Archive for June 7th, 2021

June 7, 2021

Notes on consciousness

by Neil Rickert

In this post I will comment on the direction of my ideas about consciousness. However, it will not provide the reductionist account that some people seem to want.

The hard problem

David Chalmers divided the question of consciousness into what he called “the easy problem” and what he called “the hard problem.” Personally, I think the easy problem is actually quite hard. But I’ll discuss that later in this post. And I am inclined to doubt that the hard problem actually makes sense.

For Chalmers, the easy problem is the problem of getting information about the world or about our immediate environment. The hard problem is that of explaining conscious experience.

Qualia

The hard problem is usually defined in terms of qualia. Here, “qualia” is a plural term that is said to refer to the qualities of our conscious experience. The corresponding singular term is “quale”.

I don’t much care for qualia talk. While I have a rough idea on what people want to discuss, it is always limited to a vague idea. There is nothing that I can pinpoint that I would call a “quale”. So I am not convinced that the qualia words actually refer.

I guess that makes me a qualiaphobe. That’s the term used to describe people who do not like qualia talk. It seems to me that qualia talk encourages us to see everything about conscious experience as objective, when it is really subjective.

Yes, I have conscious experience, as I assume others do. But I have only experience of my own conscious experience. I have not experienced that of anyone else. We can talk about our conscious experience because we share a language. But we do not share the experience itself. For all I know, the way that I experience red might be similar to the way that you experience blue. Our ability to talk about that experience is not sufficient for us to actually settle such questions.

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