Zombies have infected (ahem) our liberal arts and sciences as well as our hearts. In the field of philosophy, for example, they have the concept of the p-zombie. What is a p-zombie? Well, it doesn’t necessarily run, which is a good thing but it also doesn’t necessarily consume the flesh of human beings, which leaves me wondering.
A p-zombie is a lot more like the zombies of Haitian folklore in that it is a human being without a consciousness, they would behave exactly like a person but would not, in fact, be a person because it wouldn’t be conscious. It would act but it wouldn’t know what it was doing, why it was doing it or have any particular violation.
A philosophical zombie (p-zombie, for short) would be a human body without consciousness which would nevertheless behave like a human body with consciousness. To some philosophers (e.g., Daniel Dennett) this is a contradictory notion and thus an impossible conception. If it behaves like a person and is indistinguishable from a person, then it is a person. Other philosophers (e.g. Todd Moody and David Chalmers) argue that a p-zombie would be distinguishable from a person even though indistinguishable from a conscious person. It is distinguishable, say these philosophers, because it is stipulated that it is not conscious even though it is indistinguishable from a conscious being. In case you are wondering why philosophers would debate whether it is possible to conceive of a p-zombie, it is because some philosophers do not believe or do not want to believe that consciousness can be reduced to a set of materialistic functions.
You might be wondering whether you should run from p-zombies, well, that’s where things get tricky. As skepdic’s notes, a p-zombie would be completely indistinguishable from a person. They would walk, talk and shamble just like the rest of us. As a result, it’s possible that you could be in contact with p-zombies as we speak.
You, in fact, could be a p-zombie.
Though to put your mind at ease, I hear that the most common place for p-zombies to turn up is within graduate courses of philosophy colleges and apparently a feature film to come out sometime this year, go figure.