• Brock Harding
    51
    What we perceive, feel, and think is experienced from a unique internal perspective. According to the ‘hard problem of consciousness' some of these mental states are separate to and not reducible to physical systems in the human body.

    This includes the inner aspect of thought and perception. The way things feel when we experience visual sensations, music, happiness or the mediative quality of a moment lost in thought. That seemingly undiscernible thing within ourselves that coalesces into a unique individual.

    This is opposed to the ‘easy problem of consciousness’ where objective mechanisms of the cognitive system are reducible to physical processes. These include discriminating sensory stimuli, reacting to stimuli, speech, intellectual thought and integrating information to control behaviour.

    For me it seems intuitive that the ‘easy stuff’ would be harder to explain than the ‘hard stuff’ that we all have a direct and personal relationship. But that’s me.

    As far as the complex processes of the body that spark a consciousness go, I suspect that activated matrices of neurons and electromagnetic (EM) fields play a part in activating dispersed areas of the brain to form coherent qualitative conscious responses.

    This would somewhat explain our preoccupation with consciousness being an ethereal non-physical thing, as EM fields are essentially invisible to human perception. It would also seem to explain the relative transience of consciousness that can sleep, be unconscious and ‘zone out’ without any great force being exerted upon it.

    I think it is also interesting that consciousness combines two perspectives of ourselves; our inner view and external view. By combining these two perspectives we are able to identify our capabilities and competencies and the direction of how best to use these in order to meet the demands of our environment and gain a competitive advantage.

    I believe that the concurrent experience of these two perspectives is what we experience as consciousness. Our internal quasi-perceptual awareness combined with what we are able to perceive directly.

    As an example, you may feel the apprehension that someone has broken into your house on the basis of actually perceiving a broken window and an empty space where the TV used to be.

    Another observation I will make is that newborn infants display features characteristic of what may be referred to as ‘basic consciousness’ but they still have to mature to reach the level of adult consciousness. This would seem to draw a correlation between physical growth and consciousness.

    So, there would seem to be an evolutionary advantage in having both ‘hard’ and ‘easy’ consciousness, a correlation to physical development and an imperceivable reducible process that might explain how it manifests.
  • pfirefry
    36


    The easy problem of consciousness attempts to explain how the brain works as a complex mechanism by observing causes and effects, such as the activation of neurons or the presence of an EM field. It's called 'easy' because we already have scientific methods for measuring and explaining such processes. For example, we can track how light travels through the eyeballs, how it gets converted to electric signals, and how those signals travels through different regions of the brain.

    Given enough time, we can build a comprehensive understanding of all processes that are carried out in the brain. But even if we have such an understanding, it's still unclear why these processes cannot be carried out in complete absence of an experience. I.e. how does individual experience manifest itself? We know that we experience our existence as human beings, but does a river experience its? Does a computer experience existence while it performs millions of complex computations? It doesn't seem like, but how could we know for sure? The hard problem is hard because the scientific method doesn't have good ways to approach this problem just yet.
  • Hermeticus
    164
    While science has brought a pletora of evidence to the table that thoughts and consciousness corrospond to physical (electromagnetic) processes, the idea of "a hard problem of consciousness" has produced nothing except "Uh... I don't know. We got a problem."

    MRI (magnetic resonance imagining) has given us major breakthroughs in this regard. We can extract all kinds of mental information with brain-reading already - from imagined visuals and sound, to the patterns and objects of our thought, our current focus and intention and even our emotional state. Everything that the hard problem of consciousness claims, that mental activity can not be reduced to physicality, has essentially be disproven.
  • pfirefry
    36
    the hard problem of consciousness claims that mental activity can not be reduced to physicalityHermeticus

    According to whom? I just watched a quick interview with David Chalmers where he very clearly articulated that scientific methods (such as MRI) will definitely help us understand the activity of the brain. He called this the easy problem of consciousness because he did expect breakthroughs in this area. He even clarified that 'easy' should not be taken literally. The easy problem of consciousness is as hard as the hardest scientific problems that we're dealing with.

    The MRI breakthrough only supports his distinction between the 'easy' and the 'hard' problems. It takes us closer to solving the 'easy' problem (what do activities in the brain look like?), but doesn't move the needle on the 'hard' problem (what is it like to be something?).

