Can conscious experience—feelings, phenomenal qualia, our ‘inner life’—be accommodated within present-day science?
Those who believe it can (e.g. proponents of physicalism, reductionism, materialism, functionalism, computationalism) see conscious experience as an emergent property of complex computation in networks of brain neurons. In these approaches consciousness is viewed as a higher order effect emerging from lower level, non-conscious entities.
Others believe consciousness cannot be accommodated within present day or future science. Cartesian dualists see consciousness and physical matter as separate and irreconcilable. A modern version of dualism is ‘mysterianism,’ or cognitive closure, which suggests that consciousness exists within science but cannot be understood by conscious beings, and we should stop worrying about it.
A third set of philosophical positions ascribes to consciousness (or its precursors) ontological status as a foundational component of reality. These positions (e.g. panpsychism, pan-experientialism, idealism) relate consciousness to irreducible (‘funda-mental’) components of reality, something akin to mass, spin or charge. These views take consciousness to be present in low level entities, in which—on some readings—they inherently contain a phenomenal nature or subjective experience (qualia). Consciousness or its ‘proto-conscious’ precursors are thus somehow built into the structure of the universe—a view that we might label pan-protopsychism.
OUR TWO MIND-BODY PROBLEMS
Sourced from http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s7971.html
SCHOPENHAUER famously called the mind-body problem a “Weltknoten,” or “world-knot,” and he was surely right. The problem, however, is not really a single problem; it is a cluster of connected problems about the relationship between mind and matter. What these problems are depends on a broader framework of philosophical and scientific assumptions and presumptions within which the questions are posed and possible answers formulated. For the contemporary physicalist, there are two problems that truly make the mind-body problem a Weltknoten, an intractable and perhaps ultimately insoluble puzzle. They concern mental causation and consciousness. The problem of mental causation is to answer this question: How can the mind exert its causal powers in a world that is fundamentally physical? The problem of consciousness is to answer the following question: How can there be such a thing as consciousness in a physical world, a world consisting ultimately of nothing but bits of matter distributed over space-time behaving in accordance with physical law? As it turns out, the two problems are interconnected–the two knots are intertwined, and this makes it all the more difficult to unsnarl either of them.
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