What is Chalmer's "Hard Problem of Consciousness" all about?

In philosophy of mind, the hard problem of consciousness is to explain why and how humans and other organisms have qualia, phenomenal consciousness, or subjective experiences."

"the hard problem argue that it is categorically different from the easy problems since no mechanistic or behavioral explanation could explain the character of an experience, not even in principle. "

Given the advances of the past years, this seem more and more contrived. An example of humans expecting nature to prove itself to us on our own terms. It’s quite hubristic.

After spending years, heck decades chewing on why Chalmer’s Hard Problem felt like fingernails ripping down a chalk board,
I’ve come to recognize Chalmer’s Abrahamic roots, via the proud millennia old heritage of philosophers grappling with the Being of God.
A mental landscape that contains an unrecognized undercurrent assumption of human uniqueness and Earth being bestowed upon us, for our utility.

A philosophical heritage where Earth and her other creatures are barely acknowledged, because, of course, it’s all about us.
Even though every shred of scientific evidence points at Earth being the womb and bosom of humanity. (There’s a big difference between a postcard and “being there”)

What Chalmers is demanded is that science answer the question of space between God’s finger and Adam’s finger. And that’s where he’s going to find his answer in his own mind - science has nothing to offer Chalmer’s ad hoc concoction, pretty though it may sound. Yes, it spawned plenty of profitable cottage industries, but popularity isn’t an indication of correctness.

In philosophy of mind, the hard problem of consciousness is to explain why and how humans and other organisms have qualia, phenomenal consciousness, or subjective experiences.

It is contrasted with the “easy problems” of explaining why and how physical systems give a (healthy) human being the ability to discriminate, to integrate information, and to perform behavioral functions such as watching, listening, speaking (including generating an utterance that appears to refer to personal behaviour or belief), and so forth.

The easy problems are amenable to functional explanation: that is, explanations that are mechanistic or behavioral, as each physical system can be explained (at least in principle) purely by reference to the “structure and dynamics” that underpin the phenomenon.[3][4][1]

Proponents of the hard problem argue that it is categorically different from the easy problems since no mechanistic or behavioral explanation could explain the character of an experience, not even in principle.

Even after all the relevant functional facts are explicated, they argue, there will still remain a further question: “why is the performance of these functions accompanied by experience?”[1] To bolster their case, proponents of the hard problem frequently turn to various philosophical thought experiments, involving philosophical zombies (which, they claim, are conceivable) or inverted qualia, or the claimed ineffability of colour experiences, or the claimed unknowability of foreign states of consciousness, such as the experience of being a bat.

Talk by Dr. Mark Solms - Jul 29, 2020 - NERV Online

David Chalmers’s (1995) hard problem famously states: “It is widely agreed that experience arises from a physical basis, but we have no good explanation of why and how it so arises.” Thomas Nagel (1974) wrote something similar: “If we acknowledge that a physical theory of mind must account for the subjective character of experience, we must admit that no presently available conception gives us a clue about how this could be done.”

This presentation will point the way towards the long-sought “good explanation” – or at least it will provide “a clue”. Prof Solms will make three points:

(1) It is unfortunate that cognitive science took vision as its model example when looking for a ‘neural correlate of consciousness’ because cortical vision (like most cognitive processes) is not intrinsically conscious. There is not necessarily ‘something it is like’ to see.

(2) Affective feeling, by contrast, is conscious by definition. You cannot feel something without feeling it. Moreover, affective feeling, generated in the upper brainstem, is the foundational form of consciousness: prerequisite for all the higher cognitive forms.

(3) The functional mechanism of feeling explains why and how it cannot go on ‘in the dark’, free of any inner feel. Affect enables the organism to monitor deviations from its expected self-states in uncertain situations and thereby frees homeostasis from the limitations of automatism. As Nagel says, “An organism has conscious mental states if and only if there is something that it is like to be that organism—something it is like for the organism.” Affect literally constitutes the sentient subject.

A bat feels like a bat and nothing else because it inhabit a bat’s body.

or the claimed unknowability of foreign states of consciousness, such as the experience of being a bat.

Of course it’s unknowable, it’s impossible to inhabits a bat’s body!!

And the bat can’t feel like anything but a bat, because its physical body creates its sense of self. How else could it be?

And we can’t feel like anything else because we possess our particular body with it’s experiences and circumstance.

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"the hard problem argue that it is categorically different from the easy problems since no mechanistic or behavioral explanation could explain the character of an experience, not even in principle. "

I believe that is a shallow perspective.
Penrose has a different take on the “hard problem” of “consciousness”.

Roger Penrose: “Consciousness must be beyond computable physics”

By Michael Brooks, 14 November 2022

The mathematician shares his latest theories on quantum consciousness, the structure of the universe and how to communicate with civilisations from other cosmological aeons.

