This is somewhat a scientific question, but I presume a philosopher could have some interesting spin, or even an answer and be better fit for the question.

Why do we have a subjective perception of a chair but that really is just an electric pattern? And less importantly, what is the illusion made of? Why does it look like it's painted out there?

I've tried to discuss this with others, read books (Dennett, Hoffman, Maturana & Varela, Schopenhauer, Marvin Minsky theories, long & useless chats with LLMs, etc.).

The part of the signal processing and role of the internal states in the brain isn't confusing to me (in the way it works internally at least) nor the fact that other animals or even humans have a different representation/appearance, but is not very relevant either.

The part I don't understand is how the signal processing seemingly gives an image in my visual field.

Is Eliminative Materialism the most "trending" theory for such a question?

Some extra context

I'd like to repeat the question (but answer it just once please): Why do we have a subjective perception of a chair but that really is just an electric pattern?

Clearly, one can split the problem, correlate parts to different processing, and maybe integrate them (for example, perspective may be somewhat separated from colour.)

But again, that's not the question. Yet I think the question is reasonable, but maybe it is not?

Hoffman uses the analogy of the GUI (graphical user interface) that hides away the actual processing and complexity done by say the CPU and especially the code that it's running which in turn reduces to electricity and gates.

In this analogy we interact with the GUI, as we interact with the real world which in turn is like a GUI. So a chair isn't too different from a folder in my screen.

And yet, I am not convinced; the chair's projection, in the sense that we are talking about, is not made out of light or even material to some extent. It seems to me that the analogy misses this (and probably other points.)


Apart from the main question, these are just meta-questions (basically if you think the question is ill-posed):

  • Am I not being able to abstract myself enough?
  • Is there a confusion in terms of what an explanation should be?
  • Maybe the lack of some technical but introductory book?
  • I don't think our science or philosophy has yet reached a level where we can give a convincing answer to such a question. Presumably evolutionary dynamics have selected the various modalities that enable us to have experience, and further determined what and how we experience.
    – nwr
    Jan 2 at 21:57
  • Please clarify your specific problem or provide additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it's hard to tell exactly what you're asking.
    – Community Bot
    Jan 3 at 8:40

2 Answers 2


Why do we have a subjective perception of a chair but that really is just an electric pattern?

What is the "really" above really?

For some reason you are privileging the electrical impulse view. Yes its is one view. One view. Out of many others possible.

Lets say a human is standing.

  1. A predator sees him. He (it) calls him (it) a piece of live tasty flesh
  2. An anatomist sees him. They see a conglomerate of organs
  3. A histologist sees him. They see a mass of cells, in particular neurons
  4. A chemist sees him. They see a lot of complex chemicals
  5. A classical physicist sees atoms
  6. And a modern physicist sees electrons, protons neutrons
  7. One could keep going ... quarks ... strings


For some reason you are privileging level 6.
Why is that the only level?
Why is that real?

Above is the downward/reductive view. There could be an equally legitimate bunch of upward views.

  1. A woman sees him as son/husband
  2. An apartment dweller sees him as neighbor
  3. A councillor sees him as one of his city
  4. A politician sees him as a citizen (and voter!)
  5. A Martian would see an earthling
  6. A Sirian would see a solar-system being... etc

If you're familiar with computer related stuff, here's a similar answer on the multi levels at which computer scientists often simultaneously need to conceptually think

  • This is a fine perspective, but I will have to make more clear what is meant by 'really', here. It's meant that for people this is the accepted explanation and the place to look for mechanisms. Quarks won't be very important in a theory for it, if that makes sense. However, why didn't I say 'preferred level of explanation' instead of 'really'. Because there is a clear gap there, in causal terms (people mean it really produces it) i.e if you run the 'physicalist' model, you wouldn't expect experience, but only a zombie-like organism (according to my interpretation.) Is it more clear now ?
    – Minsky
    Jan 5 at 9:50
  • So to summarise my par above: really points here to a gap in the causal explanation for why we experience consciousness from the preferred level of explanation i.e neural level.
    – Minsky
    Jan 5 at 9:53
  • @Minsky Not really. If you were to ask a physicist of the 19th century, atoms were really(!!) atoms ie the original Democritus' sense of non subdividable. A physicist of the 22nd may have such a clear conspective account of the quark level that they will see our view as quaint as we see the 19th century view. So... I really dont understand what you mean by "really"! [Ok Ive made the level 3 more explicitly subsume the neural level]. Preferred level of explanation is perfect. Everyone has prejudices. Physicalism is a widespread (epidemial) prejudice of our time
    – Rushi
    Jan 5 at 9:54
  • 1
    @Minsky The Please move to chat message has come so my last message (here). Ofc youre welcome to continue in chat if you like. As to Materialism is Solid view of the real world My humble and respectful suggestion would be to meditate a while on Johnson's kick. If you're inclined to delve further into it, Berkeley is not so appealing in 2024 as Bernardo Karstrup
    – Rushi
    Jan 5 at 10:10
  • 1
    We could chat if you are happy to. I find your ideas interesting. I will accept, not because I think it's an answer, but it's a nice effort to explain me.
    – Minsky
    Jan 5 at 10:46

I have an answer that may answer this question as well on your other question: Why do I have the perception of a chair (or other objects) ? - first person experience question

You are honing in on the hard problem of consciousness, which has been a major challenge for philosophy over much of the last century. I see from your reading list, that you have not been backing away from digging into some of the major current thinkers. I can offer some additional reading suggestions, that may be helpful to you.

The best of the delusionists is Susan Blackmore. She is much clearer and more forthright than Dennett. She has an outstanding summary of the case for delusionism, which I review here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R1C1TJFIWBZ8ZQ?ref=pf_ov_at_pdctrvw_srp Blackmore spells out a lot of test cases that show your presumption of a Cartesian Theater is not valid.

Even better than delusionism, is illusionism, where consciousness is still accepted as existing, but with our unconsciousness tricking it, to reduce the data needs in the handoff. David Eagleman's Incognito treats the Cartesian Theater as a "Grand Illusion" that is mostly populated with logic markers, not actual stage props -- until we focus our attention on that part of the illusion.

Consciousness as a real causal agent can be emergent from matter, and the best explanation of this possibility I have found is from Karl Popper, in The Self and Its Brain. Popper also spells out the evolutionary test case that physicalist models of consciousness fail.

Two spiritual dualists with somewhat different approaches to dualism are John Eccles with How the Self Controls Its Brain, and Richard Swinburne in Mind, Brian and Free Will. I review Swinburne here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R18J8OJA7QPLKX?ref=pf_ov_at_pdctrvw_srp

You are considering idealism as well, and I can offer what I consider a better case for idealism than Hoffman, with Beyond Physicalism, reviewed here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/RZY1A4EL2JOZ4?ref=pf_ov_at_pdctrvw_srp

  • didn't have time to check everything just yet, but will do it.
    – Minsky
    Jan 5 at 9:52

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