consciousness (and zombies!)


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"Well, let me tell you 'bout the way she looked / The way she acts and the color of her hair / Her voice was soft and cool, her eyes were clear and bright / But she's not there" -She's Not There, The Zombies

Given that consciousness is one of the hottest and most fascinating topics in modern philosophy, I figured I'd start a thread on it. I'm not talking about consciousness as in wakefulness or awareness, but as in the general idea of what it is like to be a conscious being. The idea being that there is something that it is like to be conscious, and that an explanation of how the physical brain functions could never conceivably provide an adequate explanation for it (or so I propose). As a thought experiment, try to imagine how you might design something to have conscious experience. We could say that the brain is unimaginably complex, but it really isn't. We have theories as to how it could do everything that it does*, given what it is, save for producing conscious experience: which I argue isn't something it does, but perhaps is something it is.

For example, we can imagine a physical explanation of how parts of my brain interact with other parts of my brain to recognize and respond to the color red, but that is certainly a different sort of thing from my experience of having the color red in my field of vision. It isn't clear from what we currently know about the brain (or what we will ever know about it, by my reckoning) that we should have conscious experience at all. We can imagine someone who is exactly the same as us in every way we could possibly ever observe, and yet also imagine that they have no experience like that of what it is like for us to look at a red flower. The person would be what philosophers call a "zombie".

So, the question is, will we ever have a physical account of conscious experience? What might it be like? Do we even have conscious experience? Some philosophers think it's an illusion (although that doesn't make sense to me). What say you?

*Or imagine roughly what such theories might be like, and how to go about forming and looking for them.