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Problem of Consciousness

Here are some formulations of the "problem of consciousness" from Wikipedia with comments:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hard_problem_of_consciousness
"Why should physical processing give rise to a rich inner life at all?"
What do you mean by a "rich inner life"? And why shouldn't it?
"How is it that some organisms are subjects of experience?"
Snails get to be subjects of experience by crawling near humans.

I think they meant to say something else. But it's not very clear what.
"Why does awareness of sensory information exist at all?"
This assumes there is "awareness of sensory information". That is a bad place to start for the problem of consciousness!

It doesn't make any sense to assume X exists and then get stuck on saying X is. If you can't say what X is, then you should reconsider whether it exists in the way you think it does.

This shouldn't be a *why* question. A *what* question would be better. But it shouldn't be "What is [some string of letters]?" It should give some specific facts or evidence or something and present some problem with them. Which this doesn't.
"Why do qualia exist?"
Assumes qualia exist and that we know what they are. Bad starting point.
"Why is there a subjective component to experience?"
Assumes there is a subjective component. Doesn't say what that is.
"Why aren't we philosophical zombies?"
Why aren't we rocks? Or snails?

Better question: how do we learn? How can we do philosophy?
"Phenomenal Natures are categorically different from behavior"
That's not a question, it's a very vague assertion.


I'm not saying there is no such thing as a legitimate problem that could be called "the problem of consciousness". But the people pursuing *these* questions A) don't know what the problem is and B) aren't doing anything to solve it.

Elliot Temple on August 26, 2009

Comments (11)

It's not that bad

A big part of the "problem of consciousness" is that it's so difficult to formulate precisely what the issue is. But people have indeed wrestled with SOMETHING like this for ages. The article does a decent job of giving the reader a general sense of what the issue is about; it's not supposed to be cutting-edge philosophical research.

Khan at 10:01 PM on August 26, 2009 | #1885
So, do you think professional philosophers do or do not pursue questions from this list?

Do you think wrestling with something automatically makes it important? If not, do you have an argument that it is important, or not?

Do you have a formulation of the problem that isn't bad?

It's true that sometimes when we don't know much about a problem it's hard to say what the problem is. That's rather the point: these bad questions indicate they don't know much about the topic.

Elliot at 10:06 PM on August 26, 2009 | #1886

It's not bad *for Wikipedia*

Professional philosophers certainly pursue questions from this list. Dennett, Hoftstadter, Jaynes, Damasio... the list goes on and on and on.. Even the Buddha -- arguably a philosopher, though not a professional -- thought deeply about these issues.

As for your second question, I think that being wrestled with by a lot of smart, well-respected people is a reasonable sufficient condition for a question to be considered "important".

I do NOT have a good formulation of the problem.

Finally, it's clear that the human race DOESN'T know much about this topic. And with its list of vague questions, the Wikipedia page does a good job of giving readers a vague ("intuitive") understanding the scope of the issue, without representing the general state of knowledge on the subject to be other than it is.

Khan at 10:29 PM on August 26, 2009 | #1887
> As for your second question, I think that being wrestled with by a lot of smart, well-respected people is a reasonable sufficient condition for a question to be considered "important".

Do you think that is an appeal to authority, but valid anyway, or not an appeal to authority?

Elliot at 10:42 PM on August 26, 2009 | #1888

No

It's certainly not an appeal to authority. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_authority

Khan at 10:54 PM on August 26, 2009 | #1889
So what is it? You seem to be arguing in favor of certain ideas based on the merits (authority) of the source.

Elliot at 10:56 PM on August 26, 2009 | #1890
If I were to say, "the problem of consciousness is important because a long list of important thinkers each said it was important," then that would be an argument from authority. Instead, I'm saying it's important because all those people WRESTLED with it.

Anonymous at 11:04 PM on August 26, 2009 | #1891
And they wrestled with it because they thought it was important?

It all boils down to the same thing: they had an opinion that it was important. Spending time pursing this opinion doesn't make it true.

Elliot at 12:28 AM on August 27, 2009 | #1892
"What do you mean by a "rich inner life"?"

They most likely mean individual consciousness, each person having a "me."

By "subjective component to experience" people mean what they sense, what they feel from their first person perpective. For instance, if my body gets hurt, you don't feel it.

It would be interesting to know what you think about consciousness yourself.

Anonymous at 11:27 AM on August 28, 2009 | #1894
> They most likely mean individual consciousness, each person having a "me."

But what is having a "me"?

> By "subjective component to experience" people mean what they sense, what they feel from their first person perpective. For instance, if my body gets hurt, you don't feel it

But sometimes I flinch when someone else gets hurt. Or not even a person, just an animation. Sometimes I feel it. These distinctions aren't so clear.

> It would be interesting to know what you think about consciousness yourself.

You mean what do I think about the topic in general? I think the topic has a lot of vague questions and bad philosophy. I'm better with answering specific questions. Is there a problem you want to solve? Or did you want me to pick random questions on the topic and answer them? e.g. when you go to sleep and wake up, is it a different "you" afterwards? answer: no.

Elliot at 11:31 AM on August 28, 2009 | #1895
"But what is having a "me"?"

Being an individual consciousness. Who I am and you are not.

"But sometimes I flinch when someone else gets hurt. Or not even a person, just an animation. Sometimes I feel it. These distinctions aren't so clear."

You have the capacity to feel the same, you learned to have some empathy and imagine how I might be feeling, because you recognise the feeling, but you are not me. If I die today, you'll get to experience tomorrow and I won't.

"when you go to sleep and wake up, is it a different "you" afterwards? answer: no."

Why isn't it a different "me"?

Anonymous at 12:18 PM on August 28, 2009 | #1896

What do you think?

(This is a free speech zone!)