Three philosophical problems about consciousness

Ethical Record 107 (4):3-11 (2002)
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I am inclined to think that there are three basic philosophical problems that arise in connection with consciousness. (1) Existence. Why does sentience or consciousness exist at all? Why are we not zombies? (2) Intelligibility. Granted that consciousness exists, what is it? How is it to be explained and understood? On the face of it, there could be no greater mystery than that brains should somehow produce, or be, our states of awareness, our thoughts, feelings, perceptions and desires. What is so baffling and mysterious about consciousness is that each one of us knows it exists, and knows what it is, because we possess it, indeed we are it, in a certain sense; and yet, if we examine a conscious brain, we find such things as neurons and synaptic junctions, but nothing remotely like consciousness as we experience it. Consciousness is wholly apparent to the owner of the conscious brain, but bafflingly invisible and ineffable to everyone else. How is this familiar and utterly inexplicable stuff of consciousness to be explained and understood? (3) Brain-Mind Correlations. What possible explanation could there be for the way brain processes and sensations are correlated? In what follows I suggest solutions to two of these problems, and indicate why, in my view, the other problem has no solution, and thus does not deserve to be regarded as a legitimate problem.



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Nicholas Maxwell
University College London

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