The Mind Explained

A Concise Solution to the Hard Problem of Consciousness

Joshua Hehe


(Image Credit: Agsandrew/Shutterstock)

In 1995, a philosopher named David Chalmers described what he called the “hard problem” in contrast to the “easy problems”, like that of finding the neural correlates of specific states of consciousness. The former requires a complex explanation-based solution, while the latter requires simple correlation-based solutions. By doing this, Chalmers was able to articulate precisely why the easy problems are easy. It’s because all that is required for their solution is to specify a mechanism that can perform the function of mental phenomena such as perceptions and emotions. Thus, their proposed solutions, regardless of how complex or poorly understood they might be, can be entirely consistent with the materialistic conception of the body, specifically the brain. Then, in the classic blunder of thinking that correlation is analogous to causation, psychology is often erroneously reduced to neurology, based on illogical assumptions.

A big part of the problem is that people like to use the word “brain” as a synonym for the word “soul”, rather than for the word “body”. The thing is that the brain is physical in nature, not metaphysical. So, it makes no sense to do that, at all. This means that, along with accounting for the fact that the correlation of physiological activity does not equal the causation of psychological activity, any sufficient definition of consciousness must explain what qualia are, and this is no small task. As part of this, in philosophy and certain models of psychology, qualia are generally defined as individual instances of subjective, conscious experience. So, rather than asking what consciousness is, some philosophers ask why and how quale exist.

With that in mind, among philosophers of mind, the term quale refers to a specific property of a subjective experience: like the way a dog’s fur feels, the way a lightning bolt looks, or the way your own laughter sounds to everyone but you. With that being said, in the philosophy of mind, there are many different definitions of qualia. However, in general, the term simply refers to the experiential character of mental states. In other words, what it’s like to be a specific person, dog, bacterium, or whatever the case may be. It’s also important to understand how an impression grows into an…