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How hard is the Hard Problem?

Phrenological chartIt’s one of those things. You are thinking about a topic and then you see it everywhere. I was chatting to a friend about the Hard Problem and it pops up in a couple of items in my newsfeed.

First Marion Stamp Dawkins begins a defence of animal welfare in terms that since we evolved consciousness and attendant properties like desiring from animal precursor capacities, animals must have something of the capacities that we have. Then she says

Whatever anybody says, I feel that the hard problem of consciousness is still very hard, and to try and rest your ethical case on proving something that has baffled people for years seems to me to be not good for animals.

A fair point, but is the Hard Problem of Consciousness all that hard? The term was coined by Australian philosopher David Chalmers in his first book The Conscious Mind almost in passing:

Often such work [on consciousness] addresses what might be called the “easy” problem of consciousness: How does the brain process environmental stimulation? How does it integrate information? How do we produce reports on internal states? These are important questions, but to answer them is not to solve the hard problem: Why is all this information accompanied by an inner life? [xi-xii]

Later he defined the problem more succinctly and clearly:

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. Other experiences go along with perception in different modalities: the sound of a clarinet, the smell of mothballs. Then there are bodily sensations, from pains to orgasms; mental images that are conjured up internally; the felt quality of emotion, and the experience of a stream of conscious thought. What unites all of these states is that there is something it is like to be in them. All of them are states of experience.

It is undeniable that some organisms are subjects of experience. But the question of how it is that these systems are subjects of experience is perplexing. Why is it that when our cognitive systems engage in visual and auditory information-processing, we have visual or auditory experience: the quality of deep blue, the sensation of middle C? How can we explain why there is something it is like to entertain a mental image, or to experience an emotion? It is widely agreed that experience arises from a physical basis, but we have no good explanation of why and how it so arises. Why should physical processing give rise to a rich inner life at all? It seems objectively unreasonable that it should, and yet it does.

If any problem qualifies as the problem of consciousness, it is this one. In this central sense of “consciousness”, an organism is conscious if there is something it is like to be that organism, and a mental state is conscious if there is something it is like to be in that state.

Chalmers thinks that it is intuitively obvious that there is such an inner life, that it is not reducible to physical states, and that we should be dualists. He’s not the only philosopher who does: Frank Jackson, another Australian philosopher who argued against physicalism, was interviewed recently. Jackson’s Mary Problem is another argument for dualism of some kind.

My issue with all this is simple: I don’t get it. I have a host of objections to the Hard Problem being hard. In fact I have a host of objections to there even being a Hard Problem, but basically they all boil down to this: I don’t see why we should assume there is an “inner life” of the kind described. I mean, there is no real justification for the claim that there is a qualitative inner life, a “seeming” or “what it is like” other than the presumption that it is the default intuition.

The problem with that presumption is that most people also have a default presumption that the weather and other natural processes are agents with intentions. We know that is false, and so by analogy we should not have much confidence in the qualia claim. In fact, it looks very much to me that the idea there are such entities is a fallacy of language: we have words for it, so it is real.

I am not, of course denying that we have inner lives, or that mental processes go on to which the rest of the world has little or no access, but these are Chalmer’s “easy” problems. What I am denying is that there is a problem of subjectivity, of “ineffable experience”. If it’s ineffable, then why think there is an explanandum in the first place?

Well we all experience subjectively, say the dualists. It’s something you know about that nobody else does (that’s the point of Jackson’s Mary case, in which a scientist who knows all the physical facts about seeing red but never has done, knows something new when she finally does, and for that reason it’s called the Knowledge Argument). It is something that cannot be described in physical terms. This is where I part company with the dualists.

For a start, it is not the case that dualism is the “default” view among all peoples. The ancient Hebrews, and I would say early Latins, for example, were physicalists. You died and perhaps your shade persisted, but you were just the body that lived. If God resurrected you (as in Ezekiel), he did so by reconstituting your physical body. I suspect that the idea of dualism came from the Indus valley, by way of Zoroastrianism, and then Platonism/Pythagoreanism, and it is worth noting that before the Vedic ideas of dualism and the Wheel were developed, there were materialist philosophers there, the Carvakists or Lokayata school.

