This was a surprisingly disappointing talk. Chalmers created the notion of the "hard problem of consciousness" -- what subjective experience is and how it comes about. In this talk, though, he goes off in strange directions. He starts by talking about consciousness as a movie playing in your head. But for a movie to be of any value, there must be a viewer of the movie. I'm sure Chalmers is not endorsing a homunculus theory of consciousness, but his analogy is. The problem, of course, is that if there were a homunculus watching the movie in your brain, what explains its experience of the homunculus as it watches the movie.
Chalmers then went on to say that the real problem with the study of consciousness is that we don't know why it exists. Why aren't we all robots, he asked. That my be a useful question, but it's not the hard problem of consciousness, which is how consciousness comes about, not why it exists. He asks the "why" question again when he talks about the weakness of work studying the correlation between experience and brain components. Why does this component lead to this experience. Again, the question isn't why; it's how -- although in this case one might assume that that's what he meant.
Chalmers goes on to criticize the view that we may understand consciousness after more research, that it will be an "emergent phenomenon" like a traffic jam. His criticism is that all emergent phenomenon are about behavior and that consciousness is not about behavior. Problems with this argument are (a) emergence isn't just about behavior and (b) saying that something is "emergent" isn't saying much at all. It's not clear to me that this digression on emergence amounted to anything. Chalmers then goes back to asking the "why" question, which again, is off track.
Chalmers says he is a scientific materialist and that he spent a long time looking for a scientific explanation of consciousness. He has concluded that there will be no scientific explanation. He argues that this failure of science means requires that we must consider radical ideas. He then goes on to discuss what he calls two crazy ideas.
The two ideas are that consciousness is fundamental and that everything has some aspect of consciousness, i.e., panpsychism. I think these are worth considering. I wish Chalmers had something more informative to say about them though. His suggestion is that perhaps it's all related to information processing. Chalmers goes on to praise Tononi's phi theory, which has to do with the integration of information. For a discussion of Tononi, look at 's post (http://goo.gl/ynW4xf), which also points to an earlier post.
Chalmers ends by suggesting a panpsychist perspective leads to questions about the ethics of turning off computer systems and whether groups such as countries are conscious. But then he backs away from those issues.
All-in-all a disappointing talk unless you've never heard of panpsychism. But in that case, it would have been better to make a stronger case for it or for consciousness being fundamental.
- AetnaAnalyst, 2014 - present
- BridgestoneData Analyst, 2013 - 2013
- Affinion Group, Inc.Order Fulfillment, 2012 - 2013
- Purdue UniverstiyIndustrial Engineering, 2011
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