Showing posts from July, 2014

Grokking the Hard Problem of Consciousness

By Robert H. Clark (guest essay)
I think one can get a visceral, intuitive sense of how, what is often referred to as "the hard problem of consciousness," actually is "the impossible problem of consciousness," through a simple, thought experiment. Note that in this piece I am going to be using the following words interchangeably: mind, consciousness and you.

But first a reminder that "the hard problem" refers to the question of how the physical processes of your brain create consciousness: your self-awareness, the flow of your thoughts, feelings, and experiences, the totality of your subjective experience, i.e. YOU. This problem is considered by many to be not just a hard problem but the hard problem confronting science, because of the disconcerting but simple fact that there is nothing about the physical activity of the constituent particles of your brain, at any level of organization you choose to examine them, cellular, molecular, subatomic, etc., from…

Ripples and whirlpools

Yesterday I gave a long and extremely engaging interview to Rick Archer, of Buddha at the Gas Pump. Rick pressed me very intelligently on the distinction I make between idealism and panpsychism; that is, between the notions that everything is in consciousness and that everything is conscious. As my readers know, I reject panpsychism: I reject the idea that everything, like a rock or your home thermostat, is conscious. But I strongly endorse the notion that everything is in consciousness and exists only insofar as it is in consciousness. To Rick, this distinction wasn't clear, and he argued his case very well. I replied to him as best as I could during the interview, but wanted to clarify the point with some more structure in this brief essay.

As my readers will conclude from my book Why Materialism Is Baloney, I make a distinction between inanimate objects on the one hand, and living beings on the other hand:

Inanimate objects: these are excitations of consciousness, like vibratio…

Brian Cox and the idolatry of nerds

A couple of weeks ago, a Twitter war broke out between Deepak Chopra, a well-known proponent of integrative medicine, and Brian Cox, a physicist and TV-star who is famous for science documentaries on UK television. The war was covered in a highly tendentious way in an article in the New Statesman. Here, however, I want to focus on what the Twitter exchange seems to reveal about the appalling state of our culture. To give you a flavor of the exchange, I want to start with specifics. Then, I will move to broader, more generalized commentary.

Specific commentary The contentious part of the discussion seems to have started with the exchange illustrated in the figure below. Chopra’s point is philosophically sound and quite easy to understand. As Bertrand Russell stated, science can only explain one thing in terms of another thing [Russell, B. (2007). The Analysis of Matter. Nottingham: Spokesman Books]. This way, one can never scientifically explain the primary creation event, for there wo…