Second, if you cannot express it, there is no target of explanation. If experiencing things, over and above just being whatever individual or member of a class of cognisers it is, is mysterious, then one might suspect there is nothing of substance to deal with. A common error is the Noun Fallacy: to think that if we have a noun for something there has to be a thing the noun names. Likewise the Verb Fallacy: if something is happening, there is something doing it. But it makes so much more sense to think that we fall into language habits and do in this case what we do in so many others; reify our words and concepts.

Third, there is a time bomb in the Hard Problem brought out by the Zombie and Swampman arguments. In these thought scenarios, there can be “philosophical zombies” (p-zombies) who are in every respect like us but lack consciousness, although they likewise report experiences such as pain and introspection under exactly the same conditions we do. In Swampman cases, the individual has no past, having spontaneously formed in a swamp, but is like us in every way. These cases are supposed to demonstrate that one cannot reduce experience (or related properties) to a physical state, but instead they remove the need for thinking that there is anything over and above physical states. Maybe we aren’t philosophical angels with souls; maybe everyone already is a p-zombie.

So I just don’t get it. I once gave an argument that there is a what-it-is-to-be-like a digital camera, which nobody thinks has a rich ineffable inner life (see also here and here). It boils down to having a perspective – to being that kind of system at that location. So to be a bat is to be a bat, and to know what it is like to be John is just to be John.

What of the Knowledge Argument, though? Surely Mary knows something when she first experiences red that she didn’t know by knowing all the physical facts? The solution here is to note a confusion in the idea of “to know”. I can know many things I am unaware of. If I were Plato’s slaveboy in the Meno and someone did to me the party trick that Plato did to him, showing that assumptions he holds imply some surprising result, I would perhaps now know what I did not before (that the square of the hypotenuse equals the sum of the square of the other two sides of a right angle triangle, etc.) but the sense of “to know” here is “to recognise”. The knowledge was implicit in the conceptual store already; but the recognition was delayed or prohibited by a lack of processing resources.

Mary has, in effect, a bandwidth problem. If she is so replete with physical facts about seeing red, that she already cannot know what-it-is-like to see red is likely (on the physicalist view) to be a matter of her ability to integrate and interpret the information at a rate that matches what would ordinarily happen in vision. It’s like using marbles as a computer – you can do it, but it takes longer and is less automatic. So she doesn’t recognise that she has this information. Visual systems are designed for just that sort of pattern recognition, both immediately and more abstractly. They are rapid and automatic. The “knowledge” of seeing red, or round things, or motion, is based on that evolved functionality.

So I am left unable to see any force in the Hard Problem. It is only mildly difficult to explain consciousness, and it doesn’t rely on ineffable states we all know, because I think we are confusing our words with our experiences. Maybe we should ascribe animal welfare rights based on their capacity to think after all.


  1. “Do you mean your personal conscious experience as opposed to mine? Most of us are aware of unconscious knowledge..

    David Duffy, if you have access to knowledge of the external world through something other than your conscious experience I’m wondering how that could be. Also how you are aware of “unconscious knowledge” if you’re not conscious of it. And who exactly is this “us” who is separable from their consciousness? We are always talking as if our conscious experience is informing us as if we exist separate from it. Maybe we do but I suspect that’s not what you intend.

    “the very tight relationship between brain processes and our thoughts”

    I don’t doubt that, there’s a tight relationship between brains and our thoughts. Just as I did the radio waves and the radio receiver used to hear them. I remember when I got my first shortwave, back in the 1950s it suddenly occurred to me that those radio signals, from the ABC, even, had been going through the air around me all the time, unknown to me and anyone else who hadn’t heard them. Is that relevant to this problem? I don’t know and I’ve never read anyone else who had any idea of that. It could be just another inadequate, misleading metaphor for consciousness.

    “measurable via EEG, single neuron recordings, imaging, lesional studies”

    Assuming that all of these are, in some way, accurate and useful – though I’ve got serious questions about fMRI – you certainly aren’t asserting that they give anything but an extremely limited view, to some extent one that is merely a matter of chosen conventions, chosen for a limited and specific intention. None of them provide you much of anything about conscious experience without the verbal report of the person being imaged. You can’t know anything about the actual experience from them separate from that report. And those reports are utterly subjective and limited as well as ambiguous. Conscious experience is larger than what we can articulate about it. I’d still hold out for distinguishing between experiences that can be articulated and those that can’t.

