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From everything I've ever seen about the “Hard Problem of Consciousness”, the issue is that materialists and physicalists presume a different question and answer that one instead.

I feel like the two parties are talking across each other. What I would like to know is whether this is what philosophers think too.

Q1: Do dualists or other monists (consciousness, ideal) reply to phenomenal descriptions of consciousness by saying, “Youre not actually answering the hard problem.” ?

The second less rigorous question is about the disjoint itself.

Q2: Am I capturing what it is they are said to be missing? Alternatively, the second question might even be, “Would philosophers agree with, and even make, the distinctions I make?” about the hard problem.

An angle of the second question is whether this is ultimately an ontological question, almost exclusively. Do my comments below capture the way in which respondents would push back?

(Please don’t downvote this just because you can divine what I believe. These very distinctions are exactly what’s not known by armchair philosophers.)


Hard Problem:

How do you explain that first-person, subjective consciousness as a raw, fundamental ontology is here? That qualia exist with their very own raw being, separate from the physical measurables.

The hard problem is not simply that “We are super complex so how can matter be doing a human?” That's the easy problem.

Dennett and others then proceed with ever more complex (and possibly even more accurate) physical models/descriptions of biological functioning, mechanisms of the processing of perception, etc.

Dennet has most recently been saying we are like a trillion little robots who “accomplish” consciousness or elsewhere he says “gives rise to”.

However, no philosophical dualist (nor monist idealist) is arguing that it cannot be “accomplished” by the trillion robots. They want to know what you mean by “accomplished by”. Are they 1: just different names for the same thing (the trillions of robots and the subjective experience) or are they 2. in cause-and-effect relation (as normally implied by “accomplished”) within a single ontological category, or does 3. this causation somehow cross ontological categories?

If 1 or 2, then it directly defies our personal data to claim they are the same ontology. If 3, then how does it cross? (If in your world, the color red is less real than cone and rods cells, then I can’t imagine that.)

Q3: Would addressing those numbered questions answer the problem? Is that the kind of thing people say? I imagine many readers of this question will want to argue that it doesn't miss the hard problem. That’s perfectly ok, but I am really asking what the philosophers who counter, who think it misses, would say. And if it matches some of the above or what?

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    Part of the hard problem is that there is no agreement on what the hard problem is. And all explanations supposed to clarify that must make presuppositions that already prejudge the approach, there is no neutral ground. You can read a sampling of philosophers' opinions on IEP, but you will not find much new there. All options 1-3 are in circulation, discussions hit the same dead ends. And philosophers especially are not very deterred by "directly defying personal data". That data (or rather what it's taken to mean) has been much discredited in recent centuries.
    – Conifold
    Aug 30 '21 at 22:43
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    The 'hard problem' of consciousness boils down to a single question: What does it mean to 'experience'? Empiricists have always had difficulty with this philosophical question because everything in empiricism is supposed to rest on sensory experience; they tend to fall into a recursive quandary about it. Some of the (more sophomoric) hard-liners write the problem off by fiat: asserting that sensory experience is mechanistic (by virtue of being 'sensory'), and that this 'mechanisticness' percolates up to the rest of consciousness. Turtles all the way down, if you follow me... Aug 31 '21 at 0:43
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    The responses to the zombie as a thought experiment illustrate that something has gone wrong deeply in the philosophical community at least with regards to HPC. Take the simply idea of someone remote controlling a dummy or a robot. The robot behaves as if it's conscious. A child would understand the question, "is the dummy conscious or not?". These types of scenarios play out in sci-fi shows all the time. People understand them perfectly. But the philosopher talks his way out of the question itself by saying the dummy's behavior IS consciousness itself. Or dismiss the question as incoherent. Aug 31 '21 at 2:04
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    @Conifold, do you think Dennett is genuine? Honestly I think he's trolling. Looking at this: youtube.com/watch?v=YeNKAyp4vTQ Dennett keeps repeating the same thing he's been saying for years. 'There's nothing here that requires explaining.' Keith gives the same response I would. It's hard for me to take Dennett seriously. Aug 31 '21 at 2:33
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    @AlBrown, I like the approach because at least it acknowledges that something needs to be changed in physics to allow for the relationship between matter and consciousness. I agree with Penrose's reasoning that the brain is somehow exploiting physics we have not figured out yet that allows for the matter-consciousness connection. I don't like the "consciousness is high level feature of matter" approaches. As far as the actual scientific merits (how closely it fits evidence etc.) I don't know. Aug 31 '21 at 3:06
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My 2 cents and then some.