    Perhaps your opinion is that we only need to solve the 'easy' problem of consciousness, and that we don't need to take the 'hard' problem seriously. I don't mind that. It sounds pragmatic.
  • KantDane21
    7
    physical systems in the human bodyBrock Harding

    can you give me an example of how any perception/feeling/thought could be reduced to a particular physical system?
  • Hermeticus
    164
    Perhaps your opinion is that we only need to solve the 'easy' problem of consciousness, and that we don't need to take the 'hard' problem seriously. I don't mind that. It sounds pragmatic.pfirefry

    Not quite. In my opinion, the hard problem of consciousness simply doesn't exist.

    Chalmer does not present any reasonable arguments to the existence of such a hard problem. His entire theory appears to me based on a gut feeling. His main concern seems well summed up in this quote:

    "Why should physical processing give rise to a rich inner life at all? It seems objectively unreasonable that it should, and yet it does."

    Do note, at no point ever does Chalmer elaborate in which way and why this would be "unreasonable" and how it is "objectively" so. Quite the contrary I believe this to be a deeply subjective insight. "I can not wrap my head around the idea that I, this sentient human being, became sentient from something that isn't sentient."

    And once you simply refuse to accept this as a possibility, as Chalmer does, suddenly everything becomes an "easy problem" because no answer will ever suffice to a problem that doesn't exist.

    Another quote from Chalmer:
    The critical common trait among these easy problems is that they all concern how a cognitive or behavioral function is performed. All are ultimately questions about how the brain carries out some task-how it discriminates stimuli, integrates information, produces reports and so on. Once neurobiology specifies appropriate neural mechanisms, showing how the functions are performed, the easy problems are solved. The hard problem of consciousness, in contrast, goes beyond problems about how functions are performed. Even if every behavioral and cognitive function related to consciousness were explained, there would still remain a further mystery: Why is the performance of these functions accompanied by conscious experience? It is this additional conundrum that makes the hard problem hard.

    Here in bold, we have the big conceptual mistake. Chalmer thinks these functions are accompanied by experience. The "easy problems" that Chalmer refutes essentially claim something different: These functions are experience in itself.

    We can see this most readily in microorganisms. They possess no brain, no cognitive abilities, no central nervous system - and yet most of them are capable of receiving sensory stimuli in some forms and accordingly react to their environment. These are simple chemical and electrical mechanisms - but these simple mechanisms are enough to make a microorganism come to "life", starting to act and react in all kinds of ways - sustaining itself, avoiding threats, reproducing.

    Now we jump a couple billion years in the future and realize we consist of trillions of these cells, some more sophisticated than others, working together to sustain the entire cluster of cells. In this regard, it's no surprise that Chalmer can't wrap his head around this process. Who of us can? It's been developing and refining itself for billions and billions of years, unparalleled in complexity.
  • Harry Hindu
    4.4k
    These functions are experience in itself.Hermeticus
    This doesn't explain why I don't see the experience itself when looking at your brain. Instead I can only have the experience itself of looking at your brain. Your brain is not my experience of it (I hope, or else solipsism is the case and your brain doesn't exist when I don't think about it), nor is my brain my experience. My experience is a point of view.

    How do non-colored neurons create the experience of color? How do neurons create the experience of visual depth?
  • Ciceronianus
    2.2k
    In my opinion, the hard problem of consciousness simply doesn't exist.Hermeticus

    Yes--at least as a philosophical problem.

    I think this kind of pursuit has its basis in an obstinate rejection of the fact that all we are, and do, and think, takes place in the universe; i.e., that we're just another kind of organism, although a remarkable one from our perspective. The belief--the hope?--that we're more than that, and that there's something literally supernatural about us is hard for us to tolerate. I suspect dualism is the cause of this as it is of so much other speculation.

    It may be that we'll discover much more about consciousness, but it's very unlikely philosophy will be the means of discovery.
  • Hermeticus
    164
    This doesn't explain why I don't see the experience itself when looking at your brain.Harry Hindu

    What happens when we look?
    Electromagnetic radiation (light) meets our photoreceptor cells within the eye, translating what are physical properties of this radiation (wavelength) into an electrical signal. This part is well understood because it is such a common occurance on the cellular level - you could consider it one of the most basic reactions that happens in organisms.

