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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

What Is Consciousness? 4 Challenges

By Jonathan Erhardt
Crucial Considerations Blog
Originally posted February 26, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Explaining the subjective character of consciousness on the other hand seems much harder. It is not clear at all that the methodology we use to solve the easy problems works to explain consciousness. After all, this inner movie is at least not obviously a function which we can describe in functional terms, the way e.g. digestion can be described in functional terms as the breaking down of food into smaller components that can more easily be absorbed and assimilated by the body. Therefore, it is not clear how we could start the inquiry to find the mechanisms which satisfy these functions. This is why Chalmers has labeled it the hard problem of consciousness.

Various explanatory strategies have been suggested, and they can be classified into several distinct groups. Here we mention only two (the others can be found in Chalmer 2012, p. 111 ff.). One type of strategy centers around the view that once we’ve explained all the functions of the brain in terms of mechanisms, we have explained everything there is to explain. Some adherents of this view deny that consciousness exists, they claim that consciousness is just an especially stubborn illusion. Others accept that consciousness exists but think it can be wholly described in terms of functional concepts, namely those describing the various brain functions, such that we can pursue the usual explanatory strategy of finding (neural) mechanisms. Another type of strategy wants to explain consciousness not by reducing it to something else, but by positing it as fundamental, alongside certain physical quantities such as perhaps mass or charge (or whatever our ultimate physical theory will posit as fundamental). On this view, a theory of consciousness posits it as fundamental and then elucidates and describes its character and how it is related to other fundamental properties.

The entire blog post is here.