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A more detailed breakdown of what I was planning to include in the section that:

(a) describes the 'hard' and 'easy' problems of consciousness
(b) describes how these two different problems relate to scientific explanation

What are the 'hard' and 'easy' problems of consciousness?

Chalmers suggests that the data we use in studying consciousness is divided into roughly two categories:

  • third-person data about behavior and brain processes - behavioral and neural phenomena
  • first-person data about subjective experience - subjective phenomena

In the third-person data category, Chalmers lists the following:

  • perceptual discrimination of external stimuli
  • the integration of information across sensory modalities
  • automatic and voluntary actions
  • levels of access to internally represented information
  • verbal reportability of internal states
  • the differences between sleep and wakefulness

In first-person data:

  • visual experience (e.g. the experience of color and depth)
  • other perceptual experiences (e.g. auditory and tactile experience)
  • bodily experiences (e.g. pain and hunger)
  • mental imagery (e.g. recalled visual images)
  • emotional experience (e.g. happiness and anger)
  • occurrent thought (e.g. the experience of reflecting and deciding)

For a theory of consciousness to be complete, Chalmers suggests that an adequate explanation must be provided both for third-person and first-person data. Chalmers categorises the problems of explaining third-person data as the "easy problems" of consciousness, and the problem of explaining first-person data as the "hard problem" of consciousness.

What is the role of scientific explanation in explaining the 'easy problem' of consciousness?

  • Since the 'easy problem' of consciousness focuses on third-person data, science is able to tackle some of these issues
  • Good scientific explanations of the 'easy problems' follow the same sorts of criteria we look for in scientific theories in general (e.g. good agreement with evidence, simplicity, elegance, agreement with other establishes theories, etc.).
  • Give a couple of examples
  • Note that exploring the easy problem does not give us answers to the hard problem
  • However investigating the easy problem is not irrelevant to the hard problem:
  • For example, whilst we can never experience what it is like to be a bat, we can conceivably come up with scientific principles suggesting that there is something it is like to be a bat. We can also perhaps get a sense of whether it is likely based on physical evidence, that being a bat is very different to being a human.
  • Example: The scientific study of the sensory organs of animals. Based on scientific theories and evidence, we make the knowledge claim that bees see lightwaves in the UV region of the spectrum. Whilst this doesn't allow us to 'experience' the bees' UV vision, we get a hint of how 'what it is like to be a bee' might resemble and differ from 'what it is like to be a human'. We can even try to guess how it might be to experience this UV vision - whilst some might argue that this is as hopeless as trying to experience the consciousness of a round of cheese, it might be that in some cases, hybridising aspects of our own consciousness can get us a little closer to understanding foreign experiences.
  • This doesn't seem like a very satisfactory response to the hard problem of consciousness (it's definitely not an answer to the problem!), but given that it is a problem that may be impossible to solve completely, it may be a case in which all we can look for are some solid guidelines to steer our understanding.

What is the role of scientific explanation in explaining the 'hard problem' of consciousness?

  • Since the 'hard problem' of consciousness focuses on first-person data, scientific explanation cannot help much with these issues
  • The hard problem of consciousness seems to go entirely beyond what science, or indeed any discipline, can tell us.
  • It basically says that what we're looking for is a sort of 'experiential understanding', which surely can only be gained from experience itself (which in this case seems impossible).
  • So perhaps all we can really do, is to try and understand the easy problem of consciousness and use this information to guide our understanding of the hard problem, as described in the example of the scientific study of the sensory organs of animals.

Jason's comments, 2014-10-22

"good agreement with evidence" — Remember the POTC lectures on anomalies, and the saying "All theories are born refuted"? You might want to read over the lecture notes for those and say what you think.

"we can conceivably come up with scientific principles suggesting that there is something it is like to be a bat" — This is news to me. I'm not sure what sort of thing you have in mind.

"It basically says that what we're looking for is a sort of 'experiential understanding', which surely can only be gained from experience itself (which in this case seems impossible)." — That seems ROUGHLY right to me, but you can't quite believe exactly that. Because if you did, you'd think it for other humans too. And also for yourself at other times.


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