Hard problem of consciousness

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Thinking hardly
or hardly thinking?

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The good, the bad,
and the brain fart
Come to think of it

The hard problem of consciousness is a problem in philosophy of mind proposed by philosopher David Chalmers:[1] the question of why any physical state is conscious rather than non-conscious, and why there is any subjective experience at all.

Chalmers holds that materialism, as conventionally interpreted, does not provide sufficient reason why subjectivity and conscious awareness should exist at all. He suggests that even after we have explained the functional, neuronal, and structural properties of the physical brain, we can still meaningfully ask the question, Why is it conscious? Many philosophers take this problem seriously. Physicist James Trefil notes that "it is the only major question in the sciences that we don't even know how to ask."

Other philosophers, e.g. Daniel Dennett, consider the entire issue misconceived.[2] Dennett presents the analogous "hard problem of vitalism" — which was only a problem if you first assumed that being alive rather than not alive was irreducible. The question presumes that "we don't know yet" somehow has special implications when it's consciousness in question, even though it doesn't create a particular hard problem for everything else we don't know yet.

Philosophers with an inclination to dualism then start assuming that since the question can be asked, it leads to philosophical zombies, consciousness or qualia as an irreducible basic of the universe (as Chalmers holds), etc. But just because a philosopher isn't personally convinced doesn't say anything about the universe outside his head, because humans are stupid.

See also[edit]


  1. Chalmers, D. "Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness". Journal of Consciousness Studies 2(3):200-19, 1995.
  2. Dennett, D. "Facing Backwards on the Problem of Consciousness." November 10, 1995.