The "hard problem" is really hard, I would say insoluble only for a certain point of view. The point of view that some refer to (Galen Strawson1, for example) as physicSalism (in contrast to physicalism).

Physicalism, according to Strawson accepts that experience is physical and irreducible (a basic fact of physical reality).

On the other hand, physicSalism wants to reduce experience to whatever one would like to see as more basic, eg charge or mass , etc.

There are serious arguments against proposals such as emergence, for this to happen.

Now this situation is really hard,.

So the hard problem is actually hard for some approaches, for other approaches is in fact a non-problem.

But the fact of a formulation of such problem in the first place, implies that subjective experience is there and anyone can attest to it in 1st person.

  1. Realistic Monism: Why Physicalism Entails Panpsychism, by Galen Strawson

ADDENDUM

Consider Newton's 2nd Law: f = ma.

This mathematical relation is the basis of the current scientific paradigm.

What does it mean really?

It relates force to acceleration (and vice-versa). In some sense it relates cause and effect (force being the cause, acceleration being the effect). For every force applied there will be such and such acceleration as outcome.

But the opposite is also true, for example in non-inertial frames of reference, acceleration in fact induces force (sometimes caled apparent forces, but as real as any force can be).

Moreover the relation has been used as the general definition of force, or simply as an operational relation.

So what gives? Can it be said that force is reduced to acceleration, or not?

Suppose now that a future experiment leads to the formulation, resembling the best of current scientific paradigm, that: e = mx. e being some "quantity of experience" and x being some other quantity.

Does the formulation of such scientifically impeccable relation justify reductionist position of experience or non-reductionist position?

I am of the opinion that such relations (if ever found) can be used to justify any of the two positions and becomes a matter of dominant interpretation (as has been the case, for example, in Quantum Mechanics).

What all this wants to illustrate, is that the debate may simply be lost in translation, as there can be outcomes which are perfectly valid according to current scientfic paradigm, yet can be interpreted in completely different ways.

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  • Yes excellent point at the end. I didnt know about physicsalism. I used to be an almost aggressive materialist. What finally did me in was trying to explain true as opposed to false, then explain what a statement or claim is (where it is, what it is) if only matter exists. For me, correspondence failed to capture it. Realized assertions cannot exist, true and false cannot exist, knowing cannot exist. This now seems so solid and obvious to me. Beyond that, I dont know what reality is. But if it is only physical, no one can say so or know it and there is no truth, so physicalism isnt even true.
    – Al Brown
    Nov 3 '21 at 4:17
  • Added the reference, check it out.
    – Nikos M.
    Nov 3 '21 at 8:29
  • You may be interested in this
    – Nikos M.
    Nov 3 '21 at 8:37
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The problem of subjective experience is best divided into two very different questions. First, whether subjective experience exists; and second, if it does, how to explain it in terms of something else and then what.

Many people who seem to be what I call "hardcore materialists" simply deny that subjective experience exists. One way they do that is by asking for a definition of subjective experience. Given that the problem is to explain subjective experience, there is no definition. The only way to identify it is in the same way as you would identify the Moon in the sky by pointing your finger at it, but in the case of subjective experience, it doesn't seem possible to do that. Instead, it is for each of us to privately identify our own subjective experience, and people who cannot or are unwilling to do that can be safely ignored.

The second way to deny that subjective experience exists is to claim that it is illusionary. But illusionary to what? Thus, although it is an absurd argument, many people use it. It is difficult to decide whether these people are particularly obtuse or somehow do not have subjective experience, however surprising that would be.

So, people who one way or the other claim that subjective experience does not exist are best ignored. This leaves only the hard problem of finding a plausible explanation for the existence and characteristics of subjective experience. Personally, I am happy to leave this problem unresolved because I have no good reason to believe that the humain brain should be able to solve it. There is another problem in this category, and this is the problem of explaining the existence and characteristics of reality, reality as a whole, as such. Like for subjective experience, there is no possible explanation. The brain is the result of natural selection and there is no reason to expect it can solve metaphysical problems. We have the brain that we have because it can solve the myriad problems we can face as a living organism in our natural environment. Metaphysical questions may be funny but they are a waste of time.

We should also no confuse the problem of explaining subjective experience and the problem of explaining the information contents of the human mind. Every human being intuitively understands that what happens in his or her mind is intimately connected to what happens in the material world. Hit first your finger hard with a hammer before daring to object to that. So we all know or understand that the contents of our own mind is most plausibly entirely explainable in terms of the physical world. This will be a difficult problem to solve, but not quite as hard as the hard problem of consciousness. The real question, therefore, is to explain the quality of subjective experience, hence the word "qualia" used to help people understand what the question is about. There is no more reason that we should be able to answer this question than we should be able to explain reality in terms of something else.

