Is an entity's physical constitution a central principle of folk psychology that guides judgments about phenomenal consciousness? In a spooky new paper with Mark Phelan, we continue our examination of experiential state ascriptions by turning to the phantasmally disembodied—ghosts and spirits.
Lacking in any body whatsoever, spirits constitute the ultimate test of the basic embodiment view. If embodiment is a crucial cue for phenomenal state attribution, then we should expect important differences in ascription between human beings, on the one hand, and disembodied ghosts and spirits, on the other—just as we expect (given our prior work in this area) to find important differences in phenomenal state attribution for functional information (information about the goals, desires, etc, of an entity). However if functional information tends to cue mental state ascription independently of whether the entity has a physical body, then it undermines the embodiment hypothesis. This is what we set out to investigate, using spirits as our medium.
In five experiments, our results suggest that embodiment is not a central principle guiding ascriptions of phenomenal consciousness to these sorts of entities, while also continuing to support the important role of functional considerations in theory of mind judgments. We speculate that these findings may also at least begin to question the widespread nature of intuitions used to motivate absent qualia arguments against functionalism.
I notice there hasn't been much conversation on the blog lately, so some comments would really raise our spirits!