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This question is mainly directed at people who are firm physicalists (as opposed to dualists) but still think qualia are "something extra to be explained". I believe Searle and Chalmers both fall into this category.

Chalmers writes:

The easy problems of consciousness include those of explaining the following phenomena: the ability to discriminate, categorize, and react to environmental stimuli; the integration of information by a cognitive system; the reportability of mental states; the ability of a system to access its own internal states; the focus of attention; the deliberate control of behavior; the difference between wakefulness and sleep.

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There is no real issue about whether these phenomena can be explained scientifically. All of them are straightforwardly vulnerable to explanation in terms of computational or neural mechanisms. To explain access and reportability, for example, we need only specify the mechanism by which information about internal states is retrieved and made available for verbal report.

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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.

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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.

Understanding how the brain reports internal states is, according to Chalmers, one of the "easy problems".

In particular, one day science will offer a detailed physical description of the activity of Chalmers' brain while he was writing this very essay about qualia.

My observation is that that's very weird.

Think of the situation we would find ourselves in: we would have scientific theory that explained in detail what neurons are firing that lead to Chalmers' fingers clacking away on a keyboard and typing an essay on qualia. We would see inside Chalmers' brain and see areas that represent an understanding of the laws of physics, areas that represent visual stimuli, areas that conduct logic and reasoning, and finally areas that represent confusion and puzzlement. All these areas would act in concert to cause him to write: "Why should physical processing give rise to a rich inner life at all? It seems objectively unreasonable that it should, and yet it does."

This is a really bizarre state of affairs! Chalmers is claiming that the "rich inner life" is somehow "something extra" in addition to or arising out of the laws of physics. But the laws of physics can perfectly well explain the physical processes that cause him to physically utter that claim. To me, this severely undercuts how seriously we should take Chalmers claim that there really is "something extra" to explain.

I'm assuming this observation has been raised before. It has a similar flavor to epiphenomenalist claims that theories of consciousness play no explanatory role because pure physical accounts can explain all observables already.

How have thinkers like Chalmers or Searle have addressed it, or how do you think they would?

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    I don't know that Searle is committed to our current laws of physics, but he does commit to the brain being described by some laws of physics. For instance (from The Rediscovery of the Mind): "Consciousness is a mental, and therefore physical, property of the brain.... The fact that a feature is mental does not imply that it is not physical; and the fact that a feature is physical does not imply that it is not mental." (pp. 14-15)
    – Dan Butler
    Sep 5, 2014 at 4:53
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    I think you might be inferring something falsely from the top quote, viz., the problems Chalmers thinks are vulnerable to physicalist explanation are not identical to those most proximate to qualia. Moreover, I take the quotes primarily to be agnostic on the question of whether such things will necessarily end up being physically reduced.
    – virmaior
    Sep 5, 2014 at 5:55
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    Chalmers: "There is no real issue about whether these phenomena can be explained scientifically. All of them are straightforwardly vulnerable to explanation in terms of computational or neural mechanisms." That seems to me like pretty strong support for physical reduction, no? Regarding your first point, what do you mean by "[the problems] most proximate to qualia"? Are you saying that you Chalmers might say speech acts about qualia are a special case of speech acts in general, and that they will be harder to physically explain?
    – Dan Butler
    Sep 5, 2014 at 6:07
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    Fair enough, but he definitely thinks these problems are within the realm of straightforward physical science. All I'm saying is that by extension, speech acts about qualia should be straightforward physical science too. Notice I say "speech acts", nothing about conscious experience per se. I'm treating speech, which is clearly an easy problem, like the loose end of a ball of yarn, and tracing it back into the recesses of the brain.
    – Dan Butler
    Sep 5, 2014 at 6:21
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    I don't see the double causation or rather I only see it if you mean more than you say. You seem to be merging two distinct aspects: the process of how we make the speech act (let's call this P) and the content from which we derive the speech act (let's call this Q). if we P about Q and understand how we P, that doesn't imply anything about how we Q except that it is accessible to Ping. You seem to be asserting that understanding P in terms of physicalism means understanding Q.
    – virmaior
    Sep 5, 2014 at 6:45

1 Answer 1

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Chalmers calls this problem The Paradox of Phenomenal Judgement and he discussed it extensively.

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    It would be nice if the down-voter would explain what in his opinion is the shortcoming of this answer.
    – nir
    Sep 5, 2014 at 15:36
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    I wasn't your first downvoter. but what you've supplied here isn't an answer, it's a link to an answer. Maybe. But SE is not a link aggregator, it's a question and answer website.
    – virmaior
    Sep 5, 2014 at 16:02
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    Unfortunately, it is more often the site for long pseudo-philosophical answers. What benefit to the public would there be in me (or anybody else) attempting to summarize without distortion, Chalmers' notion of the paradox of phenomenal judgement, when you can follow the reference and read his words for yourself?
    – nir
    Sep 5, 2014 at 16:11
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    In terms of site quality, I tend to agree that there are many poor questions and poor answers (for a large variety of reasons including a poor grasp on what "philosophy" means), but that takes us into a discussion for meta about whether or not a philosophy.se even makes sense. As long as it is an SE site, it's supposed to be question and answer -- not question and link.
    – virmaior
    Sep 5, 2014 at 16:52
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    I up-voted this. This is much much closer to what I was looking for than a long-winded discussion. If you add a short summary, I'll accept this answer.
    – Dan Butler
    Sep 5, 2014 at 19:47

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