Friday, July 27, 2007

The genuine problem of consciousness

Jack, Robbins, and Roepstorff suggest (PDF here) that:
...popular conceptions of the problem of consciousness, epitomized by David Chalmers' formulation of the 'hard problem', can be best explained as a cognitive illusion, which arises as a by-product of our cognitive architecture. We present evidence from numerous sources to support our claim that we have a specialized system for thinking about phenomenal states, and that an inhibitory relationship exists between this system and the system we use to think about physical mechanisms.

The genuine problem of consciousness is a problem about explanation, but it isn’t the sort of problem that can be solved by a theory of consciousness. We have two different ways of understanding the mind: we can understand it as a physical mechanism, and we can understand it from a personal perspective. The problem is that contemporary scientific psychology aims almost exclusively at mechanistic explanations of the mind. This is, ironically, no less true of most supposed scientific theories of consciousness than it is of the regular business of experimental psychology and cognitive neuroscience. Yet, for reasons both intellectual and practical, mechanistic explanation is not enough on its own. We can’t understand the mind unless we can understand it for ourselves, from our own personal-level perspective. If we are right that physical and phenomenal concepts belong to fundamentally distinct networks, then it is a problem that may never be definitively resolved. Nonetheless, it is a problem we can make progress on, for even if these networks always remain distinct, they can still be integrated into a more coherent whole. The genuine problem of consciousness is the challenge of achieving this largescale integration of our conceptual scheme.
See Jack's website for responses to and commentaries on this paper.

1 comment:

  1. It strikes me as not saying much or really prescribing any action. Maybe it's something the authors think psychologists would do well to hear?