Re: Conscious of the hard problem

Ron McClain (
Thu, 24 Jun 1999 19:35:33 -0700

David Blenkinsop wrote:

> Ron McClain wrote:
> >
> >
> > 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 . . .
> > 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
> > a . . . tool designed to study phenomenon that are ontologically
> > objective . . . The logical result of trying to impose that
> > framework onto subjective phenomenon is functionalism, a version of
> > behaviorism on steroids.
> Now I regard this as very much to the point, I'm sure that a lot of
> people tend to see things that way, even *I* often tend to think of
> things as subjective vs objective, as in there's an "inside" of personal
> experience and an "outside" of what we can find out about the external
> realities of objects, instruments, tools, properties of materials, etc.
> What I find extremely likely is the "inside" and the "outside" just
> *can't* be fundamentally separate, they have to relate to each other or
> be unified in some way. Unless you believe in the old fashioned idea
> that you are a "ghost in a machine", the most rational unification would
> appear to be that you are a machine, with particular informational or
> computational properties that simply stand out as "subjectively real" to
> you! The objection that this is only materialism seems moot, as a
> generalized materialism is the only thoroughly realistic way of looking
> at scientific reality. To accurately describe Nature, the true
> materialism would have to include any real energy properties of
> space-time, including any little geometric quirks that may be truly real
> in Nature. We're talking about the actual shape of reality, here, as
> opposed to anyone's idea of ghosts coming in from outside reality, to
> trick around with it in some way.
> Now that the "science can't explain the subjective" thing is out in the
> open, I can't help but wonder if this isn't the logical end of the
> discussion? If some folks are going to hold that science can't explain
> the subjective, then maybe there's no point in coming up with elaborate
> schemes to prove that? It seems that any scenario to prove the "failure"
> of science on this, is itself going to be a kind of science or
> engineering or materials scenario, maybe even involving "ghost energy"
> of some sort? How can any materialist or realist scenario prove that
> realism is missing an essential component?
> David Blenkinsop <>

The problem is in large part terminology I believe. Thankfully, philosophy has been doing a good job in the last couple of decades in defining the terms of the debate, but there is still a lot of misunderstanding and confusion due to terminology. By saying consciousness is subjective, that is making a statement about its ontological nature. Consciousness without a point of view is not by definition consciousness. This fact that consciousness is inherently tied into a point of view is what makes it 'subjective'. It does not follow from this that consciousness is not as much a part of physical reality as gravity or digestion. It just means that its mode of existence is subjective, whether its constituent parts are or not. I think it's likely that the answer to the consciousness question lies in deeper understandings of biology and physics. The functionalist perspective is very good at modeling certain 'cognitive' characteristics, but there doesn't seem to be any strong argument that it says anything about 'conscious' characteristics. I think at this point it would be good to remember the adage, 'The map is not the territory', as it seems we're falling so in love with our maps that we begin to think they are the real thing.