Still, I understand that philosophers are not going to stop pretending they have something meaningful to say on the subject. Most metaphysical questions were already known and discussed by philosophers in antiquity, certainly in Ancient Greece, and we are still shaking the same empty box just in case something suddenly dropped out.

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    Thanks. Thats all good. Esp liked the dismissal of people who deny it exists and the point your finger at the moon. It’s more obvious and real than matter. If by real I mean it is. Not “is correct” or “is accurate”. So illusory isnt an answer. “Illusory to what” as you say.
    – Al Brown
    Sep 1 '21 at 5:39
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    “..we are still shaking the same empty box just in case something suddenly dropped out.“ Lol. Love that. But Im not so pessimistic. For one thing I dont know enough to know how true that is. Easy for a novice or beginner to think experts are full of baloney. But I know for sure in some other fields that experts absolutely are, so it’s not impossible. Secondly, I do know things are more rigorously defined and stated. That said Ive also seen some big-time repeat. For now my opinion of the field is positive. Not that anyone cares. Theyre way to sure of atheism though, as most in academia
    – Al Brown
    Sep 1 '21 at 7:28
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    @AlBrown "Thanks" You're welcome. 2. "Theyre way to sure of atheism though, as most in academia" What is the connection that the question of the existence and characteristics of subjective experience has with theism? Sep 1 '21 at 11:46
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    Speakpigeeon writes: "The real question, therefore, is to explain the quality of subjective experience". I don't know for sure if you are trying to say that this is the real "hard problem of consciousness". But if you are, your choice of words is especially asking for confusion. The "quality" of consciousness — its specific manifestations under various circumstances — is what Chalmers has appropriately termed "the easy problem" (not that it's truly easy). The hard problem is emphatically not to explain the "quality" of consciousness, but rather to explain its existence. Sep 21 '21 at 0:02
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    People denying subjective experience exist, because they cannot point at it in 3rd person, commit 2 mistakes: a) category mistake, b) scientific insincerety
    – Nikos M.
    Nov 3 '21 at 8:51
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the issue is that materialists and physicalists presume a different question and answer that one instead.

I feel like the two parties are talking across each other.

They are all on the same page but they propose different solutions. Will any solution suffice, however? That is important.

Q1: Do dualists or other monists (consciousness, ideal) reply to phenomenal descriptions of consciousness by saying, “Youre not actually answering the hard problem.” ?

The hard problem only arises if you accept the gap between matter and mind. The Hard Problem is the artefact largely rooted in Cartesian dilemmas, as explained by Chalmers.

For a large majority of monists, there is no Hard Problem to start with and this is the solution.

The two common variants of monism are idealism and physicalism. The former says All is Mind, the latter All is Matter. The hard problem does not arise for monists who are reductionists; materialists such as Dennett, Papineau, or idealists like Kastrup. (There is also neutral monism, i.e. that of Donald Davidson or Baruch Spinoza, or that of panpsychism.)

Dualists and non-reductionists are the "gappists". They think there is seemingly an unsurpassable gap between the matter and mind and we cannot grasp how a pack of neurons can produce a mind. Those philosophers sometimes introduce another property of matter, or a whole new substance to account for consciousness.

The critique from monists–those who deny the gap–is that, if you have put yourself in this losing position where you make such a claim, then you can never make any progress. You made the gap mystical, ineffable and unsurpassable. You might never be able to answer the question, nor make any scientific progress towards it if you accept no solutions from the only ones which are available. D. Dennet, for instance, claims that we should proceed and only answer the "important" hard questions, which are also extremely hard but are the only questions we might meaningfully answer. Perhaps, he says, we should exhaust the existing possibilities and only then pose "magical" stuff (Churchlands, Dennett). The critique from idealist monists is also prevalent:

The hard problem of consciousness is not a problem that needs to be solved, for it doesn’t exist in any objective sense. It is merely an internal contradiction of the reasoning behind metaphysical materialism, a conceptual short-circuit that arises as we logically work out the implications of the materialist conception of matter. 1

In idealists' eyes, this is not a real problem.

Q2: Am I capturing what it is they are said to be missing? Alternatively, the second question might even be, “Would philosophers agree with, and even make, the distinctions I make?” about the hard problem.

I have "pushed back" a little, as you see. Philosophers either do or don't accept the hard problem (but they all agree on its definition).

Dennett and others then proceed with ever more complex (and possibly ever more accurate) physical models/descriptions of biological functioning, mechanisms of the processing of perception, etc.