    I’m skeptical of the academic models of consciousness being anymore than a conventional description that people try to shoehorn their experience into fitting. Like they used to try to explain their lives according to some now long discredited species of Freudian psychology to little success and, on occasion, total disaster.

    • David Duffy David Duffy

      “Also how you are aware of “unconscious knowledge” if you’re not conscious of it”:

      Sometimes you have to rely on the insights of others, or via a conscious reconstruction of one’s past thoughts or behaviours.

      “I don’t doubt there’s a tight relationship..”.

      But you do, in the sense that you disbelieve that there is plausible evidence of tight causal relationships between brain structure, brain events and conscious thought. But there are not many gaps left for non-physical processes.

      “I’ve got serious questions about fMRI”

      The authors of the second paper I linked to are also skeptical of many claims in the literature, but suggest their approach is less susceptible to effects of experimenter preconceptions. But yes, they address only one small corner.

      • How could you rely on the insights of others into what goes on, unseen to them, in your own mind? That is unless you are actually aware of what is going on inside of it. “Conscious reconstruction” of the kind you’re talking about requires conscious awareness of what’s going on, to start with. You are trying to make sense of something that you don’t understand but you’d have to have conscious awareness of those things you mention. It’s my experience that I frequently am trying to find an explanation of things I can’t articulate in my conscious experience so they can be articulated and subjected to the methods of analysis such as eventually lead to science and, frequently, science failing to do it, what gets called philosophical reflection.

        Going with the radio analogy, if my radio isn’t picking up a signal it doesn’t necessarily mean a signal isn’t there, it just means, to me at least, that I’m not going to hear it. Sometimes, in my second shortwave, there was an indicator that there was a signal at a particular frequency but, often, no sound. In later models that was an led light. I don’t know what that indication meant. It could be that it was a shortwave transmission, an amateur radio signal. some kind of malfunction… I look at imaging of the kind you’re talking about in the same way. Unless the person is able to tell you what their perception is, you have no way of knowing what the relationship of your image has to consciousness. You are entirely reliant on the report of the person. In short, I’m skeptical of the imaging telling you anything about the origin of the conscious experience. The person who is doing the reporting. I have no idea if it is merely the expression of complex chemical and electrical reactions, though I doubt it. If you don’t doubt it you might find the materialistic explanation plausible but without an ability to go much farther than you can you can’t know that. The plausibility of other attempts at explanation would depend on where you start out, not on the necessity of any conclusions drawn.

        If you are looking at physical phenomena with methods and procedures that only look at physical phenomena you’re only going to see physical entities. That you don’t see anything else isn’t remarkable but assuming you have seen everything involved that way isn’t warranted.

        fMRI has been vastly oversold for the state of the art. Those pretty. multicolored pictures and all. And it is largely a matter of art as is so much of data collection. Art and trying to figure out what colleagues will accept. I’m not unconvinced that a good deal of conscious fudging is built into quite a bit of it.

  2. John the Plumber John the Plumber

    Professor Wilkins says:- “I should reiterate that I am not doubting the existence of inner mental workings, nor even mental workings that are too distant from ordinary language to express.”

    Well that’s a relief – if it were otherwise philosophers would be out of a job and have to become plumbers like me, then there’d be too much competition in the plumbing trade.

    Michael Fugate asks, “What are nonmaterial things made up of?”

    Anthony McCarthy answers, “Dunno, may be they’re not made of other things being continuous instead of consisting of constituent parts, maybe they’re not things.”

    Things – with constituent – presumably separate – parts. – Is there such a thing as a separate part or not. – Is there such a thing as a philosopher – or a plumber?? – Is it legitimate to separate things – or is all a continuum?

    This smacks of the species problem. – Is all life a continuity of just one species or are there separate species – are species things?

    The Sun – the Earth – the Moon – Me – my dog Pugsley – his fleas (too many to name) – it seems easy to consider that these things are things – though harder to consider that a thought is a thing.

