Chalmers begins his argument by exploring the subjectivity of consciousness and the issue of using current objective scientific analysis to investigate it. He starts this by presenting the history of the study of consciousness and states that neuroscience researchers shunned research on consciousness because they could not study such a subjective field using the objective laws of science. Around the same time psychologists refused to study the field as well because of the behaviorist movement, which concentrated on external behavior and did not accommodate the study of internal processes. But, even after the rise of cognitive science the question of consciousness and its origins inside of the brain were not explored.
Over the past decade or so this trend began to change and the search for the origin of consciousness has been a new field of research. Chalmers argues that science alone cannot answer this question and that philosophical reasoning is essential to understanding the question at hand. In order to present his argument Chalmers then begins an exploration of the common philosophical viewpoints regarding consciousness such as reductionism and mysterianism.
Chalmers comes out right from the gate and argues that a reductionist view cannot fully answer the question of consciousness because “the tools of neuroscience cannot provide a full account of conscious experience.” But, he does not do the same for mysterianism. Instead, Chalmers states “consciousness might be explained by a new kind of theory. The full details of such a theory are still out of reach.” He proposes that such a theory will need to include new “fundamental laws” and that the concept of information, which he later explores in depth, will “play a central role.”
In order to get into the crux of the argument of consciousness Chalmers states that the problem of consciousness can actually be separated into two problems, the easy and the hard. The easy problems of consciousness are questions that surround the “objective mechanism of the cognitive system.” Chalmers also argues that these easy problems will in no doubt be answered by neuroscience and psychology and that all current research on consciousness only address the easy problems.
The hard problem of consciousness is defined as “how physical processes in the brain give rise to subjective experience.” Chalmers further defines the hard problem as being involved with the “inner aspect of though and perception: the way things feel for the subject.” To support the separation of the two problems of consciousness Chalmers utilizes Frank Jackson’s thought experiment of Mary, a hypothetical neuroscientist who is the leading researcher on color vision. Mary knows everything about color, except what color actually looks like due to the lack of experiencing color. Therefore, she is not conscious about color. This thought experiment then poses the question of whether or not a conscious experience can be achieved from merely understanding everything about an objective physical experience. Such an argument is Chalmers Segway into how physical processes accompanies consciousness. Therefore, it is the question about how these two integrate, physical processes and conscious experience, is the hard question of consciousness. Whereas, simply understanding the process of just the objective experience is the easy question.
Chalmer then try’s to explore an answer to the question between information integration and conscious experience through neuroscience. I personally found Chalmers investigation of Crick and Koch’s hypothesis of consciousness arising from cerebral cortex oscillations to be extremely interesting. Their hypothesis addresses how information can be bound together and integrated simultaneously within the brain and how it would reflect on subjective experience. However, Chalmers claims that this does not answer the crux of the problem and once again only addresses only the easy question at hand. To this I disagree, although Crick and Koch don’t believe that the problem can be solved by science, I believe that this is potentially the closest a theory of consciousness presented in this paper gets to addressing the hard problem. The approach by defining meaning as deriving it “from the linkages among representations which spread throughout the cortical system in a vast association network” results in a functional representation of how an objective experience can result in a subjective response. By the previous statement I mean to support their assertion that “the more diverse the connections, the richer the meaning” of the experience. But, I do support that this does not answer the entire problem, rather it serves as a foundation.
Chalmers idea that a complete theory of consciousness one that constitutes physical laws, and psychophysical laws is what I believe to be the answer to the problem. Such a theory must incorporate Crick and Koch’s ideas as the basis for the physical laws. But, I disagree with Chalmers belief that we can potentially begin to understand the psychophysical laws by relying “on indirect information, such as subjects descriptions of their experiences.” I disagree with this proposed exploration based off of Nagel’s “what it’s like to be a bat.” Nagel makes it rather clear that understanding consciousness cannot stem from trying to fully understand the consciousness of another because we are limited by our own conscious experience.
However, I do understand Chalmers position on the psychophysical laws and his proposed objective description experiment. Through his definition of “awareness” and his rough outline of the psychophysical law that “where this is awareness, there is consciousness, and vice versa” is what makes his proposal understandable, but I do not agree with it. Rather I find Chalmers idea of the principle of organizational invariance to be more logical and a better argument for psychophysical law. This is the belief that physical systems with the same organization and therefore function of the human brain can experience consciousness. Therefore, it can be concluded that consciousness “is a simple and elegant set of [high-level] fundamental laws,” primarily involved with the concept of information.