RE: Conscious of the hard problem

Rob Harris Cen-IT (
Fri, 25 Jun 1999 14:31:42 +0100


No way, Jose. I think you're missing my point, or I'm not making it well enough. I too have first experiences of philosophy where people would while away hours debating whether or not the tree makes a sound, or whether or not the cat's really in the box when you're not looking. I'll take your perception of such things a bit further and say that this is basically a load of time-wasting crap. No one gives a flying toss for these stupid questions. Of course the bloody tree doesn't groan, and the cat's in the box whether you can see it or not. People take these questions the wrong way. I assume they were originally intended to highlight the fact that you can never be SURE about things, a warning not to jump to premature conclusions. Back to the hard/easy problem. Tim Bates' statement is not a simplification, it is totally incorrect. I used the word "puerile" and I'll apply it again to this situation, if indeed Tim is correct, and this is how some scientists think. Good scientists are not in competition over "whose science is hardest to do", and Chalmers was DEFINITELY NOT suggesting that his branch of research is in some way superior to others. As I said before, Chalmers presents this concept at length in his book "The Conscious Mind", as a pertinent observation, not as a juvenile throwing down of the gauntlet to cognitive psychologists etc.
I will go over it again........
We can all observe the effect of gravity. Newton questioned this phenomena when the apple fell on his head. The phenomena is now well understood, and placed into a wider context related to other physical effects etc.... Another observable phenomena, plaguing people since the beginnings of philosophy because it's just so conspicuous (what with it being the "I" and "me" itself), is the effect of conscious experience. Not any thoughts particular to you, nothing you do or say, just the thing we all have in common: a core which "feels" things, the bit "looking out of your eyes". How does this bizarre "self" effect fit in with the rest of the natural world? How is it created? What possible function can it have? This and this alone is THE problem, the "hard" problem. Called "hard" because it can't be measured or observed by a second person - yet. Chalmers criticises the attempted use of conventional psychology and systems thinking to "explain away" this weird phenomena, by noting cognitive processes and other systems which are closely related to, but not concerned with the actual "phenomenological consciousness" that we are all really interested in.


> 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 <>

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