Okay. First, did you happen to notice, earlier?, Psychologists care less when patients’ problems are explained in biological terms. (Purely brain-based explanations inevitably dehumanize. The big problem is, they give us implicit permission to avoid emotional involvement.)
That is not a good beginning if a purely naturalist explanation is sought for the mind. One would expect a correct answer to lead to more engagement, not less.
Meanwhile, back to the Guardian:
Two decades later, we know an astonishing amount about the brain: you can’t follow the news for a week without encountering at least one more tale about scientists discovering the brain region associated with gambling, or laziness, or love at first sight, or regret – and that’s only the research that makes the headlines. Meanwhile, the field of artificial intelligence – which focuses on recreating the abilities of the human brain, rather than on what it feels like to be one – has advanced stupendously. But like an obnoxious relative who invites himself to stay for a week and then won’t leave, the Hard Problem remains. When I stubbed my toe on the leg of the dining table this morning, as any student of the brain could tell you, nerve fibres called “C-fibres” shot a message to my spinal cord, sending neurotransmitters to the part of my brain called the thalamus, which activated (among other things) my limbic system. Fine. But how come all that was accompanied by an agonising flash of pain? And what is pain, anyway?
Questions like these, which straddle the border between science and philosophy, make some experts openly angry. They have caused others to argue that conscious sensations, such as pain, don’t really exist, no matter what I felt as I hopped in anguish around the kitchen; or, alternatively, that plants and trees must also be conscious.
Can we start by not listening to any crackpots at all? How about, pain definitely exists, but if we don’t have a nervous system we don’t feel it?
We won’t even dignify the “gambling, or laziness, or love at first sight” crackpots with attention.
A person who needs that should acquire a bong pipe and listen to tales from evolutionary psychology.
But did Darwin maybe prove that we can’t solve the problem?:
Solutions have regularly been floated: the literature is awash in references to “global workspace theory”, “ego tunnels”, “microtubules”, and speculation that quantum theory may provide a way forward. But the intractability of the arguments has caused some thinkers, such as Colin McGinn, to raise an intriguing if ultimately defeatist possibility: what if we’re just constitutionally incapable of ever solving the Hard Problem? After all, our brains evolved to help us solve down-to-earth problems of survival and reproduction; there is no particular reason to assume they should be capable of cracking every big philosophical puzzle we happen to throw at them. This stance has become known as “mysterianism” – after the 1960s Michigan rock’n’roll band ? and the Mysterians, who themselves borrowed the name from a work of Japanese sci-fi – but the essence of it is that there’s actually no mystery to why consciousness hasn’t been explained: it’s that humans aren’t up to the job. If we struggle to understand what it could possibly mean for the mind to be physical, maybe that’s because we are, to quote the American philosopher Josh Weisberg, in the position of “squirrels trying to understand quantum mechanics”. In other words: “It’s just not going to happen.”
But then, as our Guardian writer points out, a hot alternative possibility is that everything is conscious. It has descended to this:
It is the argument that anything at all could be conscious, providing that the information it contains is sufficiently interconnected and organised. The human brain certainly fits the bill; so do the brains of cats and dogs, though their consciousness probably doesn’t resemble ours. But in principle the same might apply to the internet, or a smartphone, or a thermostat. (The ethical implications are unsettling: might we owe the same care to conscious machines that we bestow on animals? Koch, for his part, tries to avoid stepping on insects as he walks.)
Koch must get his meals from some source that does not depend on ridding agriculture of most insects. Also, your tie clips have been trying to tell you something for years.
Even a stalwart, as the article goes on to note, expects no answers:
Chalmers has no particular confidence that a consensus will emerge in the next century. “Maybe there’ll be some amazing new development that leaves us all, now, looking like pre-Darwinians arguing about biology,” he said. “But it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if in 100 years, neuroscience is incredibly sophisticated, if we have a complete map of the brain – and yet some people are still saying, ‘Yes, but how does any of that give you consciousness?’ while others are saying ‘No, no, no – that just is the consciousness!’”
The most reasonable conclusion is that they are all wrong, and that naturalism by definition will not help us understand consciousness. No new paradigm, no answers.
What great physicists have said about immateriality and consciousness
The human mind
Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose