David Chalmers uncut

July 24, 2012

Philosopher David Chalmers is famous for outlining the "hard problem of consciousness."  In this EXTENDED INTERVIEW, 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. 

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I have a very strong intuition that we're overthinking the problem, because our vanities will not let us contemplate our ordinariness. Amebas sense and respond. What if sensing and responding IS consciousness? Gautama Buddha saw consciousness as the spontaneous, "conditioned arising" of sensation and impulse, and the sense of self as nothing more than after-the-fact rationalization, an illusion. This agrees very well with neurological data that shows impulses arrive in the "conscious" just a moment before they get to the "action center" (I've forgotten the neurological term), and we conclude that we "thought of it" before doing it, which in fact is exactly what happened, though we wouldn't find it very flattering to think the explanation is a routing by-product. I think it entirely appropriate to generalize this mechanism to consciousness itself. I believe Steve Paulson is clinging to the notion of an extra-cranial "soul" and though he is very well-informed, perceptive and intellectually wide-ranging, this preconception is a handicap here. It might be a very instructive discipline to conduct, or reframe, an entire series of interviews without recourse to metaphysics, then do the whole thing again without recourse to physics, or positivism.
Let me just add that ignorance is really the prevailing state of affairs in all the sciences. We don't know what THIS is; we don't know WHERE we are; we don't know what life is, really, and so forth. Our reality construct is a meticulously crafted, detailed raft of knowledge floating in a sea of metaphysics. The mistake we make is, we are vain, and impatient, and can't resist the temptation to dive off the raft and go swimming in the sea of metaphysics. The moment we do that, we are almost irretrievably lost. Few return from that swim. One final note: Steve says, "Atheists are all over the map" on this question. Naturally! Atheism isn't a philosophy, it is merely a label to distinguish a great variety of philosophies from another world that requires belief in deities and such. A variety of philosophies produce a variety of interpretations. Nothing strange in that. Stimulating as usual, thanks.

re: "This agrees very well with neurological data that shows impulses arrive in the "conscious" just a moment before they get to the "action center" (I've forgotten the neurological term), and we conclude that we "thought of it" before doing it..."
But this doesn't escape from hypothesizing the 'we' that deludes 'itself' about the nature of 'its' consciousness. Such an argument is still requires the introduction a 'homunculus' that is the observer of its own consciousness, which then demands that we hypothesize a second order homunculus to explain the consciousness of the homunculous, and cetera... We are trapped in an endless recursion of observers. And the 'hard problem of consciousness' escapes from and recedes ahead of our futile attempts to capture it in a closed theory...

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