    One might as, “Does thinking create thoughts, or do thoughts create thinking, or is thinking just one continual thought from conception to death? (Leaving the before and hereafter to those more thoughtful and imaginative than me.)

    The bigger the apparent gap between things, the easier it is to think they are things.

    Words are things with gaps between them.

    Try the thought – ‘It see m sea sy to con side rt hat thesethingsarethings.

    Gaps between words in sentences seems to be of import. – It bothers me that in evolution gaps seem to be only an embarrassment.

    There seems to have been three major epochs in the history of our recording in words our thinking of things – knowledge.

    In first epoch there was stability – no change – gods set the stage.

    Then came change – of transmutation – but this occurred on a relatively stable stage which cycled to Newton’s fixed laws of gravity.

    Then Einstein pointed out there is no stable point of reference anywhere on any stage.

    When gods firmly set the stage, Noah could count separate unchangeable species with gaps between each.

    In the mid-period, Darwin, standing firmly in the wings, could watch slow continual change occur on the relatively stable stage of his tangled bank. – However, Darwin’s mechanism of slow ‘joined-up’ change came up against the the gaps between species in the fossil record and the gaps in extant life – such as the gap between me and Pugsley my dog – to create the species problem.

    I do my best to maintain sufficient gap between Pugsley’s species and mine so his fleas don’t leap from him to me.

    Are there gaps to be leaped in evolution or not?

    The species problem becomes more a flea problem – and what we end up with is more of a flea circus than a scientific concept. – Darwin omitted a definition of species in his glossary to The Origin of Species. – Now there are 26. [see John S Wilkins – Species A History of the Idea]

    We are stuck somewhere between – thinking there are things, with gaps between them – and – no gaps so no things all in a continuum.

    But there can be no gaps in the universe – because nature doesn’t salt any leaps. – And there can be no gaps in life and its evolution – because Darwin came up with only one mechanism of slow joined-up change.

    So fleas don’t need to jump because there are no gaps.

    Tell that to Pugley’s fleas.

    However there is one gap – to make the puzzle even more perplexing. it is the gap between all we know and think – and our proverbial souls. – This raises the question hard to answer, “Do fleas have souls?”

    Fortunately for science at this point Einstein came along. – He realised that we all dance – whilst watching all else dance – on an all dancing stage. – He took us into the current realms of known knowns and known unknowns (see Henry Gee for an explanation) – where now we might ask questions like, “Is dark matter made of lost souls?”

    As to the ‘me’ of my consciousness, I can now ask, “Who do I call myself if somebody clones me?”

    In this interesting third period of our knowledge we can, like Professor Wilkins, struggle with impermanence and vagueness, and Anthony McCarthy can invite us to ponder whether nonmaterial things – “ … are not made of other things being continuous instead of consisting of constituent parts, maybe they’re not things.”

    Our knowledge has moved from ‘stable with gaps’ – to ‘change with no gaps in relative stability’ – then to ‘relativity – with no stability or gaps.”

    Stephen Jay Gould, having punctuated equilibrium, standing over the uncertain ground of all three said:

    “Thus with the reintroduction of internal channeling by historical constraint (based on genetic homology) into our explanatory schemes, we must ask whether saltational themes (that had been even more firmly rejected by the Darwinian synthesis) can also advance a strong case for a rehearing. My own conclusions are primarily negative (hence my parsing of this theme as a scherzo, and as the shortest movement of my analysis), but the subject clearly merits some airing (and undoubtedly holds limited validity), if only as a sign of respect for the intuition of so many fine evolutionists, throughout the history of our subject, that structural channeling – now clearly affirmed as a theme of central importance – implies a serious consideration of saltational mechanics.[”The Structure of Evolutionary Theory [2002].page 1,142,]

    Gould asked the question. – ‘Is Darwin’s unrestricted flow of variation limited – constrained in any way – then is there some need to leap gaps formed by such limiting constraint?

    Can we have things?

    Things, in a changing universe, seem to have certain requirements:

    A means to remain around relatively stable for long enough to be identified.
    A boundary of some description to contain the matter/force of the thing.
    The thought of a gap to separate one thing from the next.