During his long career, he has collaborated with Stephen Hawking to uncover the secrets of the big bang, developed a quantum theory of consciousness with anaesthesiologist [Stuart Hameroff](Stuart Hameroff - Wikipedia) and won the Nobel prize in physics for his prediction of regions where the gravitational field would be so intense that space-time itself would break down, the so-called singularity at the heart of a black hole.

Quantum Approaches to Consciousness

First published Tue Nov 30, 2004; substantive revision Thu Apr 16, 2020

It is widely accepted that consciousness or, more generally, mental activity is in some way correlated to the behavior of the material brain. Since quantum theory is the most fundamental theory of matter that is currently available, it is a legitimate question to ask whether quantum theory can help us to understand consciousness.

Several approaches answering this question affirmatively, proposed in recent decades, will be surveyed. There are three basic types of corresponding approaches: (1) consciousness is a manifestation of quantum processes in the brain, (2) quantum concepts are used to understand consciousness without referring to brain activity, and (3) matter and consciousness are regarded as dual aspects of one underlying reality.

more… Quantum Approaches to Consciousness (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Sorry, Penrose has turned into a crank. And we don’t need quantum theory to understand consciousness!

We do when it comes to “emergent” non-physical experiential phenomena.
It is at quantum level in the brain that the quantum processing and resulting expressions of sensory patterns acquire their emergent EM potentials that are experienced as “vision”. We know how easy it is to become colorblind. 1 in 10 men has more or less color perception impairment. When they use corrective glasses, they enter a NEW REALITY, just as Dorothy entered an IMAGINARY REALITY in Wizard of Oz.

It is truly amazing to see people become overwhelmed from the sudden brilliance of living things.
Or to see a 6 month old baby hear her mothers voice for the first time. It is remarkable to see the surprise of a voice appearing out of nowhere inside the baby’s head.
When I look closely I can empathize with the baby’s emotional responses. And I laugh and cry along with it’s journey of “discovery”.

You are outrunning your headlights.

Explain this quantum level of the brain?
Considering every interacting atom is a “quantum effect”.

Phenomenal Consciousness and Emergence: Eliminating the Explanatory Gap
Todd E. Feinberg1,* and Jon Mallatt2,*
June 12, 2020

The role of emergence in the creation of consciousness has been debated for over a century, but it remains unresolved. In particular there is controversy over the claim that a “strong” or radical form of emergence is required to explain phenomenal consciousness. In this paper we use some ideas of complex system theory to trace the emergent features of life and then of complex brains through three progressive stages or levels: Level 1 (life), Level 2 (nervous systems), and Level 3 (special neurobiological features), each representing increasing biological and neurobiological complexity and ultimately leading to the emergence of phenomenal consciousness, all in physical systems. Along the way we show that consciousness fits the criteria of an emergent property—albeit one with extreme complexity. The formulation Life + Special neurobiological features → Phenomenal consciousness expresses these relationships. Then we consider the implications of our findings for some of the philosophical conundrums entailed by the apparent “explanatory gap” between the brain and phenomenal consciousness.

We conclude that consciousness stems from the personal life of an organism with the addition of a complex nervous system that is ideally suited to maximize emergent neurobiological features and that it is an example of standard (“weak”) emergence without a scientific explanatory gap. An “experiential” or epistemic gap remains, although this is ontologically untroubling.

Keywords: animal consciousness, explanatory gap, evolution, complex systems, physicalism, neurobiology, weak emergence, multiple realizability

Now consider that thought images inside the brain contain pixels that still form the visual experience. In short, thought is an orchestration of quantum interactions.
ORCH-OR (orchestrated-objective reduction), by Penrose and Hameroff is one of several similar proposals, such as IIT (Integrated Information Technology)

What is the highest resolution humans can distinguish?

Simply put, an image on a 576-megapixel screen would be the clearest one for us to interpret. However, the “working process” of our eyes is not the same as a camera.Jun 19, 2023

more extensive;

Resolution of Human Eye: Unveiling the Secret


resolution of human eye
Just like cameras, our eyes capture everything around us, and - after a complicated process - we can see clear, beautiful images.

If our eyes have the same characteristics as cameras, you may wonder what’s the resolution of our eyes. Or perhaps, how many pixels is the human eye? The latest research publications have reached an exciting brand new conclusion, let’s find out together!

Yeah, as far as it goes, but PH takes it way beyond cells recognizing photons

That hasn’t gone far, dramatic stories, but few explanatory building blocks added these past decades.

It sounds to me like you are telling us we can understand human consciousness, by looking at the tiniest components?
I can’t buy that, they are real, but they are important basic components within all complex biology, but it’s the complex systems that will help us understand how the complexity is orchestrated.

We don’t even fully understand the macro-architecture of our brain yet, it continues to surprise and amaze experts. Still neuroscientists keep gathering up more pieces of actual biological evidence, understanding, that’s where our attention should be focused.

