As I browse about the web, I constantly run into the infamous “hard” problem of consciousness of Chalmers in one form or another.
Sometimes the problem comes from an unexpected source – people who are materialists who actually think they have the answer to the problem. Usually the problem is thrown up by idealists or dualists who are trying to demonstrate that the materialist cannot account for his/her own consciousness, hence there is no reason to take materialism seriously.
Previously I described the “hard” problem as an “unserious” problem. Chalmers’ enumerated a number of challenging but useful areas of scientific investigation in neuroscience that he called “easy” problems. These he contrasted with the “hard” problem of explaining how experience arises from physical processes. The “easy” problems are problems amenable to scientific inquiry. The “hard” problem will never be amenable to scientific inquiry because it is asking to explain subjective experience from an objective perspective. Let’s say we have perfected brain scans to the point that we can map absolutely every scan to subjective experience. Have we answered the “hard problem? I think not in Chalmers formulation because “there is also a subjective aspect”. You can’t explain subjectivity from the outside because it is inside the experience.
The “hard” problem, in a sense, is a gimmick, a trap for the materialist who is asked to explain subjectivity from the outside. The “hard” problem for the idealist is the really “hard” problem posed when Samuel Johnson kicked a rock and refuted Bishop Berkeley’s idealism by saying” “I refute it thus.”
Here I’d like to approach the “hard” problem is a slightly different way but one not incompatible with my previous views on the subject. Chalmers’ problem is actually of a class of problems which have no logical answer. They are meaningless problems. Let’s ask a question sometimes asked by clever children.
Why is there something rather than nothing?
We know there is no real answer to this question. We could appeal to God or something similar, but we know that just creates a new but logically equivalent question about why would there be a God rather than nothing. The only answer is a “turtles all the way down” answer.
Let’s take another question.
Why are the laws and properties of nature such that they are compatible with life and the world as we know it?
This you may recognize as the anthropic principle. This is almost the same question as the previous one. If the laws were different, we wouldn’t be here to ask the question. Any answer – let’s try God again – leads us again into a infinite regress. If we propose X as the answer, then the question becomes: Why X?
Now let’s pose the “hard” problem.
Why am I aware?
This is not how the “hard” problem is usually presented. It is usually presented as the problem of explaining experience from physical processes. This is really the “hard” problem in its simplest form. An answer to “why am I aware” would be an answer to the “hard” problem. If I wasn’t aware, I couldn’t ask the question. If I couldn’t ask the question, I wouldn’t be aware. This is the same as “why is there something rather than nothing” question, except the “something” has been replaced with my awareness.
Idealism thinks they have solved the problem by declaring experience fundamental but that is just shifting the problem. It is like answering “why is there something rather than nothing” by declaring “something” fundamental.
The why still remains.
Because there is no answer.