    The electrical signal then moves on and is processed in the brain. This is where we have all of the complexity that leaves us so incredibly baffled - but as even Chalmer admits, these are merely "soft problems" which we may figure out as we broaden our knowledge of how these things work.

    However, even if we don't know how the process works exactly, we now know fairly well what these singular experiences we experience are. They are electrical patterns in the brain and if you want to experience my experiences, it doesn't suffice to look, you have to have the exact same electrical pattern in your brain to experience the same thing I experience.

    And that's where we have our evidence speaking for this argument and against "the hard problem of consciousness". Science has repeatedly demonstrated that experiences are reproducable through these electrical patterns. This is a major emerging field in tech and neurology.

    Here is Michio Kaku, one of the most renown scientists in the world on the topic:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OjcgT_oj3jQ

    This video shows a reconstruction of the visual experience from brain patterns:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nsjDnYxJ0bo

    Science article about mind-reading algorithm:
    https://www.science.org/content/article/mind-reading-algorithm-can-decode-pictures-your-head

    Mandatory wikipedia article:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brain-reading

    In this experiment neuroscientists fitted photosensitive proteins to neurons in mice, so they could fire the neurons with light and produce false sensations in the mice:
    https://news.berkeley.edu/2018/04/30/editing-brain-activity-with-holography/

    And the last source I'll present to you is, what ironically comes from Chalmers University of Technology, a feeling prothesis:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ldCRjfTcQXA
  • Philosophim
    857
    What we perceive, feel, and think is experienced from a unique internal perspective. According to the ‘hard problem of consciousness' some of these mental states are separate to and not reducible to physical systems in the human bodyBrock Harding

    I do not believe this is the hard problem. We know that all experiences of ourselves reduce to the brain. That's really not in question. The hard problem is understanding exactly what a person feels when a certain brain state triggers.

    For example, I'm imagining a field of grass. We can see the brain states that trigger. But we can't see the image of me imagining the field of grass. I can tell you what I feel. I can tell you what I image. But there's no objective way to measure this, it is purely from my subjective communication. We can't say, "Brain state X for certain causes every person to objectively imagine a field of grass. We know there IS a brain state that is doing it. We know its a physical response. But because we don't have the "image" ourselves in front of us, we can't really objectively test or reproduce it. We have to rely on your personal communication, which might be wrong, biased, or not descriptive enough.

    To help think this through further, imagine the color green. How do I know that the thing you call green is the same image in my head? Its basically that sort of problem. We need some objective measurement, like "light wavelength" to determine what "green" really is between you and I both. Until we discover some outside way of measuring thoughts besides personal subjective experience, we cannot duplicate the issue.

    But it is not, at all, ever, a denial that our brain is what makes us think.
  • theRiddler
    144
    Our experience of ourselves does not reduce to the brain. Most of our conscious lives are out here on the surface.
  • Brock Harding
    51
    Anxiety disorder is a good example. Plenty of information available on its neurological causes.
  • RogueAI
    872
    What things, besides us, are conscious?
  • pfirefry
    36


    Thank you, that’s a well-articulated answer. I think it’s a valid standpoint, and it’s quite realistic that the problem will just fade away over time similar to other questions that were asked in the past, such as “How to obtain the philosopher’s store?”, “Why did God create us?”, “How to tell a witch from not a witch?”
  • Brock Harding
    51
    can you give me an example of how any perception/feeling/thought could be reduced to a particular physical system?

    In fact I think mental illness in general is a good example of how the quasi-perceptual cognitive process, including the hard problems of consciousness, can manifest itself. People suffering from these disorders can experience drastic changes in their subjective qualitative experience of themselves including the way they feel and experience visual and auditory sensations. These mental states can be transient or long lasting and are most definitely reducible to physical systems in the human body.
  • Hermeticus
    164
    What things, besides us, are conscious?RogueAI

    This is a very good question!

    Just how elusive consciousness is unfolds in the debate of consciousness in animals. Our only own evidence for consciousness really is our self-experience, plus the accounts of others, communicated by means of a common language.

