Tag Archives: hard question

Get rid of the magic

I have difficulty with the reaction of many people to the idea that consciousness is a process of the brain. They say it is impossible, consciousness cannot be a physical process. How can that vivid subjective panorama be the product of a physical process? They tend to believe either some variety of dualism – consciousness is not physical but spiritual (or magical), or consciousness is a natural primitive – a sort of state of matter/energy that objects possess more of less of (another sort of magic). Or they fudge the issue by believing it is an emerging aspect of physical processes (kind of physical but arising by magic). I find explanations like these far more difficult than a plain and simple physical process in the brain (with no magic).

My question is really, “what would you expect awareness to be like?” “Have you a better idea of how to do awareness?” It would certainly not be numeric values. It would not be word descriptions. Why not a simulated model of ourselves in the world based on what our sensory organs can provide? Making a model seems a perfectly reasonable brain process with no reason to reject it as impossible. It sounds like what we have. But does it need to be a conscious model? (Chalmers’ idea of philosophical zombies assumes that consciousness is an added extra and not needed for thought.)

But it seems that consciousness is an important aspect of a shared simulation. It is reasonable to suppose that all our senses, our memory, our cognition, our motor plans, our emotional states, all contribute to create a simulation. And it is reasonable to assume that they all are responsive to the simulation, use it to coordinate and integrate all the various things going on in the brain so making our behaviour as appropriate as possible. If a model is going to be created and used by many very different parts and functions of the brain it has to be something like a conscious model – a common format, tokens and language.

There have been a number of good and interesting attempts to explain how consciousness might work as the physical process; and there have been a number of attempts to show that such an explanation is impossible. They pass one another like ships in the night. Agreement is not getting any closer. There is not even the start of a concensus and the reason is that one group will not accept something is a valid explanation if it include the magic and the other group will not accept an explanation that loses the magic. The hard question is all about the magic and not about anything else. The question boils down to how can consciousness be explained scientifically while including the magic? I hope that more and more science throws out the magic and the hard question and gets on with explaining consciousness.