘existence’ and there’s nothing even Leibniz can do about it (and yet he was a doctor at law!).

There is another possibility, in case I’ve misunderstood. Sometimes we call a dull, apathetic person a ‘zombie’. Here Leibniz was distinctly charitable. He did not promote the idea of getting rid of them, although he wrote that no good can come of being dull and apathetic. He called such people ‘lazy sophists’, because they always have good reasons for being lazy and he warned them that God will not provide fruit unless you first plant a seed. In another of his papers, however, he wrote that no person can be so utterly stupid that someone else could not learn something from them. That’s what I mean by charitable. But what this has to do with the physical and mental events in your question is not clear to me.

Mutants are different of course. You and I and just about every living thing on this earth is a mutant. But once again you have to beware of sci-fi jargon, because when they say ‘mutant’ they have just another kind of zombie in mind. But Leibniz knew nothing of mutational theory, although he did say, categorically, that some mutations are just not possible – ‘natura non facet saltus’, or in plain English, ‘nature takes no leaps.’ But again, the only connection I can make to your question is this: That in the minds of (some) people, nature leaps all over the place – until they come back down to earth.

Apart from all this, Leibniz in the ‘New System’ (which is presumably the text you are referring to) makes the point that there is a pre-established harmony between body and soul. It works this way: Body and soul are one. Body is ensouled and the soul is embodied. So the difference between them is important only in the macroscopic environment in which you and I live. In the microscopic environment, the soul and the cells that come together are pre-programmed (by God) to work in harmony. So when you will to lift your arm, your arm goes up, because the arm was always destined to go up at that instant and providing it co-existed with your soul. This is quite a difficult idea to follow, especially if you don’t agree to God being instrumental in this action. But you could say that the arm has a disposition to go up, and your soul has a disposition to will this to happen, and so it happens at the moment when both will and action coincide. For more on this subject, however, you should read the paper – it’s not overly long and quite well written.

Of course (last word) none of this has anything to do with zombies and zombie/ mutants. They can’t will anything or lift their arm, because only their inventor can. But if this is the gist of your question then obviously Leibniz did not ‘get rid of’ but actually supports the idea you’re asking about. In fiction, mind you!

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