Consider the following:

S1: The assumption that “the chair has certain affordances (weathered, rickety, sturdy, available, etc.)” is a non-arbitrary subroutine in an operant or respondent activity (sitting, avoiding sitting, using as an improvised ladder/a shelf, hanging my coat, burning for heat, etc.) that couples an agent x to the (chair).

S2: The assumption that “the patient has advanced artery disease” is a non-arbitrary subroutine in an operant or respondent activity (the administration of statin, nitro-glycerine, ACE inhibitors, advice about radical dietary changes, etc.) that couples the surgeon x to the (patient’s heart/cardiovascular system).

S3: The assumption that “consciousness has the property P (physicality, non-physicality, non- localness, universally distributed, etc.)” is a non-arbitrary subroutine in an operant or respondent activity that couples an agent x to the (phenomena of consciousness).

There’s obviously nothing controversial about S1 and S2. But, the glaring issue about S3 is precisely what ‘activity’ or ‘operation’ are we talking about here? What is it that you couldn’t actually do (and not just talk about doing) if you weren’t working with the assumption that “consciousness has whatever property P”?

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    I don't have any idea what you mean by "non-arbitrary subroutine" nor do I know what you mean by the "operant or respondent" clause.
    – virmaior
    Jul 16, 2014 at 9:01
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    Stripped of all the jargon, what I'm hearing is "the patient has advanced artery disease" is to surgeon as "consciousness has the property P" is to phenomenon of consciousness. Beyond that I cannot grasp the form of the analogy because I the jargon you are using after that is sui generis.
    – virmaior
    Jul 18, 2014 at 4:12
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    Subroutine is a term specific generally to computer-code; I can't say I see the validity of using this to describe the parts of an activity or recipe. Jul 7, 2015 at 23:37
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    Using jargon that is specific to oneself, or a small circle isn't conducive to communication - a point that the physicist Feynman realised as a teenager when he submitted work with symbols of his own design - for example, a long 'T' with its upper line extended over the 'argument' to represent 'Tan' , the abbreviation for the Tangent function. Jul 7, 2015 at 23:42
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    It also means that people have to work to disentangle the language before even trying to understand the argument; and then answer it; also a pernicious effect of this - which I'm not saying is the case here - is that bad thinking can be hidden by it; or in software jargon obfuscation. Jul 7, 2015 at 23:47

1 Answer 1


The hard problem of consciousness is not a question of "consciousness has the property P" so much as it is a question of why do we experience P as P.

For instance if you see the color red, or taste bacon, you have the qualia of such experiences. So Consciousness has the quality red (or the taste of bacon) in those cases. This is not the question that the hard problem of consciousness is seeking to answer however.

Let us disregard for a moment the inverted qualia argument/thought experiment, as interesting as the topic is, and let us say we are both staring at a patch of red paint, and chewing on bacon.

There is nothing controversial about the sentences: "I see red" and "I taste bacon" as we point to our mouths with one hand and the patch of paint with the other.

The hard problem of consciousness is WHY we experience red as red, and not some other color, and WHY we experience the taste of bacon when we chew it, and not, let us say, chocolate. Or why we experience anything at all because of the physical state of our brains? How do we go from a physical combination of things to an experience of red, or bacon, or any other qualia?

So no, the hard problem of consciousness is not a question of Operationalization, but a question of explanation.

Consider this quote by Chalmers from this article

What makes the hard problem hard and almost unique is that it goes beyond problems about the performance of functions. To see this, note that even when we have explained the performance of all the cognitive and behavioral functions in the vicinity of experience—perceptual discrimination, categorization, internal access, verbal report—there may still remain a further unanswered question: Why is the performance of these functions accompanied by experience? (1995, 202, emphasis in original).

There are many other formulations of the hard problem of consciousness.

To hear David Chalmers himself talk about Consciousness in a TED talk that is only 1 year old (yes he is still alive) click here

You'll see that some approaches to the hard problem of consciousness are to deny that there is a problem at all. Some do this by denying the existence of qualia. Some do this in other ways.

Those who accept it as a problem are still scratching their heads. The individual that comes forward with the solution to this problem will likely become quite famous.

  • doesn't the question also argue "why"? roughly, because it's useful to. i agree that misses something about consciousness. in no way is this rock alive because assuming it does anything for me at all
    – user6917
    Sep 20, 2016 at 7:21

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