    Many animals show obvious signs of consciousness and the physical process behind these signs is evidently much the same as in humans. But unfortunately they can not confirm their own consciousness to us themselves and so we are left in the dark.

    I'm afraid to precisely determine what and what isn't conscious, we'd have to precisely know what consciousness is. But as even the topic of what the defining characteristics of consciousness are has no universally accepted answers, we'll have to be satisfied with not knowing for certain if anything other than humans is conscious.
  • Brock Harding
    51
    What things, besides us, are conscious?

    According to my description of consciousness: "I believe that the concurrent experience of these two perspectives (inner/external) is what we experience as consciousness. Our internal quasi-perceptual awareness combined with what we are able to perceive directly" I guess that any thing that can do this is conscious.
  • Wayfarer
    14.6k
    Your OP fails to correctly identify what makes the 'hard problem of consciousness' hard, and why David Chalmers wrote the paper Facing Up to the Hard Problem of Consciousness in the first place.

    As far as the complex processes of the body that spark a consciousness go, I suspect that activated matrices of neurons and electromagnetic (EM) fields play a part in activating dispersed areas of the brain to form coherent qualitative conscious responses.

    This would somewhat explain our preoccupation with consciousness being an ethereal non-physical thing, as EM fields are essentially invisible to human perception.
    Brock Harding

    So, here you're claiming that the motivations for even considering the hard problem of consciousness, are in reality physical! What this amounts to is saying that the hard problem really is just another of the easy problems, and that's if it's difficult, it's only because electromagnetic fields are mysterious. But again you're not describing what the 'hard problem' is.

    The key section from Chalmer's paper is, in my opinion, this one:

    The really hard problem of consciousness is the problem of experience. When we think and perceive, there is a whir of information-processing, but there is also a subjective aspect. As Nagel (What is it Like to be a Bat,1974) has put it, there is something it is like to be a conscious organism. This subjective aspect is experience. When we see, for example, we experience visual sensations: the felt quality of redness, the experience of dark and light, the quality of depth in a visual field. Other experiences go along with perception in different modalities: the sound of a clarinet, the smell of mothballs. Then there are bodily sensations, from pains to orgasms; mental images that are conjured up internally; the felt quality of emotion, and the experience of a stream of conscious thought. What unites all of these states is that there is something it is like to be in them. All of them are states of experience.

    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.
    — David Chalmers

    In my analysis, the reason that this is intractable for objective analysis, is because it is a matter of subjective experience. That persons, and probably other animals, are subjects of experience, is what is at issue. But you can never get outside of, or 'objectify', the 'experience of being' that comprises the core of that state, because it is your very being. Because that can't be objectified, then it can't be dealt with by naturalism. That's what makes it a hard problem. So, at least try and describe it properly if you're wanting to explain it away.
  • RogueAI
    872
    we'd have to precisely know what consciousness isHermeticus

    Therein lies the rub. Not only do we not have a precise definition, we have no scientific definition. We have to go by folk definitions. Science is also unable to tell us if a 6-month old fetus is conscious, or if the latest Boston Dynamics robot is conscious (or even Stockfish). I don't see science answering these questions anytime soon, so I think the continued failure of science to say whether machine x is conscious or not is catastrophic to the question of whether science will ultimately explain how unconscious matter can produce conscious states.
  • RogueAI
    872
    According to my description of consciousness: "I believe that the concurrent experience of these two perspectives (inner/external) is what we experience as consciousness. Our internal quasi-perceptual awareness combined with what we are able to perceive directly" I guess that any thing that can do this is conscious.Brock Harding

    That sounds very panpsychist.
  • Wayfarer
    14.6k
    I think the continued failure of science to say whether machine x is conscious or not is catastrophic to the question of whether science will ultimately explain how unconscious matter can produce conscious states.RogueAI

    In the aftermath of Descartes' division nature into mind and matter, idealists of all stripes gravitated towards the mental, and scientists and engineers towards the physical, for fairly obvious reasons. Descartes' model was interpreted as a literal hypothesis. By interpreting the 'res cogitans' as a sort-of object - literally that expression means 'a thinking thing' - then all of the problems arise as to how a mysterious 'thinking thing' could affect a concrete 'material thing' - the latter being something we can all see and measure. So ultimately res cogitans was dismissed as a ghost in the machine, while the machine was retained, because, after all, it is the 'age of the machine'.