Dennet has most recently been saying we are like a trillion little robots who “accomplish” consciousness:

Elsewhere he says “gives rise to”.

Not necessarily. Dennet doesn't just give more complex descriptions. Dennett tries to have a theory of consciousness having existing (however limited) resources. Other illusionist philosophers like K. Frankish, the Churchlands, or neuroscientists like Michael S.A. Graziano, Anil Seth also have different solutions and theories which try to explain the "hard question" (not a hard problem).

(Since you mentioned Dennett, he is essentially a first-wave identity theorist (Read: Introduction section from "Illusionism"), but those philosophers had to differentiate themselves from second-wave identity theorists that sometimes proposed additional quasi-states which are not directly observed via empirical sciences (Papineau).)

For Dennet, in his Multiple Draft model, mature consciousness is achieved through the brain implementing a so-called Joycean Virtual Machine, which is a specific operating system software in the brain that has the linguistic capacity. It implements and controls self-monitoring and self-narrative, essentially producing what we call self-consciousness. As you see this is a theory that hypothesises a concrete software-like faculty in the brain "giving rise" to consciousness. It does not propose additional ontological property aside from what we know from natural sciences.

However, no philosophical dualist (nor monist idealist) is arguing that it cannot be “accomplished” by the trillion robots.

They do, of course, argue that it cannot be accomplished. For example, those philosophers use Searle's Chinese Nation and Chinese Room experiments against Dennett's claim. Those thought experiments were meant to invalidate "trillion robots claim".

Idealists also deny that "trillion robots" can achieve it. For idealists, it is completely the other way around than how Dennett has it. Mind is the ontological primitive. Your mind is projecting (representing) itself into the phenomenal world. It can be the intellect faculty that is projected (represented) as the prefrontal cortex or the emotional states (qualias) that are represented as your Endocrine system, and so forth. For monist idealists, Dennett's claim is backwards as the trillion neurons are just the pixels of your desktop screen through which you see everything. It is Mind that makes them, not the other way around.

Q3: Would addressing those numbered questions answer the problem? Is that the kind of thing people say?

Since I think I answered your questions already I will ask another question, as an exercise of "pushing back".

The very question is, instead, whether any answer to the problem would satisfy a sceptic*? Is there any explanation that could eliminate the gap for sceptics? I doubt that. This is why reductionism will not succeed even if it is true that there is no gap because people would simply not accept these claims. That is an impossible situation.

*- i.e. Dualist or non-reductionist.

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  • +1 for pushing back on dualism. Certainly Dennett via Ryle would endorse!
    – J D
    Dec 13 '21 at 21:20
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Since Dennett doesn't believe in mind, it's not surprising that he thinks of humans as 'robots'. Personally, I think this is a good reason not to believe in Dennett: his solution is worse than the problem.

The hard problem is to explain mind, no one has done a good job of it. Chalmers, who popularised the the hard problem in recent times says he was forced to panpsychism, this is an admixture of mind and matter. But this position was already explained in Plato's Timeaus where nous (intellect) and ananke (necessity, or the abstract principle of matter) intermingled to create the universe. Democritus - the inventor of atoms - who is usually seen as a hard materialist by his modern readers also picked up on this through his notion of 'soul atoms' and the early modern incarnation of this is Leibniz's monads.

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    I find posts a lot easier to read when they don't misspell names of famous philosophers and names of famous pieces of philosophy. Oct 23 '21 at 17:30
  • Dennett doesn't characterize people as robots. He characterizes the mind as emerging illusorily from an assembly of neurological components devoid of intentionality. Dennett gets together every year with his religious friends at Christmas and sings hymns to celebrate life. This is not the practice who believes humans are robots.
    – J D
    Oct 29 '21 at 15:36
  • Great thoughts. Thank you
    – Al Brown
    Nov 3 '21 at 4:08
  • @Daniel Asimov: I have a hard time going back on my posts and editing them to journal level quality when I'm not paid for my time. Why don't you take that up with the management of stack exchange who are earning their millions on the unpaid labour of a large pool of volunteers? Or is that too difficult a job for you? Or is that because you'd be unpaid doing that particular job? Well now you see my point. Dec 12 '21 at 10:13
  • @J D: You're simply playing with words. When the mind is emerges "illusionary" then it doesn't exist as such. Illusion is akin to a lie or a trick. This is why mirages are described as illusions as they are a trick of the light. It's also why magicians tricks are described as illusions because they are done by tricky sleight-of-hand. Dec 12 '21 at 10:16
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I can recommend two relatively recent works on this issue.

