Memorial Day Offer

Discover your mystery discount!

Hard problem of consciousness

Hard Problem of Consciousness Overview: – David Chalmers formulated the hard problem in 1995 and 1996. – Chalmers’ works received praise for argumentative rigor and […]

« Back to Glossary Index

Hard Problem of Consciousness Overview:
– David Chalmers formulated the hard problem in 1995 and 1996.
– Chalmers’ works received praise for argumentative rigor and clarity.
– The hard problem questions why processes are accompanied by conscious experience.
– Consciousness, as defined by Chalmers, refers to the feeling of ‘what it is like to be something.’

Easy Problems vs. Hard Problem:
– Easy problems are explainable through lower-level facts and mechanistic analysis.
– The hard problem focuses on explaining why processes are accompanied by experience.
– Chalmers argues that solving the easy problems will not solve the hard problem.
– The hard problem explores the irreducibility of conscious experience to physical systems like the brain.

Historical Precedents and Related Concepts:
– Scholars like Isaac Newton and John Locke discussed the difficulties of explaining consciousness.
– The mind-body problem explores the relationship between the mind and body.
– Thomas Nagel’s work questions the subjective nature of experiences versus objective physical states.
– The explanatory gap highlights the disparity between understanding the physical world and consciousness.

Implications for Physicalism and Explanatory Gap:
– Physicalism asserts that everything, including consciousness, can be explained by microphysical constituents.
– Chalmers’ hard problem challenges physicalism by suggesting consciousness cannot be reduced to microphysical elements.
– The explanatory gap between physical understanding and consciousness is a key concept in this discussion.
– Levine’s thought experiment involving aliens without c-fibers illustrates the gap between physical things and consciousness.

Philosophical Responses and Critiques:
– Chalmers’ hard problem sparked debates among philosophers.
– Different solutions have been proposed to address the hard problem.
– Critiques from philosophers like Thomas Metzinger and Brian Jonathan Garrett have challenged the validity of the hard problem.
– Eliminative materialism and illusionism present alternative perspectives on consciousness and its relation to physical mechanisms.

Hard problem of consciousness (Wikipedia)

In philosophy of mind, the hard problem of consciousness is to explain why and how humans and other organisms have qualia, phenomenal consciousness, or subjective experiences. It is contrasted with the "easy problems" of explaining why and how physical systems give a (healthy) human being the ability to discriminate, to integrate information, and to perform behavioral functions such as watching, listening, speaking (including generating an utterance that appears to refer to personal behaviour or belief), and so forth. The easy problems are amenable to functional explanation—that is, explanations that are mechanistic or behavioral—since each physical system can be explained (at least in principle) purely by reference to the "structure and dynamics" that underpin the phenomenon.

Proponents of the hard problem argue that it is categorically different from the easy problems since no mechanistic or behavioral explanation could explain the character of an experience, not even in principle. Even after all the relevant functional facts are explicated, they argue, there will still remain a further question: "why is the performance of these functions accompanied by experience?" To bolster their case, proponents of the hard problem frequently turn to various philosophical thought experiments, involving philosophical zombies (which, they claim, are conceivable) or inverted qualia, or the claimed ineffability of colour experiences, or the claimed unknowability of foreign states of consciousness, such as the experience of being a bat.

Chalmers on stage for an Alan Turing Year event at De La Salle University, Manila, 27 March 2012

The terms "hard problem" and "easy problems" were coined by the philosopher David Chalmers in a 1994 talk given at The Science of Consciousness conference held in Tucson, Arizona. The following year, the main talking points of Chalmers' talk were then published in The Journal of Consciousness Studies. The publication gained significant attention from consciousness researchers and became the subject of a special volume of the journal, which was later published into a book. In 1996, Chalmers published The Conscious Mind, a book-length treatment of the hard problem, in which he elaborated on his core arguments and responded to counterarguments. His use of the word easy is "tongue-in-cheek". As the cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker puts it, they are about as easy as going to Mars or curing cancer. "That is, scientists more or less know what to look for, and with enough brainpower and funding, they would probably crack it in this century."

The existence of the hard problem is disputed. It has been accepted by some philosophers of mind such as Joseph Levine, Colin McGinn, and Ned Block and cognitive neuroscientists such as Francisco Varela, Giulio Tononi, and Christof Koch. On the other hand, its existence is denied by other philosophers of mind, such as Daniel Dennett, Massimo Pigliucci, Thomas Metzinger, Patricia Churchland, and Keith Frankish, and by cognitive neuroscientists such as Stanislas Dehaene, Bernard Baars, Anil Seth, and Antonio Damasio. Clinical neurologist and skeptic Steven Novella has dismissed it as "the hard non-problem". According to a 2020 PhilPapers survey, a majority (62.42%) of the philosophers surveyed said they believed that the hard problem is a genuine problem, while 29.72% said that it does not exist.

« Back to Glossary Index
This site uses cookies to offer you a better browsing experience. By browsing this website, you agree to our use of cookies.