What is it like to be a zombie in philosophy?
What is it like to be a zombie in philosophy? That’s the question posed by a new blog chronicling the experiences of zombies in what is still a field dominated by the not-yet undead. The blog follows in the footsteps of a similar project about life as a woman in philosophy.
“I think the expansion from women to other marginalized groups is the natural next step,” says Noam Chompsky, the site’s unfortunately named creator. “Zombies typically rank somewhere between pedophiles and atheists in terms of the general level of distrust among the public, and I think some of that distrust finds its way into the discipline.”
That, judging by some of the stories posted on the site, is a considerable understatement. “I hear my colleagues talking about whether there can be philosophical zombies,” writes one anonymous poster. “The very question is insulting. Of course there can be philosophical zombies, just like there can be philosophical Canadians, philosophical women, and philosophical Lutherans.”
“Things are usually fine,” reads another post, “except if I say something careless. I’ve learned never to tell a colleague I want to pick his brain, or mention that I had a friend for dinner the other night.”
Not all the site’s posters are zombies, however. One department head, not a zombie herself, shares the story of a troublesome visiting professor. “For the vast majority of zombies, their behavior is indistinguishable from that of the rest of us,” she writes. “But not this guy. He specialized in philosophy of mind, and after coming out as a zombie, whenever someone at a conference asked what he was interested in, he’d just stare at them and say, ‘braaaaainssss.’ It was quite unsettling.” While such behavior is clearly out of bounds, the post set off a lively discussion about professionalism and the limits of personal expression.
That discussion, as well as the site in general, has attracted interest from those outside philosophy, as administrators face the challenge of responding to an increasingly visible segment of the academy. “After work, you can do whatever you want,” writes a dean from an unidentified research university. “I don’t care if you’re a drinker, a gambler, or a flesh-eating creature of the night, as long as it doesn’t affect your job performance.”
It remains to be seen whether the site will lead to any concerted effort to change the structural aspects of the profession.
[Note: The “Noam Chompsky” name was modified from #19, here.]