There's a problem I've been thinking about recently. I feel like it must be ubiquitous, but I don't know what the popular solutions to it are, or if it has a fancy name. Basically:

Why do I subjectively experience life through the particular mind that belongs to my body?

i.e. why am I not experiencing the world through the mind of a worm, or George Clooney's mind, or the mind of a conscious entity in another galaxy, or a conscious A.I. (assuming they are possible)? A priori, all possibilities should be equally likely.

I understand that if I inhabited Clooney's mind, I would not be 'me' as I'm used to. I would not have the same thoughts or experiences, because they would be dictated by Clooney's brain chemistry. But regardless, I would, at this moment in physical time, be subjectively experiencing life through Clooney's mind.

So at some point, a 'symmetry' of consciousness must have been broken, or we have a paradox. I have looked a bit at some proposed solutions to the hard problem of consciousness, and as far as I can tell, none of them address this asymmetry.

  • 1
    Hi, welcome to Phil SE. "I understand that if I inhabited Clooney's mind, I would not be 'me'... But regardless, I would... be subjectively experiencing life through Clooney's mind" contradict each other, and there is no disregarding it. You use "I" in two different senses, which creates the "problem" you are trying to solve. Detaching "I" from its carrier is no more doable than detaching red color from a tomato, so there is no symmetry to be broken.
    – Conifold
    Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 23:21
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    which solutions to the hard problem of consciousness? HOT theories and Self-Refrential theories trivially address this problem because they are physicalist. Dualistic solutions would step out of the boundaries of physics, and then, as Feyerabend says, "anything goes". Either way, the solution is trivial, where do you see a paradox? Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 23:56
  • In telepresence experiments (you wear goggles with little video screens connected to a camera elsewhere) you experience the seat of your consciousness as being outside your body. It's based on where your eyes are. I Googled around and the most on-point reference I can find is paywalled but the abstract is good enough. nature.com/nrn/journal/v6/n4/full/nrn1651.html
    – user4894
    Commented Sep 24, 2016 at 1:20

3 Answers 3


"A priori, all possibilities should be equally likely."

I think this assumption is the problem. The human mind is attracted to symmetry.

We cannot deal with "irreducible differences".

For example... we cannot explain why the universe is one way as opposed to another... so we posit multiverse theories. We say that the universe is actually every single way, so that we don't have to deal with the unexplainable irreducible fact that the universe is some particular way. This really doesn't solve the problem though... we need to explain why we are here in this universe as opposed to another.

I think this is similar to what is happening in your consciousness thought experiment...

It seems equally probable that I should be in your body experiencing your thoughts (everything would be the same to the external world), and you should be here in my body.

There are some ways to maintain consciousness symmetry... for example, suppose there's only one consciousness everywhere. Since there is no universal NOW according to special relativity, we are not forced to say consciousness is experiencing all these bodies simultanesously... so there's no paradox.

But at the end of the day... I think this requirement to maintain symmetry is misguided. There are some irreducible brute facts about the universe.


I am a philosopher, and this is what I would say:

Consciousness is a byproduct of your brain and your body. Your consciousness does not exist otherwise. It is the combination neurons and other physical factors of your brain and body chemistry that leave you with conscious and unconscious parts of your experience as life.

Therefore, your consciousness is wholly dependent on your mind in your body.

To have a worms mind is to have a worm's consciousness.

Your consciousness cannot browse all minds in a catalog and choose one. A body and brain exist, and your consciousness is that unique combination. Your body and brain determines your consciousness. Therefore there is not an equally likely chance of being one of the options you listed (as you suggested). Rather, there is 100% likelihood that your experience and consciousness occurs in your mind and 0% that it could have occurred elsewhere.

As @Ameet mentioned, we have to explain why your mind is the way it is; not avoid the dilemma by saying it could be anywhere.

  • Welcome to Philosophy.SE. We like answers here to be objective. Your answer takes a certain position and shows that this position is somehow coherent. But in the end, it is still your opinion. Could you rewrite it to the format "Philosopher X would say ...", and ideally provide references? Thanks!
    – user2953
    Commented Sep 24, 2016 at 21:38
  • I appreciate the input of all parties. I have edited my answer. Commented Sep 26, 2016 at 10:02
  • Sorry, this does not make it much better. The issue with answers without a reference is that they are often little helpful to the reader, because he cannot do further research. Could you reference some published articles / books?
    – user2953
    Commented Sep 26, 2016 at 12:59
  • This post is being discussed on meta.
    – user2953
    Commented Sep 26, 2016 at 13:04

The most symmetric possible answer is from the point of view of convergent pantheism (a' la Terrence McKenna, but clearly already present in the Hindu notion of reincarnation.)

The answer is 'For the same reason you do not experience the whole of your own life all at once -- the illusion of time that makes the whole thing comprehensible.'

From that POV, you will experience all of these, just not right now.

  • "If I am I because I am I, and you are you because you are you, then I am I and you are you. But if I am I because you are you and you are you because I am I, then I am not I and you are not you!" Menachem Mendel
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 23:20
  • @CriglCragl There is no assertion in this answer that 'I am I because you are you...' So the quote does not apply. Even if it did, it has no logic to it. From a traditional point of view, we are all who we are because God is who he is. I am pretty sure this was not intended as an argument against theism.
    – user9166
    Commented Mar 13, 2018 at 0:21

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