    If there are things – then there are gaps between things.

    In the gap between god-given stasis with clear gaps between things – and Einstein’s universe of continual randomly dancing energy – we have only Darwin’s evolution to make the join.

    If Darwin’s one mechanism of continual change is the right and only answer, then there are no gaps and no things. If there is a second mechanism to facilitate and leap gaps, then we can have things.

    For a hundred and fifty years we have looked at change. – Now might be the time to have a good look at the gaps which are at the root of stabilities.

    Pugsley the Dog has remained relatively stable for the last fifteen years. – I have remained relatively stable for an horrible long time. – I perceive a gap between me and him. – His fleas though make mockery of the gap.

    It seems we attempt to accept a duality – to think of things separate whilst in a continuum – at many if not all levels of conceptualisation of the universe.

    Our theory of evolution, the major tool we use to understand our natural state – how we got to be as we are thinking the way we do – denies that duality by proposing only a continuum – having no mechanism to account for separated things – there can be no gaps.

    Science appears to tie itself in knots over this.

    I can give you a second mechanism which, when acting in conjunction with Darwin’s mechanism, provides simple resolution. – On special occasions there are gaps and leaps in evolution.

    There is then allowance for such things as clear compartmentalisation in thought process. – I’ll be damned if I can find a compartment for my soul though.

    I live in a plumber’s compartment – most of you guys live in a scientist’s compartment. – There is a huge gap between academia and laymen. – I struggle to leap the gap – how to publish my second mechanism. – Is there any one out there who might help.

    • As I’ve looked at the history of natural selection, I’ve grown more skeptical that it is more than a habit of thought growing out of English expectations of social class. It is an idea that has certainly undergone radical change of its own and is not uniform among those who have professed it throughout its history. . One of the most dangerous aspects of its mandatory adoption has been the widespread use of it in the creation of a simulation of evidence for things that seem to “have to be so” or are “very plausibly so” because they can be explained by natural selection. Quite often that is the only reason anyone would develop or adopt the idea, there being no real evidence to support it. Eugenics is one of those things that has had disastrous results. Hamilton’s bizarre idea of selfish “altruism” is another largely evidence unencumbered “science” that in its development into evo-psy is a major article of intellectual faith these days. Some of the more unfortunate aspects of the social sciences are made to be congruent to some interpretation of natural selection. So many of those already done their damage and fallen out of fashion, only to be taught in Freshman intro courses.

      I’d be extremely skeptical of any attempt to explain consciousness on the basis of what someone wants “Darwin” to have thought. The practice of developing simulated evidence out of theory instead of observation and the collection of data was already a well established practice in his circle in the late 1860s, A number of the more damaging weapons used against the science of evolution came directly from that period. “Darwin told me, this I know” is a standard of evidence that has a very bad track record, it’s no replacement for real evidence. i strongly suspect that N.S. is as much a hindrance to the development of more evidence based explanations due to its being a mandatory article of belief than the single real driving force of evolution. I’m extremely skeptical that natural selection is a real thing.

      To answer your question to me, I used the phrase “constituent parts” in that passage, not “separate parts”, But, to answer you, of course there is such a thing as “separate parts”. I’m under no illusions that the molecules at are constituent parts of my body have no separate existence before they were incorporated into me or after they are no longer part of me. Those molecules are constituent parts of my body only so long as they are part of it, they are as separable as hair and nail trimmings.

      • OK, I’m getting very sick of your constant changing of the subject, random attacks and refusal to support what you say. As of now, stay on topic and discuss things seriously and to the point, or I will block you.

        This is neither about natural selection nor is it relevant. You obviously have your prejudices and agenda, but take it to your own blog and let your readers read it there.

        • John Wilkins, consciousness is a big topic, involving in the most intimate way every single thing that has been said here and that can be said by people in every possible context.

          You must have noticed that I’m not the one who brought Darwin into it but I am capable of discussing Darwinism in relation to this topic.

  3. Jeb Jeb

    Easy and hard. I think these observations are often coined by people who are working on the ‘hard’ as opposed to the easy or the soft side of things

    Matter of cultural perspective.

