Re: Conscious of the hard problem

Ron McClain (
Thu, 24 Jun 1999 17:14:15 -0700

It's still an interesting discussion, even if the possibility exists that it may not bear fruit. The question of the nature of consciousness is one of the deepest unsolved philosophical mysteries that we are still grappling with, but intuition leads us to believe that it must fall to the relentless pursuit of science like all other phenomenon.

I have to agree with critics of functionalism and eliminative materialism that these analyses ignore the central question of consciousness. The problem seems to be such devotion to the scientific paradigm that everything must be explained within a materialistic framework that they are willing to ignore the very data in front of them. In the age old battle of primacy of existence vs. primacy of consciousness, existence seems to have won, at least for scientists, and I personally think they are right. However, scientists tend to want to ignore the fact that the scientific method is an objective epistemic tool designed to study phenomenon that are ontologically objective. That's been great for studying almost every phenomenon known to man, because other than consciousness, all phenomenon have appeared to be ontologically objective. The logical result of trying to impose that framework onto subjective phenomenon is functionalism, a version of behaviorism on steroids. The solution is to basically ignore the subjective phenomenon and explain what EVERYONE can see: The output, or actions of a conscious individual. That may be good cognitive science, but appears to me to be bad philosophy.


David Blenkinsop wrote:

> Rob Harris Cen-IT wrote:
> > [Timothy Bates wrote:]
> > > This "hard problem" phrase is really just an ambit claim for high
> > > intellectual ground, ie., "oh yes, but you biopsych's only study the
> > > non-hard problem ..."
> > >
> > Crap. If the world's leading minds are that puerile, then we're all screwed.
> > Chalmers made the distinction between the "hard" and "easy" problems to
> > dispel the tendency for people to declare consciousness explained on the
> > basis of psychological/traditional science analyses which never actually
> > address directly the thing we're all interested in: the sensation of being,
> > experience.
> > He called the former "easy" because we can use the tools of contemporary
> > science to explain them - not because any fool could do it. He labelled the
> > analysis and explanation of conscious experience "hard" because contemporary
> > science can't touch the concept . . .
> I still tend to agree with Tim Bates, even though his characterization
> of the hard/non-hard distinction is doubtless oversimplified. The
> closest analogy to this "hard consciousness problem" that I can think of
> would be to consider the metaphysical problem of existence, or of why
> does anything exist at all. For the most part, I think that
> scientifically minded people would be justified in dismissing this old
> existential chestnut -- after all, the world *does* exist, so let's get
> on with it! In other words, what would be the point in taking a minor
> mystery of philosophy, and making it into a "hard" problem, as though
> there were something scientifically insightful about questioning
> existence, as such?
> One thing that complicates this more-or-less practical dismissing of
> philosophy chestnuts is that some physicists *do* sometimes state that
> their goal is to explain the existence of the universe as economically
> as possible. This was especially apparent in Stephen Hawking's _A Brief
> History of Time_, where the idea was to try to explain the whole history
> of the universe as a simple equation (or, actually, a page full of
> equations) unfolding in a "boundary free" space. What I think Hawking
> really had to ignore on this was that there wasn't any real reason that
> his page full of equations wouldn't be existentially questioned as well,
> even if the equations could be shown to work out technically to produce
> the sort of universe that we see! Just let his boundless 4-space scheme
> work out as well as he could hope, and pretty soon some philosopher
> would be saying "well, the *hard* problem is, why this set of equations
> and not some other".
> The question then, is not whether existential problems are
> intellectually puerile, the question is whether these problems are
> scientifically very interesting or informative. The fascination with
> "why does anything exist", will probably always be around, same as the
> fascination with "why are we conscious of anything", or "why do we feel
> anything". If you're a computationalist, like I think philosopher Daniel
> Dennett is, it would seem that all of these existential questions are at
> bottom much the same, in the sense that there's probably no point in
> questioning the reality of things that are known to be real. In the
> sense of someone questioning what's already been checked out in
> practical terms and thus known to be so, isn't it pretty uninformative
> to describe "why existence" as a "hard" problem? The world exists, we
> exist, our feelings exist, is there anything scientifically difficult
> about these most basic considerations?
> In the current mailing list messages, it seems clear that a certain
> amount of existence questioning can make for some discussion, and I
> wouldn't want to trash the discussion just because I find "existential
> mystery making" to be more than a little suspect. At the same time, I
> find that the "existence of consciousness" mystery seems to be
> particularly misleading in some way, as the "mystery" has been presented
> throughout the current discussion. There is just no end, it seems, to
> the number of philosophical red herrings that can be dragged in on this!
> For instance, from what I've read of some of the rather convoluted
> "brain experiments" on the "Qualia" thread, it would appear that the
> importance of *causality* in the operation of any sentient and/or
> conscious machine is being questioned somehow, as though a brain or
> machine can't be conscious if you require causality in any way to do
> that. Has it occurred to anyone that causality has long been considered
> an essential principle of physics? Isn't it just purely a red herring to
> use any sense of mystery about this standard thing, this "causality", as
> a means of justifying the idea that there is any special, basic
> mysteriousness about conscious perceptions, feelings, etc?
> Just to change the topic a bit, it is often said, and with some
> considerable justification, too, that you can't have practical, useful,
> Faster Than Light effects of any causal sort, because relativity implies
> that such effects would get you into time loops, or causal paradoxes, in
> other words. Now, in this discussion, if causality is, itself, so darned
> questionable, then why don't we just ignore causality and whip ourselves
> up an FTL drive from a bunch of tachyonic wave patterns, or FTL wave
> guide velocities, or something? No worries here, I mean who cares if the
> light always comes on *before* you flip the switch! Now I'm talking
> nonsense, you see, *of course* causality is for real -- just like
> computations, feelings, consciousness, "life, the universe and
> everything", is for real, real by definition, as it were.
> David Blenkinsop <>