62 of 66 people found the following review helpful
An honest look at the "hard problem" of consciousness,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory (Philosophy of the Mind) (Hardcover)
The basic problem with any materialist theory of consciousness is that there is no room for consciousness to *do* anything -- it is caused by certain material processes but does not itself cause anything. The firing of a neuron can always be explained in terms of the firing of other neurons, the impingement of a photon on a photoreceptor, or some other objectively observable cause. At no point is it necessary to say that "this neuron fired because the brain it was part of had such-and-such a subjective experience". Thus consciousness is not logically necessary in our objective description of the material world, so we can at least conceive of a world where David Chalmers' zombie twin writes papers and books about the mind-body problem without ever having any subjective experience itself. This seems absurd but the absurdity is inherent in all the various flavors of functionalism or property dualism. And "new physics" won't change the picture at all -- string theory, quantum gravity, quantum multiverses, and any as yet unconcieved of physical theory are all simply more of the same kind of "ontological stuff" that we already have -- objective procedures for predicting the behavior of objectively measurable things.
Some functionalists attempt to make the problem go away simply by declaring conscious states a matter of definition -- "pain" is some set of states of an information processing system, "pleasure" is some other, etc. Thus whether a robot that makes a convincing whine when you hit it actually experiences pain is a matter of definition. Few would deny that there is indeed a correlation between neural states and subjective experience, but anyone who has actually experienced pain knows that it is more than a matter of definition -- your pain won't go away just because everybody else on the planet has redefined your neural state as pleasure.
Finally, substance dualism, for good reasons not considered seriously by most philosophers, doesn't solve any of the problems but merely hides them behind a black screen.
Chalmers recognizes the absurdities inherent in all theories of consciousness. He refuses to sweep the problems under a rug; he argues for a form of property dualism while being honest enough to point out that it leads to the bizarre conclusion that we puzzle about the nature of consciousness for reasons that have nothing to do with the fact that we actually *are* conscious. Like me you probably won't be willing to go as far as Chalmers wants to take you, but his book makes it plain that all the apparent avenues of escape lead to pitfalls at least as bad as the ones on the road he takes. If Chalmers is right, and consciousness must be added as an "extra feature" in our description of reality, it is devilishly hard to see how we will ever have a good theory of it. How will we be able to convincingly determine whether that poor robot really hurts?
The book is very clearly written; you don't need a formal education in philosophy to follow his arguments. Overall this is one of the best books on the mind-body problem I've read.
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Initial post: 12 Jan 2012 12:54:25 GMT
C. Beedle says:
What a refreshingly coherent & informative review. Thank you.
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