Can Science Explain consciousness? Toward a solution to the 'hard problem'

Abstract

For diverse reasons, the problem of phenomenal consciousness is persistently challenging. Mental terms are characteristically ambiguous, researchers have philosophical biases, secondary qualities are excluded from objective description, and philosophers love to argue. Adhering to a regime of efficient causes and third-person descriptions, science as it has been defined has no place for subjectivity or teleology. A solution to the “hard problem” of consciousness will require a radical approach: to take the point of view of the cognitive system itself. To facilitate this approach, a concept of agency is introduced along with a different understanding of intentionality. Following this approach reveals that the autopoietic cognitive system constructs phenomenality through acts of fiat, which underlie perceptual completion effects and “filling in”—and, by implication, phenomenology in general. It creates phenomenality much as we create meaning in language, through the use of symbols that it assigns meaning in the context of an embodied evolutionary history that is the source of valuation upon which meaning depends. Phenomenality is a virtual representation to itself by an executive agent (the conscious self) tasked with monitoring the state of the organism and its environment, planning future action, and coordinating various sub- agencies. Consciousness is not epiphenomenal, but serves a function for higher organisms that is distinct from that of unconscious processing. While a strictly scientific solution to the hard problem is not possible for a science that excludes the subjectivity it seeks to explain, there is hope to at least psychologically bridge the explanatory gulf between mind and matter, and perhaps hope for a broader definition of science.

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References found in this work

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