David Chalmers, the Hard Problem of Consciousness

November 4, 2012

Philosopher David Chalmers is famous for outlining the "hard problem of consciousness."  He says the materialist framework of science will never be able to explain subjective experience - our thoughts and feelings, the expereince of joy or sorrow, self-awareness. 

You can listen to the EXTENDED interview - and find the transcript - here.

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Why do we have consciousness? We have consciousness for the same reason that sharks have electrical sensory apparatus. There was an evolutionary value for the population. How is this a complicated question? What’s to explain? “Problem of consciousness”? What problem?

A loud an nasty debate between scientists and philosophers”? I hardly think so. Sadly, scientists don’t debate philosophers.

There are many remaining questions for scientific enquiry. Whether these amorphous “questions” are particularly great or not is an aesthetic judgment.

Neuroscientists unsurprisingly will say that the proper method of examining brain function will be neuroscience.

“Are physical processes enough to explain what’s in your mind…?” Yes. If what you mean by “explain” is “describe”. If you mean “justify” or any of a number of other words that the word “explain” may be used to signify, then the question can become as abstruse as you like.

“We should take … consciousness as a primitive element in the world, a fundamental property if you like, in the way that physics takes space and time and mass and charge…” aside from the fact that classical physics abandoned space and time as separate “properties” a hundred years ago, how is this prescription distinct from hoary old anthropism?

We need to “expand the ontology of fundamental properties”? I’m afraid this lacks meaning.

“..in the realm of speculation…”? I’ll say. In the realm of flapdoodle, more precisely.

Really, this is the sort of thing that set Feynman’s teeth on edge. It’s also the kind of thing that has excluded useful and important exploration of the philosophy of science from practical discussion.

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