Professor Carlos Montemayor
September 14, 2013
In this paper, we will be discussing the two problems of consciousness. The first problem is the easy problem of consciousness, which explains experience as a by-product of physical functions, thus, experience does not need to have an ontological distinction from physical states since it can be explained epistemologically through the explanatory scope of physical knowledge. The second is the hard problem of consciousness, which boils down to this: materialism is not sufficient enough to explain the phenomena of experience, moreover, there is an epistemic gap and an ontological gap between consciousness and physical states. In this paper, my goal is to argue how materialism does a poor job in explaining the hard problem of consciousness and how type D dualism does a better job at handling the problem.
Arguments Against Materialism
In the first part of the paper, I will give arguments for and against materialism. First, I will present two arguments that Chalmers holds that I believe are powerful arguments against materialism: the knowledge argument and the epistemic argument. The knowledge argument presents the case that there are facts about consciousness distinct from physical facts. There are two forms of this argument used by Chalmers, the first form uses the analogy of a neuroscientist named Mary who knows all physical facts, but has been in a black and white room for all her life and never experienced red. The argument is as follows: 1. Mary knows all the physical facts. 2. Mary does not know all the facts. 3. They physical facts do not exhaust all the facts.
The second form of the argument is as follows: 1. There are truths about consciousness that are not deducible from physical truths. 2. If there are truths about consciousness that are not deducible from physical truths, then materialism is false. 3. Materialism is false.
Arguments such as these can be summed as epistemic arguments against materialism, which are like such: 1. There is an epistemic gap between physical and phenomenal truths. 2. If there is an epistemic gap between physical and phenomenal truths, then there is an ontological gap (there are non-physical facts), and materialism is false. 3. Materialism is false.
Now that we looked over arguments against materialism, we will now succinctly examine some materialist positions and how they do not work.
Potential Arguments for Materialism
Type A Materialism
The type A materialist holds the notion that there is no epistemic gap, and moreover, denies the true problem of consciousness. From the knowledge argument, the type A materialist would attack the first premise, “There are truths about consciousness that are not deducible from physical truths.” Right from the get-go, the type A materialist quickly becomes an eliminatist, a person holding the belief that there is no knowledge apart from physical facts; they avoid the claim that there are non-physical facts. One way for the type A materialist to defend this position is to argue that consciousness can be explained through representations, which holds that conscious states are representational states, representing things in the world, therefore, we can explain consciousness in functional terms. This view is known as the higher order theory (HOT), in which consciousness is postulated as a built in attention-mechanism in sentient beings. There are no new knowledge learned in HOT; consciousness is explained by the prioritizing of our attentions to stimuli. (2)
To illustrate, the type A materialist would defend Mary’s knowledge of all physical fact is sufficient to account for consciousness. They hold that Mary does not learn any new knowledge when she first encounters the color red, in fact, her experience is based on the knowledge she already possess from knowing all physical truths. However, theories explaining experience purely through functional, such as HOT, does not give us a solution of the hard problem of subjective experience. Here are reasons why the hard problem remains unquenched. From the explanatory argument, physical accounts explain at most structure and function, but explaining structure and function does not suffice to explain consciousness. (1) Physical facts and functions cannot explain how phenomena such as emotions, feelings, opinions, and personally bias that results when Mary experiences the color red for the first time.
Specifically, the brain, as a physical substance, is not the one that is experiencing the color red, Mary is. Therefore, this type of phenomena cannot be explained purely by physicalism, therefore, an epistemic gap remains present. Also, as we have seen from knowledge argument, physical knowledge alone does not have enough weight to support Mary’s subjective experience when she encounters red for the first time. Therefore, as Chalmers argued, her subjective experience of red leads us to a new territory of knowledge.
Type B Materialism
The type B materialist accepts an epistemic gap, but denies the ontological gap. The type B materialist commits to the truth of the first premise of the epistemic gap argument, however they deny the second premise to avoid the conclusion. To deny the second premise, they use a type of a priori or a metaphysical assumption, that there exists a law guaranteeing that all knowledge can be explained by physical facts, namely, physical states and conscious states necessarily exist interdependently. The type B materialist believes that, “one can plausibly hold that materialism about consciousness simply requires that physical states necessitate phenomenal states, in that it is metaphysically impossible for the physical states to be present while the phenomenal states are absent or different.” (1)
They appeal to Kripke’s theory of a necessary a posteriori truths and leverage that concept to show physical facts necessitates consciousness. In this respect, the type B avoids the ontological problem of consciousness all together by attacking the problem on the epistemic domain. The pitfall of this escape is that for this defense to work, the type B materialist has to commit to the identity between consciousness and a physical state to be a primitive principle in their perspective of the world. The problem with the type B materialist using Kripke’s theory as a defense is that necessities are not epistemically primitive. ‘Water is H2O’ can be deduced by a complete physical description of the world, from which when one finds water, one necessarily finds H2O. But for the type B materialist to hold their ground, they must preserve that the connection between physical states and consciousness are epistemically primitive, in that it cannot be deduced from the complete physical truth of the world. (1)
Consequently, this commitment refutes the type B materialist since the acknowledgement of the epistemically primitive connection between consciousness and physical states as a fundamental law, results in consciousness being distinct from any physical property, since fundamental laws always connects distinct properties. (1) Moving forward, I presented reasons why materialism is inadequate to account for the hard problem of consciousness, and now we will explore dualism.
