Quoting from a recent Yahoo groups post:
There is some phenom, X, that gets called “consciousness.”
Is there such a phenomenon?
A rainbow is a phenomenon. The aurora borealis is a phenomenon. A waterfall is a phenomenon. But is consciousness a phenomenon?
Typically, we use the word “phenomenon” for something that we can observe. A doctor observes his patient, and reports that the patient is conscious. So, yes, there’s something that can be observed. And if that’s what we mean by “consciousness”, then it is fair to call that a phenomenon.
But that is usually not what people mean when they talk of consciousness. Part of our being conscious is in our ability to experience the world, or our immediate environment as part of that world. And it seems that these days, people want the word “consciousness” to mean the content of that experience (whatever that might mean). And it is far from clear that this fits what we normally mean by “phenomenon.”
Since Chalmers coined the term “hard problem” many people have discussed consciousness in terms of qualia. The word “qualia” is supposed to mean something like “qualities of experience,” with “quale” as the singular form of “qualia”. According to the qualiaphiles (proponents of qualia), when I look at a red tomato I experience a red quale. To me, that way of talking seems strange, and I have no idea what “red quale” could mean. I guess that makes me a qualiaphobe.
When I look at a red tomato, I certainly am consciously experiencing that tomato and I am consciously experiencing its redness. But when we introduce words such a “qualia” and “quale” we tend to objectify that experience. We talk of qualia, or of a red quale, as if they were objects to be examined and studied. And that leads to the idea that we should be able to give an objective account of qualia.
The same thing happens with the word “consciousness”. By using a noun form, we tend to objectify it, to think that there is some thing, some object, something that we can talk about, that is called “consciousness.” And, therefore, we come to the idea that there should be an objective account of this thing that is consciousness.
To me, the essence of being conscious is that I consciously experience the world. But I don’t experience my consciousness. What I experience is the same world that you experience. The manner in which I experience the world is unavoidably subjective.
It seems to me that if we were able to come up with a completely objective account of qualia and of consciousness, we would have denied that there is anything subjective about the manner in which I experience the world. Solving the hard problem would seem to show that we are not actually conscious.
And that is an example of how we confuse ourselves.