    I suspect if I read the philosophy surrounding this I would learn very little about what it is like to be a bat but rather a lot about being a philosopher.

    • You say that like it’s a bad thing…

      • Jeb Jeb

        Not particularly. I dislike thought experiments, prefer evidence presented in more familiar ways, so never took much notice of the zombie, swamp man arguments and had little idea of the significance, which is rather interesting.

    • Thom Thom

      I always thought the “hard” in Chalmer’s piece on conscious was an allusion to the hardness of np-complete problems, but I could be wrong. Philosophers have a way of slipping technical-sounding jargon into otherwise uninteresting statements.

      In any case, let me expound upon this view of a materialistic consciousness. Logic, reasoning, etc are easy from a computing standpoint. What is not easy is interacting with the physical world in a meaningful way. The simple act of catching a ball with a hand requires so many variables to take into account that it is difficult to approach it from a logical standpoint.

      So nature approximates. Our decision-making is bayseian in nature, we approximate the pathway of a ball based on the probably of where it’s headed based on current information and combine it with the probability cloud of where it’s headed based on personal experience. I’ve always held that our brains are like quantum computers which combine one probability cloud (the real world/empirical data gained through senses) with another probability cloud (the internal world of experience), combining them instantaneously to come up with an approximate decision of what to do.

      In short, this is why our conscious brains are so much better than computers at solving complex systems including, but not limited to, np-hard problems.

      The point is, this inner life, while it may seem dualistic in nature, is actually the product of physical phenomena (our brains) which are used to help inform our body of what to do given certain environmental constraints. The dualistic model, at best, is redundant and at worse, is nothing more than the romantic philosophic waxing of people who claim to hear the music of the spheres.

      • Jeb Jeb

        I can accept that without any difficulty. I would not describe the romantic philosophical waxing of people as redundant, I think these type of things often survive for hard edged cultural or social reasons.

        For example if believing and hearing the music of the spheres, it allows you to, reduce stress levels and better coordinate the trajectory of an object, the surface noise may hide a purely practical core.

  4. John the Plumber John the Plumber

    I apologise Henry if I misunderstood the direction of you intent but you did began this post on the Hard Problem with a direct reference to my favourite subject evolution, by saying:-
    – “First Marion Stamp Dawkins begins a defence of animal welfare in terms that since we evolved consciousness and attendant properties like desiring from animal precursor capacities, animals must have something of the capacities.”

    I comment on your posts because they are so good. – You make philosophy understandable to plumber. – Well almost. – I write my comments mainly to ask if I understand your posts correctly – secondly to check current philosophical understanding against my own interpretation of evolution. (Slightly oblique by having two mechanisms.)

    This post is especially interesting as I have to admit that, till now, I have never even heard of the Hard Question. (The hardest question I know is, where is my next shilling going to come from.)

    So I ask with regard to the Hard Question:

    Would I be right to consider that in simple terms the hard problem of consciousness sits on the dividing line between what might be called divine explanations of life and the universe – and wholly natural explanations, which it might be said gained scientific credence with the work of Darwin and Einstein.

    On the one hand the idea that life, at the behest of divinity, was about looking after one’s soul to deliver it safely to a divine hereafter. – On the other, that all is just the result of natural evolving process – and part of that process is the concept of thinking and its evolution. – (I subscribe to the latter view.)

    Would I be right to think that the evolution of thinking began with some simple sensory mechanism combined with simple brain function giving bodily reaction – so as to allow a simple organism to survive relative to its environment. – This followed by the development of a range of senses and related brain functions – and at the same time the development of control centres in the brain to co-ordinate responses to stimuli.

    Would I be right to consider that the Hard problem concerns an apparent additional brain function which gives us that sense we feel of ‘me’ – and would it be fair to say that some people would still believe that ‘sense of me’ to be the soul – whilst others would name it consciousness.

    Have I got it right that, of those who call the ‘me’ factor consciousness, some think it is an additional and separate ‘special’ part of brain function (as a soul is special). – Others would consider it nothing ‘special’ but simply an extension of brain processing. – That it is those who maintain the idea that the ‘me ‘ function of consciousness is ‘special’ who have the Hard problem – whilst those who think the ‘me’ function is not particularly ‘special’ thus don’t have a problem.