Dualism as the Better Theory for Consciousness
Type E Dualism and F-monism
In this section, I will shortly describe the type E dualism and F-monism dualist positions and their potential weakness or lack of appeal, and argue that type D dualism is the better alternative. Type E dualism or Epiphenomenalism is counterintuitive for the reason that it maintains that physical states cause phenomenal states, but not vice versa. As Chalmers illustrates, “if type E dualism is correct, then phenomenal states have no effect on our actions, physically construed. For example, a sensation of pain will play no causal role in my hand’s moving away from a flame… and a sensation of red will play no causal role in my producing the utterance, ‘I am experiencing red now.’ These consequences are often held to be obviously false, or at least unacceptable.” (1)
To illustrate the untenability of this view, on this view, one cannot consciously move ones body, therefore, one does not have causal influence to the physical world. However, this flies straight in the face of common experience that once a person thinks or wills to move, they move. (3) Although the view is coherent, the applicability of this view in the actual world is not satisfying, therefore, we should look to other theories.
F-monism claims that phenomenal or protophenomenal properties are integrated in the very fundamental level of physical reality, therefore, consciousness is embedded in the material world. This view is problematic in the respects that it solves the substance dualism problem by arguing that everything down to the subatomic level of the physical world has consciousness. However, that raises the question of whether it is probable for all physical things to have consciousness? We can conduct a thought experiment, such as, “Do atoms display that they have experience?” If atoms have conscious states that Chalmers’ prescribes, they would have, “perceptual experience, bodily sensation, mental imagery, emotional experience…” (1). If they had these properties, then they would qualify Chalmers definition of a conscious being, who has subjective experience. On the contrary, if they do not have these phenomenal properties, then this would be a counter-example.
Atoms, as far as we know, do not exhibit these properties, therefore, this claim back-fires on Chalmers’ definition of the hard problem of consciousness, which is subjective experience. On the contrary, to much of our knowledge, only human beings are the only creatures that can verify that they have conscious experience. Moreover, the probability that atoms do have conscious states or subjective experience is low because they cannot express whether they are conscious or have the ability to have experience. For this reason, F-monism seems to be too farfetched to invest in its credibility.
Type D Dualism
Type D dualism seems to be the better explanation since its holds a simple view that there is a two way interaction between the phenomenal states and physical states. This view, also known as interactionism, holds that physical states will cause phenomenal states, and phenomenal states cause physical states. Potential objections against this view, such as it is not compatible with physics, has failed. Moreover, contemporary physics, far from refuting the interactionism view, seems to encourage its possibility.
Type D dualism’s appeal, it seems to me, comes from its pragmatic or rational explanation of consciousness and physical states that the other views do not have. It does not make a counterintuitive argument such as type E dualism, nor did it makes a huge claim that consciousness is integrated to all physical properties like F-monism. Instead, the type D dualist position is much more modest and disciplined in asserting what it seems to be obvious, that consciousness and physical states do interact.
For example, on this view, the fact that our hands react to the heat of a flame or how we get a subjective sensual experience when experiencing red; or when I feel depressed, my body also lacks vitality and suffers from depression; and when my mind experience stress, my body also reacts to that stress by becoming tense and stiff. Interactionism makes sense of these connections, since physical states and conscious states interact with each other to process both conscious effects and physical effects that result from consciousness and physical states interacting with each other.
Furthermore, the doctrine of the soul fits snuggly with this view, which proposes that the soul interacts with the brain and produces mental and physical causality. States of intentionality, which is the ability to think of something or be about something; the sense of one’s selfhood or the ‘I’, and the notion of the free will are all compatible with the notion of a soul and substance dualism interactionism (3), but not with materialism nor type E dualism, and F-monism would become more problematic to account for these. For these reasons, type D dualism seems to be the better theory of dualism in comparison to type E dualism and F-monism.
From the beginning of this paper, we have seen how there are better arguments against materialism, then there are arguments for it. From that discussion, we can conclude that materialism is not an adequate view that can support the hard problem of experience, therefore, dualism offers a better view that can accommodate consciousness. Among the dualism view, type E dualism is not a tasteful view, although it is not incoherent, it is counterintuitive, therefore other views should be considered. F-monism is too farfetched when it states consciousness is integrated with physical properties. This view ran into the problem to account for whether everything has consciousness and subjective experience, which is unlikely to be true. Therefore, for these reason, type D dualism seems to be the better explanation since its gives a modest and intuitive explanation that there is a two way interaction between the phenomenal states and physical states.
- Chalmers, David J. 1995-7. “Consciousness and its Place in Nature”. Published in S. Stich & F. Warfield, edition, Blackwell Guide to Philosophy of Mind. 2003.
- Wu, Wayne. 2011. “What is Conscious Attention?” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, LLC
- William, Lane Craig. 2013. “Doctrine of Man Part 8”. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Df896Qdh48o