Hard-problem mindset

E. Thompson in the philosophical blog, Brains, posted on the ‘Hard-Problem’. (here) He looks at Chalmers’ ideas on consciousness and quotes a Chalmers definition:

“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 (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.”

Thompson pin points the weaknesses in Chalmers’ statement:

First, as suggested in the second sentence of the quote above, Chalmers assumes that experience cannot be a matter of information processing. If you read his book, he explicitly assumes (in the Introduction) that experience cannot be generated by information processing, neuronal activity, standard biology. Given that assumption, is it any surprise that he thinks experience is a really hard problem? Chalmers has the stones to claim that those not working within this loaded conception of consciousness aren’t ‘taking consciousness seriously’

Of course, the biologists who are studying consciousness are taking it seriously and believe that ‘standard biology’ can generate experience. They are not playing word games.

Thompson goes on to the use of the hard-problem idea by others:

Despite these seemingly obvious problems with his approach, I observed with dismay as the phrase “What about the hard problem?” spread like syphilis over the amateur philosophy of consciousness landscape. It became a kind of cognitive creativity sink, an easy knee-jerk response to any discussion of consciousness. Psychologists and neuroscientists are now required, by law, to address the “hard problem” in the first or final chapter of their books on consciousness. It’s a bit ridiculous.

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