    What was missed in all of that is that mind (consciousness, being) is never an object of consciousness, because we're never outside of or apart from it. It is always only the subject of experience, but you can't 'objectify' it, for reasons which ought to be obvious on reflection. But that also means that it can't be accomodated by the 'objective sciences', due to their constitution being oriented exclusively around what is objectively the case (which is why the eliminative materialists wish to eliminate it, as there is literally no conceptual space on their map for it).

    That is the background to many of those questions about how 'matter' can produce 'conscious states'. In those expressions, both 'matter' and 'conscious state' are abstractions, theoretical models which inherit all of these intractable problems - intractable, because of the way the model is set up. But that model dictates how sensible, scientific folk are supposed to think about the world. That is the deep contradiction inherent in the secular-scientific mindset. (For further refs read some of the essays on my profile page, particularly The Blind Spot.)
  • ajar
    65
    the hard problem of consciousness simply doesn't exist.Hermeticus

    :up:

    "Why is the performance of these functions accompanied by conscious experience?"

    Another prior question is...what do can we mean by 'conscious experience' ? Looking at the use of the word, it seems we always depend on 'material' or 'objective' criteria for ascribing 'consciousness.' All we can reason from must be more or less uncontroversially public. (This is not new. Consider key passages from Philosophical Investigations.)

    In short, the 'hard problem' is 'defined' (paradoxically) into a kind of pseudo-existence. It's a mirage.
  • Wayfarer
    14.6k
    what do can we mean by 'conscious experience' ?ajar

    Is that posed rhetorically? Like, 'we can't mean anything by the phrase "conscious experience".' Because I think 'conscious experience' has a perfectly intelligible meaning - it's the quality of experience that we have in each waking moment of our lives.

    The hard problem essay argues that this is a perfectly obvious fact about the nature of existence, but that it can't be fully described or explained from a third-person perspective.

    So it is true that there really isn't a hard problem, as such, and that there's only a hard problem for the objective sciences. But from that perspective, it really is a hard problem, which is why Chalmer's opponents are obliged to deny that it is real.
  • Wayfarer
    14.6k
    We can see this most readily in microorganisms. They possess no brain, no cognitive abilities, no central nervous system - and yet most of them are capable of receiving sensory stimuli in some forms and accordingly react to their environment. These are simple chemical and electrical mechanisms - but these simple mechanisms are enough to make a microorganism come to "life", starting to act and react in all kinds of ways - sustaining itself, avoiding threats, reproducing.Hermeticus

    Which means that, broadly speaking, they too are subject of experience, even if exceedingly primitive ones. And again, this means that there is something about them that eludes objective specification, because their experience is unique to them.

    Chalmers mentions Nagel's essay, and Nagel enlarges on this point in his 2012 Mind and Cosmos. In the short version of it presented in the NY Times, he says:

    The physical sciences as they have developed since [the 17th c] describe, with the aid of mathematics, the elements of which the material universe is composed, and the laws governing their behavior in space and time.

    We ourselves, as physical organisms, are part of that universe, composed of the same basic elements as everything else, and recent advances in molecular biology have greatly increased our understanding of the physical and chemical basis of life. Since our mental lives evidently depend on our existence as physical organisms, especially on the functioning of our central nervous systems, it seems natural to think that the physical sciences can in principle provide the basis for an explanation of the mental aspects of reality as well — that physics can aspire finally to be a theory of everything.

    However, I believe this possibility is ruled out by the conditions that have defined the physical sciences from the beginning. The physical sciences can describe organisms like ourselves as parts of the objective spatio-temporal order – our structure and behavior in space and time – but they cannot describe the subjective experiences of such organisms or how the world appears to their different particular points of view. There can be a purely physical description of the neurophysiological processes that give rise to an experience, and also of the physical behavior that is typically associated with it, but such a description, however complete, will leave out the subjective essence of the experience – how it is from the point of view of its subject — without which it would not be a conscious experience at all.
    Thomas Nagel, the Core of Mind and Cosmos
  • Raymond
    649
    That is the background to many of those questions about how 'matter' can produce 'conscious states'. In those expressions, both 'matter' and 'conscious state' are abstractions, theoretical models which inherit all of these intractable problems - intractable, because of the way the model is set up. But that model dictates how sensible, scientific folk are supposed to think about the world. That is the deep contradiction inherent in the secular-scientific mindset.Wayfarer

