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Hard problem of consciousness

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The term hard problem of consciousness refers to the difficult problem of explaining why we have qualitative phenomenal experiences. In considerations by David Chalmers[1], this is contrasted with the "easy problems" of explaining the ability to discriminate, integrate information, report mental states, focus attention, etc. Easy problems are easy because all that is required for their solution is to specify a mechanism that can perform the function. That is, their proposed solutions, regardless of how complex or poorly understood they may be, can be entirely consistent with the modern materialistic conception of natural phenomena. Chalmers claims that the problem of experience is distinct from this set, and he assumes that the problem of experience will "persist even when the performance of all the relevant functions is explained".[2]



[edit] Formulation of the problem

Various formulations of the "hard problem":

  • "Why should physical processing give rise to a rich inner life at all?"
  • "How is it that some organisms are subjects of experience?"
  • "Why does awareness of sensory information exist at all?"
  • "Why do qualia exist?"
  • "Why is there a subjective component to experience?"
  • "Why aren't we philosophical zombies?"

James S. Trefil notes that "it is the only major question in the sciences that we don't even know how to ask."[3]

[edit] History

It has been argued that the hard problem has scholarly antecedents considerably earlier than Chalmers.

Gottfried Leibniz wrote:

Moreover, it must be confessed that perception and that which depends upon it are inexplicable on mechanical grounds, that is to say, by means of figures and motions. And supposing there were a machine, so constructed as to think, feel, and have perception, it might be conceived as increased in size, while keeping the same proportions, so that one might go into it as into a mill. That being so, we should, on examining its interior, find only parts which work one upon another, and never anything by which to explain a perception.[4]

Isaac Newton wrote in a letter to Henry Oldenburg:

to determine by what modes or actions light produceth in our minds the phantasm of colour is not so easie.[5]

T.H. Huxley remarked:

how it is that any thing so remarkable as a state of consciousness comes about as the result of irritating nervous tissue, is just as unaccountable as the appearance of the Djin when Aladdin rubbed his lamp.[6]

[edit] Responses

[edit] Scientific attempts

There have been scientific attempts to explain subjective aspects of consciousness, which is related to the binding problem in neuroscience. Many eminent theorists, including Francis Crick and Roger Penrose, have worked in this field. Nevertheless, even as sophisticated accounts are given, it is unclear if such theories address the hard problem. Patricia Smith Churchland has famously remarked about Penrose's theories that "Pixie dust in the synapses is about as explanatorily powerful as quantum coherence in the microtubules."[7]

[edit] Consciousness is fundamental or elusive

Some philosophers, including Chalmers himself, argue that consciousness is a fundamental constituent of the universe, a form of panpsychism sometimes referred to as Hylopathism.

Thomas Nagel has posited that we can, in principle, never have an objective account of consciousness.

New mysterianism, such as that of Colin McGinn, proposes that the human mind, in its current form, will not be able to explain consciousness.

[edit] Deflationary accounts

Some philosophers, such as Daniel Dennett,[8] oppose the idea that there is a hard problem. These theorists argue that once we really come to understand what consciousness is, we will realize that the hard problem is unreal, a notable deflationary account is the Higher-Order Thought theories of consciousness.[9] Though the most common arguments against deflationary accounts and eliminative materialism is the argument from qualia, and that conscious experiences are irreducible to physical states, the objection follows that the one and same reality can appear in different ways, and that the numerical difference of these ways is consistent with a unitary mode of existence of the reality. A felt pain, however, is not an appearance of a reality, but an appearance that is a reality. The appearing of a felt pain is its being, and its being is its appearing. And because this is so, the felt pain is a distinct reality from the brain state. Not only is it a distinct reality, it is a distinct reality with a distinct, irreducibly subjective, mode of existence. As John Searle points out: "where consciousness is concerned, the existence of the appearance is the reality."

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ The Place of Mind, ed. Brian Cooney
  2. ^ "Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness", David Chalmers, Journal of Consciousness Studies 2 (3), 1995, pp. 200-219.
  3. ^ Trefil, James S. (1997). One hundred and one things you don't know about science and no one else does either. Mariner Books. p. 15. ISBN 0395877407.
  4. ^ Leibniz, Monadology, 17, quoted by Istvan Aranyosi
  5. ^ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Panpsychism
  6. ^ The Elements of Physiology and Hygiene: A Text-book for Educational Institutions, by T.H. Huxley & W.J. Youmans. Appleton & Co., 1868 p. 178
  7. ^ Churchland, Patricia Smith (2002). Brain-wise: studies in neurophilosophy. MIT Press. p. 197. ISBN 026253200X.
  8. ^ Dennett, Daniel. "Commentary on Chalmers: Facing Backwards on the Problem of Consciousness"
  9. ^ Carruthers, Peter. "Higher-Order Theories of Consciousness". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

[edit] External links

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