Consciousness

The "Hard Problem of Consciousness"

This topic contains 6 replies, has 4 voices, and was last updated by  PopeBeanie 4 months, 2 weeks ago.

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  • #25438

    PopeBeanie
    Moderator

    So here is where that word “why” bugs me:

    In Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness (1995), Chalmers wrote (copy/pasted from wikipedia):

    It is undeniable that some organisms are subjects of experience. But the question of how it is that these systems are subjects of experience is perplexing. Why is it that when our cognitive systems engage in visual and auditory information-processing, we have visual or auditory experience: the quality of deep blue, the sensation of middle C? How can we explain why there is something it is like to entertain a mental image, or to experience an emotion? It is widely agreed that experience arises from a physical basis, but we have no good explanation of why and how it so arises. Why should physical processing give rise to a rich inner life at all? It seems objectively unreasonable that it should, and yet it does.

    I’s prompted to bring this up here after listening to a Sam Harris podcast, where Sam decries Daniel Dennett’s position on this matter as “totally missing the point”, or something like that. (I didn’t write it down because I was listening in bed and falling asleep.)

    Notice all the “why’s” in Chalmers’ statements. He’s the guy that coined the term Hard Problem of Consciousness. I’m siding with Dennett, partly because I never fully understood what all the hoopla’s about. All those whys, in science, are totally irrelevant questions, at least until enough “hows” are worked out.

    Let me just turn this question around. Why, oh why, can’t philosophers just let go of asking all those whys wrt their purported hard problem? I think it’s because science just hasn’t yet come up with enough hows, and because there aren’t enough words yet in our languages to express our experiences and feelings, even when we know in our hearts that we share them.

    So someone asks something like “how do we know that my experience of perceiving the color red is the same as someone else’s experience of perceiving the color red? To me, that’s a nonsensical question. To whoever’s asking that question, I ask them, what do you mean “the same as”? The “same”, how? These are useless, metaphysical kinds of questions, perhaps even the kind of questions a preacher on the stage will convince the sheep are “deep mysteries of life that only God knows the answers to”.

    The hows have to be worked out before the whys. One needs to understand how water droplets refract light before they can know and explain why the rainbow is there. It’s in the scientific method, and we’re only just starting this journey in understanding consciousness.

    It will happen, and it will happen in spite of charlatans like Deepak Chopra explaining it in woo terms of quantum or universal consciousness… or whatever their creative minds like to settle on and sell.

    #25439

    _Robert_
    Participant

    Perhaps how is not as inspirational as why. As an engineer my schooling and career where consumed by the how. When I started managing a team of engineers in developing  a doppler weather RADAR, I found that I really had to drive in on the “WHY” we were doing this to inspire the team to figure out “HOW” we were actually going to do this.

    #25440

    Simon Paynton
    Participant

    In studying morality, the questions are all about “what” do we do and “why” do we do it?

    #25441

    PopeBeanie
    Moderator

    I agree with y’all. Funny how this only seems important to me now, at 65 years old. Answers to whys can be so cloaked in mystery, wonder, and feelings, and the hows are just textbook, pedantic, and require work. Mysteries and dramas are more fun, at least in a group setting like an audience or congregation. Just add fairy dust for the shared feeling of adventure and freedom from real-world restraints like “facts”.

    Ha, I think the hard problem is about working to build up the science around consciousness.

    #25442

    Unseen
    Participant

    I don’t think it’s necessary for a sophisticated system (or even being) to interact with and manipulate its environment to be self-aware or possess what we know as consciousness.

    Perhaps it’s just an accident. Lucky or otherwise.

    When you study Wittgenstein, you have consider some seemingly crazy ideas. Okay, you are conscious, but can you know for sure that the person you’re talking to is also conscious? You can form an argument from analogy based on your own case, but that’s hardly a rigorous deterministic proof.

    If you really want to doubt, how can you be sure that you are conscious of anything real at all?

    The last words of Wittgenstein’s Über Gewißheit (On Certainty):

    Someone who, dreaming, says “I am dreaming”, even if he speaks audibly in doing so, is no more right than if he said in his dream “it is raining”, while it was in fact raining. Even if his dream were actually connected with the noise of the rain.

    Like I said, consciousness may simply be an accident. One that happened to certain beings on the planet, or maybe just to you.

    • This reply was modified 4 months, 3 weeks ago by  Unseen.
    • This reply was modified 4 months, 3 weeks ago by  Unseen.
    • This reply was modified 4 months, 2 weeks ago by  PopeBeanie. Reason: Added quote block to the Witt quote; I also removed (post #25445), Unseen's mention of lacking the quote block
    #25495

    PopeBeanie
    Moderator

    If you really want to doubt, how can you be sure that you are conscious of anything real at all?

    I’m not well learned in philosophy, so my opinions will often be relatively uninformed. That said…

    I visualize “the hard problem” as being difficult, only because we so strongly tend to assume there must be some kind of meta nature to consciousness. This enables creative explanations of consciousness that usually don’t help us understand consciousness at a scientifically useful or empirically documentable level. Think Deepak Chopra and his quantum noise/nonsense, or think about the black hole of intellectual creativity that ignorantly asserts that consciousness has existed since the big bang, even, and so it just trickles down into all matter somehow. (So I’m paraphrasing.)

    I think it’s ok to say there is a “meta” nature to consciousness, even if all we’re saying is that, like metadata, we’re discussing the nature of something that’s something about consciousness, and we just don’t yet know how to discuss it in empirical terms.  E.g., feelings fall into this meta zone too, with scientifically nonsensical questions like “what is it like to feel like a bat”. Sure, it’s an interesting question, but how about even “what is it like to feel like an ant”, or “what is it like to feel like a virus”. At some point the nonsensical question is patently absurd, and so the question (seems to me) to be more about how distant other species are from us humans, in whatever terms we’re currently able to use to describe our differences in consciousness among animals.

    A more practical approach to scientifically understanding consciousness has to incorporate some aspects of its metadata, perhaps even allow for some temporary speculation as to how feelings arise, but most importantly (to me, at least), is to just skip the hard question for the sake of science, and move on to easier studies, such as what are the differences in human consciousness from birth to old age, visual vs blind, auditory vs deaf, high cognitive ability vs mentally challenged, consideration of autistic and other spectrums of behavior and feelings. Such aspects, and their metadata, are necessarily subjective in nature, yet still, our goal to understand and explain consciousness must, by it’s nature, be couched in our willingness and ability to invent new language for enhancing our discussions about it.

    Here is a TEDx video with Max Tegmark, physicist/cosmologist, bringing up the hard problem at the beginning, but so as to not discourage you from watching at least some of the video, I’m skipping about 11 minutes into it for you. (Obviously you can reset it yourself to the beginning if you want to watch the whole thing.)

    #25496

    PopeBeanie
    Moderator

    Like I said, consciousness may simply be an accident. One that happened to certain beings on the planet, or maybe just to you.

    That’s reasonable, or at least I’d say a long series of accidents that were selected by evolution to live on in genes. Life itself was shaped that way, in uncountable series’ of uncountable accidents and selection processes.

    And now we can increasingly shape life, and consciousness, and invent new forms of them. (I wonder how the discussion of The Hard Problem will evolve, as AI evolves… quickly usurping billions of years worth of natural evolution.)

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