Are We Zeroing In on the Hard Problem of Explaining Consciousness?

Global workspace theory

What’s the difference between easy and hard problems of consciousness?

Philosophers David Chalmers at the Australian National University in Canberra, points out that “consciousness” is an ambiguous term since it can refer to a variety of phenomena. “Each of these phenomena needs to be explained, but some are easier to explain than others,” says Chalmers. “At the start, it is useful to divide the associated problems of consciousness into ‘hard’ and ‘easy’ problems. The easy problems of consciousness are those that seem directly susceptible to the standard methods of cognitive science, whereby a phenomenon is explained in terms of computational or neural mechanisms. The hard problems are those that seem to resist those methods.”

With that out of the way:

Consciousness is the “hard problem” in mind science: explaining how the astonishing private world of consciousness emerges from neuronal activity. Recent research using EEG (brain-wave sensing) and fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) measurements by Steven Laureys of the University of Liege offers evidence for the “global workspace theory,” and may also offer clues to the “hard problem” of how patterns of electrical activity give rise to our complex internal lives. […]

One way to think about Dr. Baars’ global workspace is to use a “theater” metaphor – but not the notion of a dualistic “Cartesian theater” (which assumes someone is viewing the theater) which is criticized by philosopher Daniel Dennett and others. In the theater of consciousness, a spotlight of selective attention shines a bright spot on stage. The bright spot reveals the contents of consciousness, actors moving in and out, making speeches or interacting with each other. Behind the scenes, also in the dark, are the director (executive processes), stagehands, script writers, scene designers and so forth. They shape the visible activities in the bright spot, but are themselves invisible. Baars’ theater is not located in a single place in the mind but distributed throughout it, nor is there a viewer distinct from what is being viewed.

h+: Are We Zeroing In on the Hard Problem of Explaining Consciousness?

(via Edge of Tomorrow)

Also check out the Wiki for UC Irving’s consciousness course.

1 Comment

  1. Justin Russell

    April 9, 2010 at 5:32 pm

    Fascinating stuff. Been meaning to pick up Chalmer’s book for some time, but been putting it off due to the nagging feeling that I won’t be able to understand what he puts forward.

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