The Physicalists’ Hard Problem of Consciousness

Physicalists realized decades ago that even a complete understanding of our physical brains could not by itself explain how subjective experience arises—a conundrum called “the hard problem of consciousness”. The hard problem arises because physicalists assume that good explanations are always reductionist in form—that they account for a phenomenon in terms of its subcomponents. And because they are physicalists, they also assume that these subcomponents must themselves be physical entities (e.g., neurons or neurotransmitters). If, however, we transcend these two physicalist assumptions (i.e., by acknowledging the possibility of explaining consciousness purely in terms of abstract entities, such as the information being processed by the brain, rather than in terms of the brain’s physical subcomponents) then the hard problem of an explanatory gap between physical brains and abstract consciousnesses disappears.

2 thoughts on “The Physicalists’ Hard Problem of Consciousness

  1. But why would it “feel like something” to be that information under standard physicalism? Not sure the Hard Problem is that easy…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We don’t know the answer to that question because we don’t have a good theory of consciousness. The Hard Problem refers to the explanatory gap between physical correlates and abstract/emergent qualia, which supposedly prevents us from creating such a theory. But that gap disappears if the theory is itself given in terms of abstract/emergent entities rather than physical correlates.


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