    If I have read you correctly, then you see nothing ‘special’ in the evolution of thinking and consciousness (in the way a soul is special) so have no hard problem at all. I would add that, having read this most interesting post, and hopefully correctly taken on board what I have learnt from it. I see no hard problem either.

    However, you appear to consider that the ‘me’ of consciousness is the sum of all experience. Here I would beg to differ. From my experience, I have found the ‘me’ factor is not the sum of all experience. It is the sum of those experiences we have accepted subconsciously because they have become familiar. As we grow older our we extend the range of this ‘what we allow to become familiar’ and of course change it at times – the rest of our experiences remain or are forgotten in what we call our memory.

    In a practical animal fashion, how does a horse ‘know’ to avoid poisonous plants?

    As a foal it sticks close to its mother and begins to eat what she eats – so grass and its taste becomes familiar – part of its ‘me’. – Then it shuns all that is not familiar – so it eats grass not poisonous plants. – So it survives to bear foals itself – who turn into adults who do not eat poisonous plants – by the same mental process – of crating a ‘me’ of familiar experience.

    We do the same thing but we have added an extra dimension – that of recorded experience. – Unlike a foal, we are not limited to construct our ‘me’ from personal experience – we can can include second hand experiences.

    The earliest example of these ‘second hand experiences becoming familiar’ may be the verbal passing down of traditions and genealogies – just like learning mathematical tables by rote. (2×2 is familar – 2,759×17 is not)

    The human race collective ‘me’ factor is in essence a set of legends.

    It seems that as we record more and more knowledge and have learning strategies to make such knowledge familiar, our ‘me’ factor result gains momentum.

    So to me, Marion Stamp Dawkins seems correct in saying, “… since we evolved consciousness and attendant properties like desiring from animal precursor capacities, animals must have something of the capacities.”

    (Animal welfare based on that presumption, that is a different topic.)

    The Hard Problem, easy or hard version, is surely just a watered down version of the Fairly Interesting Problem – which of course is – What’s it all about?

    If the answer to that pops up, it will probably appear first in one of your posts.

  5. John the Plumber John the Plumber

    Professor John S Wilkins Sir – I apologise for calling you Henry.

    I really am dyslexic.
    As to philosophy I once spent six months trying to prove the existence of a dog.

    • Neither a Professor nor a Sir, but Hank is not offensive either.

  6. If I understand the “Hard Problem” to be something along the lines of is our human consciousness different from other animals, plants, fungi, protoctists and bacteria. I think it is reasonable to assume that it is different. But how it is different or concluding that it is “higher” is generally answered anthropocentrically which is a bias that is not scientific. All life (a verb) senses and reacts. Bacteria are the building blocks of life and have evolved into protoctists, animals, plants and fungi as a kind of community ecology first recognized by Ivan Wallin in the 1920s. The New Symbiotic (or Integrative) Biology that is replacing the so-called Modern Synthesis recognizes that animals are not individuals in any sense of the word and the animal is replaced with the concept of the “holobiont”, the animal and its persistent microbial symbionts. Human holobionts are composed of 90% bacterial cells to 10% bacterial cells. The relationship is that the animal cells are obligate to the microbial symbionts, not the reverse. So I would propose a thought experiment. I have very little, if any, sense of my animal multicellularity (at the cell level) and no sense of my bacterial symbionts. Is my vaunted human consciousness something transcendent or just what I “need to know” to do the job of being a “superintendent” for the apartment complex of my body for its cells and symbionts. Am I just sweeping the halls, answering the complaints (e.g., an ache) or taking out the trash for all these cells with there own private worlds or agendas? Could it be that the consciousness of my cells and symbionts is different and unknown to me? Lynn Margulis used to say that humans were the only organisms to write books, but also the only organisms that read them.

    • I like the term holobiont.

      My point is that we have every reason to think that consciousness is the result of ordinary physical processes. These processes go on also in other organisms, and yes, they are different, because they are different organisms with different configurations of physical processes to humans. But why think our consciousness is qualitatively different?

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