Penrose and Hameroff are speculators and peddlers of an intellectual dream, and continue to be decades after first making the sexy provocative leap.

It looks to very tiniest biological components to study consciousness,
But consciousness is a fundamentally a macroscopic reaction. Creatures having to deal with the physical surrounding within and around themselves.

Sure one could argument that microscopic creatures displaying awareness, consciousness, ect. If you wanted to push, because there the gap to microtubules gets ever smaller, yet remains significant. So, there is a that. Still all that gets lost in the sauce of the macroscopic world. Scale matters.

As soon as we zoom out to the Ediacaran and Cambrian, creatures get very complex. Every creature family unique onto themselves. Each having different shaped bodies offering different skills and weakness. Including different sets of sensors tailored and tuned to each creatures particular life style and circumstance.

We’re an outgrowth of that process, our consciousness is there to help our body navigate the day. The place you’ll find the answer is within that body, the sub-atomic matrix is too far away to matter much. Lost in the sauce, as they say.

That’s why I find someone like Mark Solms incomparably more enthralling, he’s got the receipts (as they say)

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Very nice summation.
I’d like to add, that it takes observation at the smallest scales in order to represent “detail” in our perceptions.

A very large numbers of small components allow for the simultaneous processing of large numbers of incoming data that is being orchestrated.

Sounds like we’re back at who’s orchestrating the symphony of consciousness.

Cue Dr. Mark Solms for a sobering introduction to the cutting edge of current understanding.

I’ve receive some questions/comments that I’d like to air out.

“The core difficulty is that consciousness defies observation.”

“You can’t look inside someone’s brain and see their feelings and experiences. Uniquely with consciousness, the thing we are trying to explain cannot be publicly observed."

“And if you scan their brain at the same time, you can try to match up the brain activity, which you can observe, with the invisible consciousness, which you can’t.” We know a lot about the basic chemistry: how neurons fire, how chemical signals are transmitted. And we know a fair bit about the large functions of various brain regions. But we know almost nothing about how these large-scale functions are realized at the cellular level.”

I reject this dismissiveness toward the evidence being gathered on a few grounds.

How much does the hunter know before taking down its pray? The hunter actually knows very little, but focuses on absorbing the most important information, drawing conclusions, then acting, significant parts of that process unfold under our consciousness.

In a world where close enough, is enough. Better understanding that process is what matters. I see Chalmers’ “Hard Problem” as a desperate attempt to keep Abrahamic attitudes of human exceptionalism on its pedestal.

I mean asking: Why does a bat feel like a bat? Without immediately answering, because a bat inhabits a bat’s body, within a bat oriented world.
What’s up with that?
Can anyone explain, where the philosophical mystery lies?

Because consciousness is not an observable phenomenon, the “why” question is not one we can make progress on with experiments.”

Why does that justify us squandering precious time, energy, resources on pointless unanswerable distractions off in the land of mental thoughts, meta-physical mirages, and human tendencies toward spiritual and magical thinking?

Why can’t philosophers ponder that the only serious understanding we can ever achieve about human consciousness (which is fundamentally an outgrowth of mammalian consciousness) is via physical science.

Philosophy can ask questions, but if the questions are impossible, or focused on trivial pursuits rather than real and pressing existential questions and challenges, what good is it?

Chalmers is basically asking Nature to prove itself to us, or we get to keep fiddling with metaphysical notions.

Rather focusing on better understanding the solid information we have at hand

“Most say conscious is not an observable phenomenon.”

Right, got it, that’s why I’ve formulated the simple equation:

physical reality ~ human mindscape divide


“Most say conscious is not an observable phenomenon.”

So what? Is that what this is about? Maybe are asking too much?

Scientists are probing thought processes with ever more fidelity. We can watch the electromagnetic evidence of various aspects of consciousness in action.

What more do philosophers want? To have Casper the ghost climb out of our body and present itself?

Where do we go from there? Why keep trivial questions at the top of the intellectual mountain? Simply to keep our need for Abrahamic human exceptionalism alive?

Biological neurological studies are providing plenty of evidence. I mean evidence that makes excellent fodder for some truly mystical personal adventures towards better understanding your own body and the self that it produces, along with a little help of the world around you personally.

We can’t understand our selves, without gaining a better understanding of this body that host your “me, myself, and I”

That why we individually really need to achieve some solid scientific background, before going off on the adventure of trying to grasp the consciousness brass-ring.


Ask Mark 5.5 - Difference between agency and free will

Question: "In the first video “Agency” is likened to “Free Will”.

Would you agree the two are different - agency being the capacity to make decisions and act accordingly, consciously or otherwise, and arising from causal chains of thought which in turn, are the product of brain biochemistry;
and free will being a more abstract concept carrying some implication of moral judgment?

Actually, does free will even exist?"

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