Is Consciousness Really Such a ‘Hard Problem’?

Not if we are willing to accept that it is built into the fabric of the universe.

Craig Axford

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Photo by Sasha Freemind on Unsplash

Consciousness is, for many philosophers, considered a baffling mystery. The philosopher David Chalmers is commonly credited with labeling consciousness the “hard problem.” In his book The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory, he writes:

Conscious experience is at once the most familiar thing in the world and the most mysterious. There is nothing we know about more directly than consciousness, but it is far from clear how to reconcile it with everything else we know. Why does it exist? What does it do? How could it possibly arise from lumpy gray matter?

Elsewhere Chalmers contends:

It [consciousness] is not something that one would have predicted from the other [material] features alone. That is, consciousness is surprising. If all we knew about were the facts of physics, and even the facts about dynamics and information processing in complex systems, there would be no compelling reason to postulate the existence of conscious experience. (Emphasis added)

Chalmers finds consciousness so difficult because he, like so many of his contemporaries and others before him, is starting from the premise that consciousness arises from matter in some mysterious way once matter achieves sufficient complexity. When you start from this premise, it is indeed hard to see why consciousness should result from a critical mass of otherwise unconscious matter. Indeed, as Chalmers rightly points out, so far at least it has proven impossible to explain.

We see the same premise that has tripped up everyone from Rene Descartes to David Chalmers making an appearance in Edward John’s recent article here on Medium entitled Three Reasons God Cannot Possibly Exist. Reason #1, according to John, is the “human race is a flawed species.” Reason #2, “Most animals need to murder other animals.” Reason #3, “Consciousness cannot exist alone.”

Whether a god(s) does or does not exist is beyond the scope of this essay. Nonetheless, Edward John’s third reason “God cannot possibly exist” — that “consciousness cannot exist alone” — caught my attention. It is offered to us here as a…

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Craig Axford

M.A. in Environment and Management and undergraduate degrees in Anthropology & Environmental Studies. Living in Moab, Utah. A generalist, not a specialist.