One is Kim's Physicalism, or Something Near Enough. Kim discusses the last 60 years effort to try to fit consciousness into physicalism. His conclusion: the anti-physicalists have won the day. NONE of the physicalist "solutions" convinces anyone outside the small sliver of the advocates of that particular perspective. In other words, there is a wide consensus that all of the physicalist "solutions" are wrong except for one, but there is absolutely no agreement on which one that is ...

Kim, unfortunately, in his own personal proposal adopts a fusion approach to consciousness -- part of it is functional, and that part is reductive to neural identity theory (Kim admits that functional identity theory, if it is to be different from neural identity theory, is actually a function/matter dualism), and part is epiphenomenal qualia that are not physical. Why consciousness would have these two very different aspects, and how they would be so intertwined, and the rationale for one-way causation to qualia but not back-causation from them -- none of this is explained in the too-brief latter part of the book. But his explanation of the history of the problem is excellent.

I can also recommend Hankin's A Shadow of Consciousness. Haskins details the various problems discovered in the last 40-year effort to solve both the easy problem and the hard problem of consciousness. Interestingly, the failures to solve the easy problem have been almost as thorough as the failures to solve the hard problem. Recognizing goodness, and selecting for it, is a problem that logic systems flounder over. Hankins is a sympathetic summarizer, and proposes a set of possibly useful directions for both efforts to try next.

OK, trying to answer your three questions based on this background --

Q1: Do dualists or other monists (consciousness, ideal) reply to phenomenal descriptions of consciousness by saying, “You're not actually answering the hard problem.” ?

The actual answer is that it is not just dualists who reject the solutions -- competing materialists also do so. Specifically, the arguments are that there are refuting examples or test cases, that each of the proposed solutions fails to deal with. Eliminative reductionism, neural identity theory, functional identity theory, delusionism, dual aspect theory, epiphenomenalism -- each is rejected by their competitors for very good reasons -- not just by dualists.

The proposals generally admit there was an at least APPARENT hard problem, then generally propose a method to dissolve the problem. But when the method fails, the hard problem remains.

Q2: Am I capturing what it is they are said to be missing? Alternatively, the second question might even be, “Would philosophers agree with, and even make, the distinctions I make?” about the hard problem.

No, you leapt to a solution, when you said it was an ontological problem with qualia existing. Your summary:

How do you explain that first-person, subjective consciousness as a raw, fundamental ontology is here? That qualia exist with their very own raw being, separate from the physical measurables.

Can only be accepted by abandoning physicalism.

The hard problem is that we HAVE the immediate experience of qualia, and there appears to be no way to coherently reconcile/explain this with physicalism. Don't put your solution in the statement of the problem!

More questions:

Are they 1: just different names for the same thing (the trillions of robots and the subjective experience) or are they 2. in cause-and-effect relation (as normally implied by “accomplished”) within a single ontological category, or does 3. this causation somehow cross ontological categories?

Most physicalists assert 1. Many emergent non-reductive physicalists, and all epiphenomenalists, assert 2. 3 isn't physicalism, it is dualism. The most popular current dualism is emergent psycho-physical dualism, with two-way interaction. This is a non-spooky naturalist dualism.

Q3: Would addressing those numbered questions answer the problem? Is that the kind of thing people say? I imagine many readers of this question will want to argue that it doesn't miss the hard problem. That’s perfectly ok, but I am really asking what the philosophers who counter, who think it misses, would say. And if it matches some of the above or what?

Kim provided the best answer here. Physicalists have been treating the hard problem seriously for more than a century and most of them are honest enough to say that all of the rival physical theories (except for perhaps one ... ) fail to actually answer the hard problem. You will have a few dogmatists out there who insist their answer is definitive -- see Dennett as an example -- but their colleagues' consensus is that the dogmatists are wrong.

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  • I read Kim's book a while ago and his solution is similar to Ned Block's one, where raw qualias are analogue, whereas everything else that can be functionally explained (quantitatively) is functionalist. Forgive me, but in my view, this is no answer at all. His diagrams that use the Aristotlean-borrowed kind of causality (P1 -causes-> P2) are in my opinion wrong since we know that this is not at all the case that objects self-cause their consecutive states (P1 to P2) on the physical level (as in essentialism). Dec 13 '21 at 18:24
  • @bodhihammer -- Kim's "solution" is uncredible enough that it degrades the overall quality of the book. I mentioned it as a perhaps inappropriate tangent. The history and summary of consensus is what I cited the book for.
    – Dcleve
    Dec 13 '21 at 18:49
  • +1 Thanks for the link to Hankin's book. :D
    – J D
    Dec 13 '21 at 21:24

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