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I have heard several people discuss "The Philosophical Problem of Consciousness". I'm trying to put a label on the philosophical discussions(s) on this topic.

One example:

The ultimate question of consciousness regards the phenomenological experience of being - what is it? Where does it come from? What does it mean about us? Who else shares it?

Another example:

That's precisely the problem - we can't yet formalize the concept we understand as "consciousness", and so any attempts to find a physical/mathematical definition are almost doomed to fail, as they can't really guarantee they are defining the actual concept we have in our minds when we say "consciousness".

My question is: What is the philosophical label(s) on the discussion(s) of the 'unsolved problem of consciousness'?

In my own attempts to answer this question I have come across:

I admit I'm coming at it from the neurological angle (which says there is no problem) and seeing people saying:

"This is an insoluble problem! We can't even agree we have the same experiences, let alone agree on what consciousness is."

I'm trying to understand that point of view well enough to articulate it.

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    There are quite a lot "philosophical problems" in the subject matter of consciousness, the modern label being "philosophy of mind" (or to some extent cognitive science). More elaboration can be found in Britannica - Phil/Mind ans the SEP article. Mar 27 at 11:26
  • Thanks that's helpful - could you expand on that in an answer and provide the list of problems?
    – hawkeye
    Mar 27 at 12:26
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    did you read the SEP article? I specifically linked the part where they elaborate on the problems. I mean I can do so as well, but I don't see the need for writing something someone else wrote already :) Unless you find it inadequate, then tell me exactly what you feel is missing and I can elaborate (perhaps in a different post if it's not exactly the same question). Mar 27 at 14:41
  • The "ultimate question of consciousness" that "regards the phenomenological experience of being" goes under the name "hard problem of consciousness". SEP and IEP articles on it are much better from the philosophical perspective than Wikipedia's.
    – Conifold
    Mar 27 at 21:53
  • Thanks @YechiamWeiss and @ Conifold - that's helpful.
    – hawkeye
    Mar 28 at 4:17
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Consciousness is one of the oldest, most discussed and hardest issues of epistemology in philosophy, with large overlap with psychology, cognitive science, neuroscience, and artificial intelligence (neural networks).

Even non-professional common folks have some sensible theories such as theory-theory (modern strict math formulation using Bayesian learning framework), and a rival simulation theory of empathy (confirmed by modern discovery of mirror neurons in macaque monkeys).

For the philosophical professionals, they've created numerous proprietary theories throughout history, such as old mind-body dualism, panpsychism, modern phenomenalism, reductive type identity physicalism, functionalism, emergentism, eliminative materialism, and new mysterianism, etc...

Now regarding your example:

That's precisely the problem - we can't yet formalize the concept we understand as "consciousness", and so any attempts to find a physical/mathematical definition are almost doomed to fail, as they can't really guarantee they are defining the actual concept we have in our minds when we say "consciousness".

and

"This is an insoluble problem! We can't even agree we have the same experiences, let alone agree on what consciousness is."

This is labeled by some professionals as "cognitive closure proposition" or the debate between "cognitive individualism" and "cognitive universalism". For Colin McGinn, it is one of permanent and inherent biological limitations. We are not able to resolve the explanatory gap (the hard problem of consciousness) because the realm of subjective experiences is cognitively closed to us in the same manner that quantum physics is cognitively closed to elephants.

Regarding your :

"Qualia - but this doesn't really address the philosophical problem".

Though qualia can not address any philosophical problem, it's mainly setup as a major test criterion for any form of physicalism trying to quantify and explain conscious mind, similar to the seemingly ubiquitous "Intentionality" intuited by most people, which is also setup as a major test criterion for any form of physicalism.

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  • Thanks for the thoughtfulness and effort you put into this answer. This is helpful.
    – hawkeye
    Mar 29 at 2:05
  • @Hawkeye As for an important historical perspective aside from human consciousness, I recommend Johann Jakob von Uexküll on animal consciousness (a biologist of the early 20th century). Other notable historical names are Buytendijk and Wolfgang Köhler. Important mainly because their insights are "rediscovered" in some discourses now.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Mar 29 at 8:38
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This has been problematic for a number of reasons. According to Britannica and the Stanford site:

  • for the first half of the 20th century - consciousness was measured by psychologists using introspection - which lead to inconsistent and unscientific results (Richard Nisbett and Timothy Wilson discussed a wide range of experiments that showed that people are often demonstrably mistaken about their own psychological processes) and the whole field rejected this approach and took on behaviourism (from which it is only just returning)

  • the word itself is used for 'being awake' and 'having mental activity' (assume for this discussion we're talking about the latter)

  • Each person seems to have direct, immediate knowledge of his own conscious sensations and of the contents of his propositional attitudes. René Descartes (1596–1650) regarded his immediate conscious thoughts as the basis of all of the rest of his knowledge.

  • not all mental phenomena are accessible to consciousness

  • not all mental phenomena are conscious. Obvious examples include the beliefs, long-range plans, and desires that a person is not consciously thinking about at a particular time, as well as things that have “slipped one’s mind,” though they must in some way still be there, since one can be reminded of them.

  • some say that consciousness is 'irreducible' - Bretano

  • not everyone agrees that our mental states are the product of purely physical phenomena (ie materialism vs dualism)

  • some people object to the idea that the information in our head about the world around us is merely a representation of the the world around us. This is on the basis that 'representations of qualitative experiences have no content, because there is no genuine property that they represent'.

  • intentionality - it is not possible to determine if when two people see the colour red, that they are having the same experience of redness (perhaps they are seeing green, but call it red). You cannot "get inside people's brains".

  • tests for consciousness - such as the Turing test - have been problematic (analytic behaviourism). This is because people can say that they have an experience pain, but not actually be experiencing it. (ie the Turing test can be gamed by clever fakes).

  • computational-representational theory of thought - as a research mechanism, is still in its early days, akin to the early days of chemistry, when they were proposing that elements consisted of some sort of atoms. (Note that we're not saying that computers have a mind, merely that they can behave in way that replicates a mental capacity: memory, perception, language-processing).

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  • For me, it is pretty hard to make sense of these seemingly arbitrary excerpts. On one hand, most of the points suggest that consciousness was never discussed before the 20th century and then, you have Descartes, who basically built certainty on self- consciousness 300 years earlier. The rather uncontroversial "having the capacity to perceive/represent the surroundings (and the own body)" - which does not necessarily imply self- consciousness, ie. the capacity to represent/perceive myself as being in my surroundings (having an "I") - is completely ignored.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Mar 28 at 15:58
  • Thanks @Philip that’s helpful. Can you help me understand, if it is uncontroversial, why it is part of the ‘unsolved problem’? Are you saying that having the capacity to perceive surroundings does not imply you have self-perception? (I ask from the perspective of neurology and engineering)
    – hawkeye
    Mar 28 at 20:36
  • For consciousness, we need a central nervous system and a brain in which sensual informations are brought together and processed. Would you say that a mouse is not aware of its surroundings and that it does not have phenomenal experience? On the other hand, would you say it is self-aware in the sense of thinking about itself and its experiences? I think that difference is a natural and crucial one, as it was at least some hundred years before the 20th century.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Mar 28 at 20:59

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