    Well put! What if we give matter a mental load, like is done by materialists without even knowing it: the description of the interaction of two particles by means of a charge they possess. What if this charge, be it electrical or colored, is in fact the core base of consciousness? In the food we eat are loads of it, which means that somehow this dead stuff becomes transformed into living mind, leading to the logical conclusion that mind is ssociated with that what's inside. Charge.
  • ajar
    65

    If qualia are understood to be "intuited, given, and...not the subject of any possible error because...purely subjective" (as defined by C. S. Peirce), then any answer for us (any evidence-and-reason-supported rational answer) is impossible from the beginning.

    The idea seems to be that science 'can't get at' or can't explain some mysterious stuff that we all have in common. What's missed is that our words for this 'conscious experience' can only get their public significance through our worldly interactions, through the kinds of stuff that science can and does get at.
  • ajar
    65
    The physical sciences can describe organisms like ourselves as parts of the objective spatio-temporal order – our structure and behavior in space and time – but they cannot describe the subjective experiences of such organisms or how the world appears to their different particular points of view.Thomas Nagel, the Core of Mind and Cosmos

    'By definition' , only the 'experiencer' could describe their 'subjective' experiences.' It's just not physical scientists who have no means to chase such a ghost. It's every kind of serious, critical inquiry.
    To be sure, anyone can make a public statement about their 'pain' or 'undying love,' and these tokens can be recorded and counted and correlated with other tokens and heart rates and shoe sizes.

    The odd thing is asserting there's something 'logically' hidden (so no yet-to-be-invented machine will find it either) and yet insisting that the existence of such an entity is beyond question. (If philosophers do question it, they are monsters who can't be serious.)
  • javra
    1.5k
    yet insisting that the existence of such an entity is beyond question. (If philosophers do question it, they are monsters who can't be serious.)ajar

    If you - or anybody else - as an occurring first-person point of view want to question the reality of your own occurrence as a first-person point of view, I say knock yourself out.

    It's when the conclusion is made by an occurring first-person point of view that their own occurrence as a first-person point of view is a falsity (an illusion or whatnot: basically, not real) that the "cannot be taken seriously" issue comes into play.

    And where was it ever claimed that a first-person point of view (of which consciousness cannot be devoid) is "an entity"? Last I heard, it's addressed as a "be-ing": a verb, if not an outright process.
  • ajar
    65
    What was missed in all of that is that mind (consciousness, being) is never an object of consciousness, because we're never outside of or apart from it. It is always only the subject of experience, but you can't 'objectify' it, for reasons which ought to be obvious on reflection.Wayfarer

    But we are talking about it right now. The concept is familiar and 'objectified.'

    If we were truly 'never outside of or apart from it,' we'd have no word for it and no need for a word for it.

    But that also means that it can't be accomodated by the 'objective sciences', due to their constitution being oriented exclusively around what is objectively the case (which is why the eliminative materialists wish to eliminate it, as there is literally no conceptual space on their map for it).Wayfarer

    'Objective sciences' sounds redundant to me. "Expressing or dealing with facts or conditions as perceived without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations." I can't speak for all critics of the qualia concept, but I suspect most of us know (in the usual problematic way) what the 'mysterions' are trying to say. We say it's a bug, not a feature. The hard problem is a hard problem for those want to give 'conscious experience' a metaphysical as opposed to an everyday-and-impure-and-unobjectionable meaning.
  • Raymond
    649
    The odd thing is asserting there's something 'logically' hidden (so no yet-to-be-invented machine will find it either) and yet insisting that the existence of such an entity is beyond question. (If philosophers do question it, they are monsters who can't be serious.)ajar

    What machines miss and organisms possess is a straight connection to the big bang. Machines have a connection to human hands only, even if these hands have a connection to the big bang. What is hidden is physical charge. It exists, but it's hidden.
  • Raymond
    649
    Objective sciences' sounds redundant to me. "Expressing or dealing with facts or conditions as perceived without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations."ajar

    Facts are an interpretation.
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