To start with the easy problem of Consciousness - this is really more around the mechanics. It is asking about our scientific understanding of our neurological hardware and the processes thereon. It might even (does it?) include us coming up with some metric for consciousness which would allow us to say: based on this hardware and that processing speed on it, the metric is assigning you a 17 on the consciousness scale.

The hard problem, as I understand it is thought of, tries to go one further and asks: OK, you have now solved the easy problem - you have figured out how our (and perhaps that of other organisms) neurological hardware is structured, you can measure it for each specimen and thereafter assign a Consciousness value to it. Fine. But why would this emergence of Consciousness happen in the first place and how? To think of a physics analogy – in thermodynamics you might have figured out how to measure temperature and might have even discovered certain scientific laws that temperature adheres to. Yet, you might still not know when and how this quantity and its properties arise from its atomic constituents. In analogy, you could refer to measuring and predicting the behavior of the temperature of a macroscopic system as the "easy problem of temperature" and to knowing how temperature and its properties arise from the quantum objects that it is made out of as the "hard problem of temperature."

Some might not like such an analogy. In a sense, the emergence of Consciousness from how information is processed is more fundamental than the emergence of a macroscopic physical quality from its underlying microscopic physics. A question which captures the crux of this difference is Thomas Nagel's question: "What Is it Like to Be a Bat?" I.e. (How) can I really experience the consciousness' of other beings?

My question is: In how far is being able to understand – in the sense of "experience" – other Consciousness' part of the hard problem of Consciousness?

  • While experiencing other consciousness is a fascinating subject in itself, being able to do that will not, in itself, help with the hard problem of consciousness. Some conjoined twins can do something like that already, see Can conjoined twins share a mind? Explaining emergence of consciousness from how information is processed is still the "easy" part. The problem is to breach the "explanatory gap" between third person explanations and "what it is like". The implied answer (of Chalmers and Nagel) is that it can not be done.
    – Conifold
    Aug 28, 2019 at 7:43
  • This new theory “The Basic Theory of the Mind” offers an interesting answer to the question of why there are qualia and phenomenal consciousness in this universe. To put it in a nutshell, both of them are evolved functions to help increase the survival chance of the species that have them. If interested, you can read its short synopsis here.
    – user287279
    Aug 28, 2019 at 9:45
  • You seem to be speaking of the 'other minds' problem. This is not usually considered part of the 'hard' problem. .
    – user20253
    Aug 28, 2019 at 10:47
  • No, it's not the theory of mind. It's lietrally "The Basic Theory of the Mind", word by word. It offers physical explanations about the nature of the mind (all minds, in general), qualia, and consciousness.It also offers physical explanations about how qualia and phenomenal consciousness emerge from physical processes of the brain (the hard problem). If you don't believe me, please check it out at the link given above.
    – user287279
    Aug 28, 2019 at 12:57

2 Answers 2


It's definitely part of understanding 'what it's like to be a human', as much as sonar to being a bat. Hence the private language argument. It seems humans evolved their intelligence for a complex social environment, and tool use was a side-bonus (brain size & social interactions correlate through most of the animal world).

Octopuses and squid are an exception, with large complex brains despite typically small social groups. One theory suggests coastal habitats meant they had to interact with and avoid developing vertebrates, and their soft bodies made them easy targets - the family also have some of the most sophisticated camouflage in the whole animal world, seeming to support this kind of reasoning. Their predator-avoidance adaptations may have included predicting and intuiting other agents.

I mention this because we can perhaps point through these examples of complex landscapes of interacting with others, to generalise about consciousness and it's purpose, and that it involves interacting in landscapes of other minds, that there is a feedback process. Like predator-prey relationships squared, with another axis for cognitive developments, aimed at predicting others, and leading to being able to predict oneself.

Integrated information theory holds out hope of explaining 'more' and 'less' conscious. I would say theory-of-mind from interactions is the other part.

Chalmers et al would point to another aspect of the hard problem, how much can we truly put ourselves into the minds of others? Our deeply shared modes of life with human speakers of our same language, never mind having same bodies and similar childcare, makes us overconfident in the one case where we can get true feedback. Whereas, we know dolphins have complex language, but can't communicate with them (in the wild). Could we ever understand a lion? A hunter is said to understand their prey, but do they truly get the preys experiences? Probably not, or they wouldn't hunt! Is there an important distinction between getting in idea of someone elses view, and really experiencing it?

Putting qualia beyond the communicable creates a pseudoproblem. Yes, the direct sensory experience, with no other previous kinds may not be communicable, maybe ever. It would involve being them, not just communicating with them. But surely what is meaningful is not raw experience, but abstractions from them, thoughts about experience, and these are communicable. You don't have to ve someone else, to understand them.


Well, so we're on the same page here's an overview of the hard problem of consciousness. From the text:

The hard problem of consciousness is the problem of explaining how and why sentient organisms have qualia or phenomenal experiences—how and why it is that some internal states are felt states, such as heat or pain, rather than unfelt states, as in a thermostat or a toaster.1 The philosopher David Chalmers, who introduced the term "hard problem" of consciousness,2 contrasts this with the "easy problems" of explaining the ability to discriminate, integrate information, report mental states, focus attention, and so forth.

The article goes on to say some philosophers, such as Daniel Dennett, reject it as a philosophical problem at all.

One of the commentators on your original post notes you seem to also invoke the problem of other minds, so it might help to read problem of other minds, which is epistemological.

What I see as your question is a merger of the two concepts:

My question is: In how far is being able to understand – in the sense of "experience" – other Consciousness' part of the hard problem of Consciousness?

I read this as: how or to what extent is the problem of other minds a part of hard problem of consciousness?

I believe the best answer to that is to see the questions as unrelated generally speaking, and the reason for that is that the two questions have two different aims. The first (Whence qualia?) is largely ontological in nature meaning that the idea is to construct categories of the mind that link the materialist notions to those that are phenomenological, something like how do we get from brain to the constituents of our mind. The second (How do I know what someone is thinking?) is an epistemological question which might be understood as since I don't have direct experience of what the other is thinking, how do I know (not just believe) the other is thinking?

You can combine them and ask questions like you have, but I don't see it as adding anything new to either pursuit. That's not to say that the two questions are unrelated, since they must share metaphysical presuppositions for coherency, but that not much is gained by considering them as a single question. A short math example might illuminate:

Suppose a math teacher asks you to describe the graph of a given quadratic equation, and also asks you to calculate two non-zero, non-vertex codomain values from some given domain values. Yes, they are both related by way of the same quadratic function, but the exercises are of two fundamentally different types: the first is an exercise in analytic geometry, and the later is an exercise in arithmetic. The two problems share certain types of background knowledge, but graphing the solutions to the second problem doesn't necessarily answer much about the first question, and knowing the general characteristics of the curve on the number plane doesn't really provide analytical solutions for the second question.

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