“Consciousness cannot be accounted for in physical terms. For consciousness is absolutely fundamental. It cannot be accounted for in terms of anything else.”*…
As a neuroscientist, I am frequently asked about consciousness. In academic discourse, the celebrated problem of consciousness is often divided into two parts: the “Easy Problem” involves identifying the processes in the brain that correlate with particular conscious experiences. The “Hard Problem” involves murkier questions: what are conscious experiences, and why do they exist at all? This neat separation into Easy and Hard problems, which comes courtesy the Australian philosopher David Chalmers, seems to indicate a division of labor. The neuroscientists, neurologists and psychologists can, at least in principle, systematically uncover the neural correlates of consciousness. Most of them agree that calling this the “Easy Problem” somewhat underestimates the theoretical and experimental challenges involved. It may not be the Hard Problem, but at the very least it’s A Rather Hard Problem. And many philosophers and scientists think that the Hard Problem may well be a non-problem, or, as Ludwig Wittgenstein might have said, the kind of problem that philosophers typically devise in order to maximize unsolvability.
One might assume that as a neuroscientist, I should be gung-ho to prove the imperious philosophers wrong, and to defend the belief that science can solve any sort of problem one might throw at it: hard, soft, or half-baked. But I have become increasingly convinced that science is severely limited in what it can say about consciousness. In a very important sense, consciousness is invisible to science…
Yohan John on “Why some neuroscientists call consciousness ‘the C-word’.” Via the always-illuminating 3 Quarks Daily.
* Erwin Schrödinger
As we muse on mind, we might spare a thought for Mary Whiton Calkins; she died on this date in 1930. A psychologist and philosopher, Calkins studied psychology at Harvard as a “guest” (since women could not officially register there in her day). Though she completed all requirements for a doctorate, and had the strong support of William James and her other professors, Harvard still refused to grant a degree to a woman. She went on to become the first prominent woman in her fields: After leaving Harvard, she established the first psychology laboratory at a women’s college (Wellesley), and later became the first female president of both the American Psychological Association and the American Philosophical Association.