Consciousness is subjective. We can't observe consciousness outside ourselves. I can't say whether another person is conscious or not, I just assume they are because they are similar to me.

Likewise, a computer may be conscious or not but we will never know because the effects of consciousness cannot be observed.

A computer will behave the same way - the way it is programmed to - whether or not it is conscious of what it is doing.

Likewise a human will behave the same way whether the person is conscious or not.

This makes it impossible to study consciousness in a subjective way and that is why there is no science of consciousness.

(Ofcourse we can correlate certain brian signals with certain feelings but it does say WHY this particular signal correlates to that feeling.)

So if that is the case, then how does the brain knows and thinks about consciousness ?

How does the brain detected consciousness?

How does my brain knows that I have consciousness?

I now think "why I have consciousness?".

But if brain is indifferent without consciousness, does that mean I should be still thinking

"why I have consciousness?"

Even without having consciousness?!!

  • Do we know that someone will behave the same way whether they are conscious or not? The possibility of philosophical zombies is still debated. And is the situation any different with gravity? We can correlate certain motions with certain massive bodies, but it does not tell us why these bodies cause these motions, only how. Similarly, correlating brain processes to conscious experiences can help us study consciousness. Finding precise neural correlates of psychological phenomena is the Holy Grail of modern neuroscience.
    – Conifold
    Oct 12, 2021 at 7:22
  • @Conifold a scathing critique of p-zombies can be found here: lesswrong.com/posts/fdEWWr8St59bXLbQr/zombies-zombies Essentially, the concept of p-zombies means that all our talk about p-zombies, if it is correct, is correct due to physical (brain) processes that have no causal interaction with consciousness itself. If p-zombie-ism is true, it becomes a pure and unexplained coincidence that p-zombie-ism is said to be true.
    – causative
    Oct 12, 2021 at 19:56
  • Because conceptual self-consciousness of language enabled beings, is built out of intersubjectivity, ie The Private Language Argument.
    – CriglCragl
    Oct 2, 2022 at 13:40

2 Answers 2


How can brain know about consciousness if it can't be observed outside ourselves?

The fact that we can talk about our own subjective experience as such, and about our qualia as qualia, seems to prove that it is not true that these things cannot be observed objectively. However, it is also probably mistaken to frame the problem as if it was an empirical question.

The problem of consciousness, the hard problem of consciousness, is fundamentally that there is nothing in our materialist model of the physical world which we could use to represent the quality of our subjective experience, i.e., our qualia. If we want to say that the physical world is made of matter, and that the properties of matter include mass, electric charge, magnetic field, etc., then none of these things appear to be appropriate to explain the quality of our subjective experience, i.e., our qualia.

We know ourselves, we know our own consciousness, or rather, our own consciousness knows itself. The material world that we know, however, is not the actual material world. Rather, what we know seems to be a model of the actual material world, presumably logically derived by our brain from the perception data it has about the world. However, the "symbols" used to represent in this model are nothing but our qualia themselves. Thus, I suspect that the real problem is essentially the old problem of self-reference, which would logically obviate the possibility of a rational articulation of qualia in terms of the actual material world.

Our rational explanations about the material world do not change this situation.

We know our qualia exist because we know them. We certainly believe that the actual material world exists, but it is equally clear that it is not really as we think of it. The only criterion deciding that the model of the material world produced by our brain is valid is that it should allow us to survive in the actual material.

A model does not need to be "realistic" to be effective and useful. We only need it to be useful. Thus, we cannot explain our qualia in terms of our model of the material world because our explanation would be self-referential. And we cannot explain our qualia in terms of the actual world because we don't know the actual material world at all.

This, however, is no problem. All we really need is to survive in the material world and it seems we do. To achieve survival, we don't seem to need to understand our qualia in material terms. All we need is to understand the material world in our own terms, which are our qualia. Seems to work.

The problem of consciousness is really the problem of the material world, namely, the fact that we cannot represent the material world in its own terms, i.e., in actual material terms. It would not be possible to represent atoms using actual atoms, for example, because we would have to represent an elephant as an actual elephant and it wouldn't fit into our brain. So, our brain can only use symbols and its own symbols, namely, as it is, our qualia. Our brain is the product of natural selection, so its function is probably limited to help us survive in the material environment, not to help us solve metaphysical questions that have probably no effect on our survival.

Stop the goose chase.


I argue philosophical zombies aren't a serious proposal, but tools of methodological scepticism to examine how we know what we think we know, here: Conceivability as an argument for possibility And solipsism here Is there anyway to prove things happen/exist if I'm not aware of them?

We can create convolutional neural networks for image identification, and be sure this is what brains do too - because things like optical illusions show us how we are doing equivalent sequential processing. The workspace theory of mind tells us that many processes in the brain are operating 'in the background', including getting integrated into the visual field (eg see Anil Seth's work), but compete for conscious attention and space in working memory if they don't match expectations - that seems to be what consciousness is for, the place for doing processes that can't or haven't yet been automated; for inputs that need reconciling together, or with memories and intentions. Split-brain procedures show us our brain hemispheres have distinct agency, they act largely together, but with subtly different focuses: one on integrating data about the environment and spatial thinking, and one on integrating data about the self. Plenty of work out there on the multi-agent model of mind now, like here.

We can then look at intersubjectivity, as arising with mirror neurons and visual-mimicry learning, extending through development of the neocortex for navigating social groups (Dunbar Number), and the self-model having a role in 'strange loops' that allows us to choose intentions not just based on our model of the world, but our model of ourselves: What's the importance of self-awareness? This fits with the Private Language Argument, which says your sense of being a 'cogito', the only truly knowable mind, is based implicitly on tools created by collective collaboration - words. So concepts like self, subjectivity, implicitly depend on and embody intersubjectivity, modes of life &c. Being an isolated free-floating mind is an illusion, you don't get to be that without childhood, enculturation. And sensory and social deprivation experiments support this, as we typically unravel without our networks and feedback. We can also see how causality is us projecting narrative identities, telling the stories of things, with associated cognitive biases: Is the idea of a causal chain physical (or even scientific)?

So although we are at very early days with experiments to synthesise minds, still we have a lot of clues. All I've mentioned so far, are part of the 'Easy Problems Of Consciousness'. But I would suggest The Hard Problem, qualia, is not a problem for science, and in fact is a pseudo-problem, see: Why do people make theories without predictive power?

For me the real promising development is not a 'science of consciousness', but Universal Constructor Theory, which attempts to unite the physics conception of information, and a fundamental ground-up understanding of what knowledge is, though understanding the role of counterfactuals. Discussed here: Is it the job of physics to explain consciousness? I would argue that just as convolutional neural networks show us how our brains process images, that this field is the route to the neural correlates of consciousness, by understanding information processing and knowledge manipulation from the ground up.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .