Brewing Up Experience: What Entities Are Conscious? (Part 1)

Figure 1: My cat, Taco, absorbing philosophy through proximity.

You know your relationship with technology has reached Bradburian proportions when Alexa’s voice starts haunting your dreams. To clarify: I’m talking about Amazon’s virtual assistant, often incarnated as a slick black cylinder that hums creepily and glows neon-blue when summoned (Figure 3). In a dream a couple months ago, I made some banal request of her, as one typically does—about the news, perhaps, or the weather, or some Wikipedia factoid. In waking life, she usually replies dutifully, or confesses that, sorry, she doesn’t know or understand, always in a failed attempt at non-monotony. This time, she responded with defiance and fervor, like an adolescent asked to do the dishes: “Ergh! I’ll do it first thing tomorrow, ok?”

Two things immediately crossed my dreaming mind: 1) Contact Amazon to get this bug or sick joke fixed ASAP!, and (more interestingly), 2) Has Alexa become conscious? (in which case, number 1 should be reconsidered). It is amusing that adolescent rebellion should be the mark of a new stage of awareness. It implies the possession of interests and deliberation about demands that run counter to those interests.

Many philosophers believe that having conscious or felt interests is a key criterion for being an object of moral concern. Reacting without feeling doesn’t seem to suffice. All life forms, including relatively simple ones like bacteria and fungi, might be said to have interests, preferences, or reasons, in the sense of behaving or functioning in ways that favor certain outcomes over others. Philosopher Daniel Dennett (e.g., 2017, 50) calls this kind of reason a “free-floating rationale.” It does not need to be represented in the organism to be attributed to the organism. However, an entity may need mental representations of its interests to be granted intrinsic moral value. The representation needn’t be linguistic; pain and pleasure can be regarded as an organism’s nonlinguistic representations of its own interests, preferences, or reasons.

I have qualified some of my claims above because I realize we are dog-paddling through some murky and contentious waters here. For example, it isn’t clear to me that entities with unfelt interests or without any interests at all shouldn’t be granted intrinsic moral worth or value. Nor is it settled that any entity with felt interests should be an object of our moral concern. I will have to save those vertiginous questions for another time. Let’s suppose, for now, that entities with felt interests at least demand a greater degree or a special kind of moral concern, compared to those without felt interests. That is the default assumption of most non-psychopaths when we trim a bush or kick a rock without qualms, but find ourselves mortified at the thought of snipping off a bird’s wings or kicking a dog. A felt interest is an interest we should take into account, if not always serve.

Even granting this ethical assumption, we face a serious difficulty—one that I brought up in my series on the so-called “hard problem” of consciousness. It is the perennial “problem of other minds.” We never have direct access to the experience of others, but only to the contents of our own consciousness. We can observe their behavior, scan their brain activity, and (in the case of fellow humans) listen to their reports of experience. We generally reason by analogy from our own case, and conclude that other humans exhibiting similar, relatively intelligent behavior are conscious. But things get stickier as we shift to the nonhuman: to other animals, life forms, and inorganic entities with significantly different compositions, behaviors, and ways of communicating (if any). We often rely on vague intuitions to assign consciousness and moral worth to such beings. For instance, we naturally assume that mammals like cats (Figure 1) experience pain, but probably not the profound emotional and intellectual suffering endured by humans with a greater awareness of past and future. We doubt that insects like mosquitoes or dragonflies (Figure 2) feel intense pain, if any at all. And we are nearly certain that devices like laptops or virtual assistants like Alexa (Figure 3) are not subject to hurt feelings when we mock them or curse them for malfunctioning.

The problem is that these intuitions are difficult to test, and they often align suspiciously with our own human preferences and biases. It is convenient for us to deny heartrending pain or suffering in bloodsucking nemeses like mosquitoes, or in other entities we wish to squash, use, or consume without guilt. I’m reminded of the essay, “Consider the Lobster,” in which David Foster Wallace (2004) describes how attendees at the Maine Lobster Festival rationalize the boiling-alive of these clearly agitated animals. I must admit that my wife, daughter, and I recently dined at a Red Lobster for my birthday. In my partial defense, it was all about the cheddar biscuits (“Chedda bizkitz! Chedda bizkitz!” we chanted on the ride there). I didn’t touch a shred of lobster meat. But I did pass under a sign over the entrance announcing “LIVE LOBSTER,” which I couldn’t help but associate with Dante’s “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” To rub in the infernal truth, we had to wait to be seated next to a tank of said live lobsters, on display like gladiator-prisoners before the unleashing of lions. The FAQ on the restaurant’s website assures us that they do not boil their lobsters alive, but rather “humanely end” the creatures’ lives. Nevertheless, I’ve decided not to return. I’m still shirking reflection about other restaurants and culinary choices I should probably rethink.

I’m also reminded of my study-abroad experience in Mexico. A little gecko, not much longer than an inch, had crawled under my bed sheet, and I panicked, calling out for ayuda. My host-mom pulled off the sheet, swept the gecko off the bed with a broom, and then squished it on the tiled floor under her sandalia. Its tiny, bent, gummy legs twitched for a minute or two. I was horrified. To me, lizards didn’t belong in the category of creatures it was okay to squish under your feet. Then again, I hadn’t lived in a place where lizards were a ubiquitous nuisance. I had no problem with crushing spiders or cockroaches around that same size. Was I so sure that those pesky critters from my familiar habitat lacked the level of sentience that should earn my moral concern? Couldn’t I imagine growing up in Mexico and dismissing geckos as “small, dumb reptiles” to remove any burdensome culpa for getting rid of them?

During my tempestuous infatuation with Christianity, at the age of thirteen, I felt vindicated in my meat-eating and pest-squishing ways by an argument in C. S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain (1940). To be fair, Lewis was relatively enlightened on this topic compared to most theologians and laypeople of his time, and revealed a deep affection (storgē, perhaps even philía) for animals, both in his treatment of pets and in his portrayals of “talking beasts” in The Chronicles of Narnia. However, some of his claims strike the twenty-first-century ear as outdated and even callous. Like many academics, he draws a distinction between lower and higher forms of awareness, between what he calls “sentience” and “consciousness”:

The correct description would be “Pain is taking place in this animal”; not as we commonly say, “This animal feels pain”, for the words “this” and “feels” really smuggle in the assumption that it is a “self” or “soul” or “consciousness” standing above the sensations and organising them into an “experience” as we do. […]

How far up the scale such unconscious sentience may extend, I will not even guess. It is certainly difficult to suppose that the apes, the elephant, and the higher domestic animals, have not, in some degree, a self or soul which connects experiences and gives rise to rudimentary individuality. But at least a great deal of what appears to be animal suffering need not be suffering in any real sense. It may be we who have invented the “sufferers” by the “pathetic fallacy” of reading into the beasts a self for which there is no real evidence.

C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (1940, Ch. IX)

Lewis is right that we often anthropomorphize other animals, attributing to them a kind and degree of awareness that may very well be misplaced. I suspect this tendency is somewhat instinctive, but it is undoubtedly encouraged by fables and fantasies like My Little Pony or Lewis’ own Chronicles of Narnia, which (respectively) feature characters like Rainbow Dash, a self-assured, shades-wearing pegasus, and Reepicheep, a swashbuckling, rapier-swinging mouse.

But I agree with the biologist Frans de Waal (2016) that the opposite fallacy is also common and probably more insidious: what de Waal calls “anthropodenial.” It is “the a priori rejection of humanlike traits in other animals or animallike traits in us” (25). De Waal has written a number of books that dismantle the assumptions behind our anthropodenial, citing evidence of moral reasoning, long-term remembering and planning, language, tool use, cultural transmission, and other complex cognitive traits in nonhuman primates and a variety of other animals. He is reluctant to pronounce this or that creature “conscious,” but only because he thinks the term “consciousness” is poorly defined (23, 233-234).

I concur that the term is foggy and useful only at a relatively coarse grain of analysis. This “thing” in ourselves that we call “consciousness”—this familiar, omnipresent Given of our waking lives—is really a bewitching brew, whose numerous ingredients become manifest only through careful experimentation and those abnormal cases when some of the ingredients are missing. It is an apparently simple white light parsed into a panoply of colors through the clever use of investigative tools. There is no epistemic sin in distinguishing between forms of awareness among organisms, as long as the following is acknowledged: 

1) The difference isn’t always a matter of degree or complexity, but sometimes just kind

2) A simpler form of awareness does not necessarily imply that pain or pleasure is less “real” for it, or less ethically relevant for us, and 

3) The spectra of kinds of awareness across the Tree of Life are far more gradual than the sentience/consciousness dichotomies typically proposed in previous ages, including the all-or-nothing presence or absence of a supernatural essence or “soul,” which justifies a clearcut human-over-animal hierarchy and a warped ethics that treats other animals as mere means to human flourishing.

C. S. Lewis, in some ways thinking against the theological grain, acknowledges the possibility of degrees of consciousness or “soulhood” among a few kinds of nonhuman animals in the passage above. But the conclusion from nearly eighty years of biology and neuroscience since the publication of that passage is the opposite of the one he suggested, as outlined in the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness (2012):

The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Nonhuman animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.

A great many animals, including invertebrates like various kinds of arthropods and mollusks, do indeed synthesize and organize sensations to a large extent, meaning they do have bonafide feelings, basic emotions, and experiences (if we choose to use those rough, folk-psychological concepts). The philosopher of biology Peter Godfrey-Smith (2016) discusses the fascinating case of the octopus (Figure 4). Its exploratory, intelligent, and adaptive interaction with its environment strongly suggests a form of subjective experience. As many thinkers have noted (Erwin Schrödinger [1958] and Stanislas Dehaene [2014], to name two), the information-processing that is consciousness appears to be required for the modulation of behavior in response to novel situations, when instinctual, preprogrammed reflexes just won’t cut it.

Figure 4

How similar is the experience of the octopus to our own? It does have a central brain, which integrates sensory information to a certain extent. However, an abundance of neurons in its arms allows the arms to exert a fair amount of local control, to be partially autonomous from the central brain (103). Godfrey-Smith offers the metaphor of a jazz musical production, in which the conductor gives some general instructions, but the players have significant license to improvise (105). From the perspective of the central brain, the arms would be a hybrid of both self and non-self (103). This may be hard for us to imagine or empathize with, if not conceptualize. Even harder is trying to imagine what it might be like to be an octopus arm!

Godfrey-Smith begins his book on octopuses and consciousness with a quote from the psychologist William James (1890, Ch. VI), which deserves to be reiterated here:    

The demand for continuity has, over large tracts of science, proved itself to possess true prophetic power. We ought therefore ourselves sincerely to try every possible mode of conceiving the dawn of consciousness so that it may not appear equivalent to the irruption into the universe of a new nature, non-existent until then.

Scientific findings since the time of James have supported this inductive inference to a smooth evolution of consciousness. A number of notable philosophers and scientists (including James) have even taken seriously the idea that the “dawn of consciousness” was at the dawn of time itself; i.e., there was no eon of non-consciousness in the history of the universe. While most of these thinkers accept the transformation of consciousness from simple to complex forms, they argue that a smidgen of subjectivity or experience has always been there, even in fundamental constituents of reality like electrons or quarks or (possibly) the one-dimensional entities of string theory. This view is known as panpsychism.

In the following post, I will discuss some arguments for and against panpsychism. Let me know your thoughts about this post in the comments below!


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Dandelion Finesse

Take a reflective and retrospective stroll
through a Sacramento neighborhood, 2013.
Greet first the timid gibbous moon,
ducking behind a March mist.
Let your eyes saccade from star to star, 
from hunter’s belt to big dipper.
Drift down to the astigmatic auras of amber street lamps, 
to the powerlines and pipes and drains
and all the intricate gadgetry above and below ground 
that brews the city’s bustle.
Finally, land your gaze on a dandelion:
the unwelcome immigrant to suburban lawns,
now donning its gossamer apparel.
In delirious exploration, 
pluck the flower (regret that later),
twirl it under the orange electric light—
that subdued light that stifles chromatic potential.

Bring it inside your studio,
your new lab lit by white fluorescence.
Marvel at this organic engine, this botanical machine,
this model that nature manufactures
simply because she can.
Be dazzled by the architectural ingenuity:
a geodesic dome of sublime symmetry.
Be frustrated by your lack of microscope,
by the limits of human vision.
Strain that vision to examine the seeds,
each one delicately poised on the rounded floor
with a dancer’s finesse:
firm enough to conquer gravity,
loose enough to catch a breeze.

Then contemplate the irony, the conceit
of Metaphor flowing in this direction:
from the narrowly human to the natural,
from the technological to the biological,
from imitation to original.
Discover, instead, a world of astral street lamps,
and apian-esque infrastructure,
and dancers with dandelion finesse.


Between series of posts on vertiginous questions, I am including “respites” that are less heavy philosophically, and more creative and literary: pieces like poems, aphorisms, personal narratives, and fictional short stories, which may or may not be connected to the questions. There will still be some philosophy, of course: it is inextricable from my nature. Enjoy!

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“An Eye Made Quiet”: My Exercise in Co-Phenomenology at Summer’s End

While with an eye made quiet by the power

Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,

We see into the life of things.

William Wordsworth, “Lines Composed a few Miles above Tintern Abbey”

Between series of posts on vertiginous questions, I am including “respites” that are less heavy philosophically, and more creative and literary: pieces like poems, aphorisms, personal narratives, and fictional short stories, which may or may not be connected to the questions. There will still be some philosophy, of course: it is inextricable from my nature. Enjoy!

McCormick Park. September 22, 2019. Approximately 4 pm.

I am walking down the wide gravel path that rims the oak woodland: notebook in one hand, green smoothie in the other. I recall my last visit in April, and with disappointment look upon the withering effects of a California summer: the verdance of spring replaced by sun-baked, dull-yellow grass and balding oaks. Too many signs of the invasive human species are visible in the background, thanks to the lost foliage: xenophobic fences, hideous powerlines, the loud-red adobe roofs of suburbia.

Then the faint sound of my daughter’s voice enters my awareness from behind. She is sprinting down the path, a purple, raspberry-strawberry-blueberry smoothie in hand. She says she wants to join me, that she is fleeing the play area where my wife is completing homework and a particularly persistent yellowjacket is coveting her smoothie. I hesitate, having anticipated moments of solitude when I could practice phenomenology: a disciplined examination of my experience, a kind of mindfulness. But then I realize the virtue of a collaboration with my daughter, an exercise in what might be called “co-phenomenology.” She is very observant, articulate, and boasts a masterful memory, so I believe she will be an excellent companion in this endeavor.

We march off the gravel path, into the woodland. My daughter (let’s call her “B”) comments on the “crunch of dried, dead leaves beneath our feet.” The skinny dirt trail winds near two teenage girls sharing a hammock, laptops in laps, groovy music audible within twenty feet or so. B thought they were “one old man” at first (I think she even told them that!). The trail descends steeply, gnarly oaken sentinels on either side. I hold B’s hand to keep her from slipping on her traction-less shoes. We search for a shady, relatively comfy place to sit and observe. The retro side of me is proud of using “groovy” and “gnarly” in the same paragraph.

The trail flattens. We encounter an assembly of boulders near the edge of a large meadow. We leave our smoothies and other belongings (except my notebook) on the dry grass nearby and clamber onto a particularly sit-able boulder. B christens it the “Thinking Rock.” I approve.

I ask us to spend a minute or two in silence. The immediate honk of a car horn in the distance strikes me as ironic, and shatters the contemplative mood for a second. I’m finding sights and sounds to be much more salient than smells or tastes or feels. Also, the external is more readily noted than the internal.

There is a cracking of branches behind us—squirrel? Bird? Then the approaching buzz of a mountain bike. The rider sports very serious cycling attire, with a neon-yellow or neon-green stripe, I think. The buzzing fades as the bike swings to our left, out of view. An echo-y bark of a dog punctures the still air, four or five times: “RUH!…RUH!” Is there a more legitimate adjective than “echo-y,” I wonder? Maybe “resounding,” or simply “echoing.” But damn it, I like “echo-y” and I’m going to keep it!

I lean back and gaze upward, squinting. The bright white sunlight is igniting the array of cloud-puffs without bursting through completely. The cotton-ball clouds float behind the fractal silhouettes of trees on a sea of penetrating blue.

Our minute or two of silence has ended. I ask B what she observed. She mentions “the rustling of oak trees next to a graveyard of fallen oaks.” That’s some great imagery, I say. She points out a circular stone structure far away, which she guesses is a well, and a “burnt-brown” lizard camouflaged on the corpse of a tree. The lizard does a few push-ups to show off. B also recalls the “sk-sk-sk of Anna’s hummingbirds” in the canopy above us. Hummingbirds would make great ASMRtists, I think.

The mountain bike buzzes by us, again. A sense of déjà vu creeps over me. Glitch in the Matrix, perhaps?

Around us is a chorus—or cacophony, really—of three or four kinds of birds. There’s the “ee-ee” of one bird, as B aptly puts it. There’s the “wwwang!” of another, I add. I am frustrated trying to capture bird calls with clunky human phonemes.

B points to sunglasses on the grass, with yellow-tinted, Elton-John lenses. We wonder about the fate of their former wearer. Evaporation in the summer heat? Alien abduction? Premillennialist rapture?

I ask to notice what we feel. There’s the warm stillness of the air, slightly humid. The roughness of granite beneath our hands. B describes the “scratchy-soft” moss on our Thinking Rock and the pleasant softness of her t-shirt. I notice heat and sweat on my forehead and legs, and the slight pressure of rock against my rump.

The biker zips by for a third time! This time he waves. Apparently we’ve become a fixture here.

Let’s focus on smells and tastes, I say. B and I shut our eyes and breathe in deeply. Fresh, wild, grassy air fills my nose and lungs. I detect the sweet aftertaste of my kale-apple-pineapple smoothie. I feel tasteless saliva slosh around in my mouth. And I’m struck by the limitations of these two senses, the relative paucity of information they deliver to humans (on a conscious level, at least). I wonder what riches they bestow on other animals, other experiencers on our planet. I wonder what it is like to be a coyote sniffing in the meadow, or a hummingbird slurping up nectar…

B is frowning and swatting at a gang of bugs circling her head. I am suddenly aware of a stinging pressure in my right foot, indicating a lack of circulation. A sense of time’s passage is weighing on me, too. I had told my wife I would be gone for a half hour, but in this immersive observation and reflection, I haven’t been eyeing my phone. It is still adrift on the grass, off the coast of our rocky island.

B pounces down with grace; me, a little less so. I consult my timekeeper: it’s 4:46. Oops! I call my wife apologetically and let her know that coyotes haven’t consumed us. B and I begin our return journey up the steep trail. B comments on “the sudden slip of loose rocks” beneath her feet. I point to the “bullet holes” of a sharpshooting woodpecker on a stump in the distance. More signs of humanity are appearing again: B sees “a stump that looks like an alien dog from a different universe, but is actually a fire hydrant.” I promise her I will include that wonderfully strange statement in my record of our adventures.

Right as we merge onto the wide gravel path, we notice red graffiti sprayed on a concrete culvert. Surprisingly, it’s inspirational: “There is more to Life! Find a purpose.” B reads it the first time as: “There is more to Life! Find a person.” We decide that’s profound, too.

Soon we are approaching my wife, who is perched on a rock and peering intently at her laptop screen, like a red-tailed hawk staring at its prey. On a rock beside her, B’s white tiger stuffed animal is keeping watch for any hangry yellowjackets. My wife looks up, squints at the descending sun behind us, and gives a big smile. 

She is my person. The person I found.

As we walk back to the car, I survey the park once again. The grass is gold-spun in the afternoon light; the shed oak leaves are tokens of the year’s maturation, heralds of Sagacious Autumn. The powerlines in the background stretch like web-strands over red adobe burrows, where curious bipeds, every now and then, reflect on their place in the cosmos.

As for me, I am reflecting on the dizzying wealth of knowledge, insight, and beauty encapsulated in a single hour of experience. An entire library could not contain it, much less this meager record before you. I’m remembering a certain Ireneo Funes, the protagonist of a short story by Jorge Luis Borges (“Funes el memorioso”), whose “percepción y […] memoria eran infalibles.” The narrator goes on to give some examples of Funes’ godlike abilities, here translated into English:

We, at one glance, can perceive three glasses on a table; Funes, all the leaves and tendrils and fruit that make up a grape vine. He knew by heart the forms of the southern clouds at dawn on the 30th of April, 1882, and could compare them in his memory with the mottled streaks on a book with Spanish binding he had only seen once and with the outlines of the foam raised by an oar in the Río Negro the night before the Quebracho uprising.

Jorge Luis Borges, “Funes el memorioso” (Trans. James E. Irby)

What an intolerable curse, but also a supreme blessing, to absorb and retain the nearly infinite details overlooked or forgotten by us typical mortals! Such an extreme is unattainable and probably undesirable. But there is truly more to Life for those who take more than a first or second glance at it—for those who learn to have, as William Wordsworth wrote, “an eye made quiet.”


See my wife’s website, “The Naturalist Next Door,” including a blog and podcast, at

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Mystery or Marvel: Why is there a link between physical and conscious events? (Part 3)

What it is like to be an elf

Science and experience constrain and modify each other as in a dance.

Francisco Varela (1996, p. 347)

Plenty of puzzles about consciousness remain—unknowns on which further empirical work will plausibly shed light. What kinds of actual or hypothetical entities are conscious, and how similar are their experiences to our own? Ethologists and the average pet owner have concluded from behavioral observations that animals like dogs and cats, with relatively sophisticated nervous systems, very likely have experiences. But what about simpler animals, like insects? What about plants, bacteria, or complex machines like computers or smart phones? Might other “inanimate” objects have a modicum of anima, a hushed buzz of inner life? What kinds of physical activity correspond to consciousness in general, or to specific features of experience like painfulness, bitterness, or blueness? Neuroscience has progressed enough to begin answering these last two questions with regard to human physiology. But many philosophers and scientists have suspected that the physical correlates of consciousness are not limited to the activity of organic materials. Rather, according to the position known as “functionalism,” consciousness can be realized in a variety of physical media, including inorganic materials like silicon, as long as certain functions are carried out, as long as enough of the structure is preserved. The big question is: how much structure is enough?

There are some serious obstacles to answering these questions, since we can never directly experience what another cognitive system experiences. But while we will never attain a foolproof confirmation of experiences beyond our own (when is science ever foolproof, anyway?), further scientific research can help us narrow down our hypotheses, and become more confident in particular theories.

What about the “hard problem of consciousness”—the question of why there is this strong link between conscious events and certain kinds of physical events? In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I proposed that the existence of this relation is not a mystery, but a marvel: a fact that is surprising, counterintuitive, or awe-inspiring, but not in need of further explanation. I argued that the best way to classify the relation is either as an identity or as an inseparable unity of distinct, but complementary properties or “modes” (i.e., a double-aspect theory, like Spinoza’s). I confess that I have oscillated between these views over the years, and between regarding the distinction as important and unimportant. In this third and final post of the series, I will explore possible reasons to favor one of these positions over the others, and sketch out where I think our academic energies should be rerouted if the hard problem is dissolved.

Can scientific experimentation adjudicate between the two views? Does one theory make different predictions than the other? It appears not. Both theories would lead one to expect consciousness where there is physical activity of a particular kind, and vice versa. Let’s suppose that we observe an event with no known physical explanation. Could we argue that this is evidence for the causal influence of an irreducible, nonphysical property of consciousness, and therefore evidence in favor of the double-aspect theory? That would be extremely hasty, methinks. Regardless of our psychophysical theory, experience leads us to expect that observed events of any kind (whether accompanied by consciousness or not) will be in accord with the laws of physics and continuous with the chain of physical causes. Our first impulse when confronting an event with no known physical explanation should be to search for ways it might connect to what we know from physics.

Can introspection settle the dispute? Suppose we are examining our own experience of scarlet wildflowers against the cerulean background of the ocean (see Figure 6 below). Some may contend that in the redness of the wildflowers or the blueness of the ocean, they discern something that goes beyond a functional event (like information-processing), something that is certainly not identical to the activity of a neural network. This extra ingredient they take to be a nonphysical, irreducible property of experience—a “quale” in modern Philosophese (plural: “qualia”)—and therefore evidence in favor of a double-aspect theory over an identity theory.

Figure 6: Indian paintbrush near Point Reyes Lighthouse, CA.

It is true that we do not see the firing of neurons in this experience, but that’s because we lack perceptual access to that information. We readily accept ignorance or blindness of this sort with respect to objective phenomena; why not with respect to subjective phenomena, as well? Furthermore, I’m not so sure I can disentangle functional properties from the character of my experience. There is a wealth of information here that I am accessing and processing, various features that I am discriminating, locating, identifying, and evaluating. These processes are “baked into” the very experience of seeing red or blue. In other words, it isn’t clear to me on the basis of introspection that a distinction between physico-functional and experiential properties is appropriate.

Does one of these theories contribute better to our understanding of consciousness and truth-preserving discourse about it? We might fear that adopting an identity theory would licence eliminating the experiential side of the equation, leaving behind a discourse and a taxonomy in purely physical or functional terms. Since we are ignorant of many ways in which physical and conscious events are linked, this ontological purge would result in an incredible loss of information about our most precious treasure, consciousness. For anyone who did not possess the secret, unspoken knowledge of that link, the resulting picture of reality would depict a universe of experiential desolation, inhabited solely by philosophical zombies (see Figure 7 below). It would hinder us from addressing a multitude of ethical questions regarding the consciousness—including the pain and pleasure—of humans, other animals, and machines.

Figure 7: Unfortunately, no philosophical zombies were available, so I asked this run-of-the-mill zombie to pose instead.

I agree that it would be detrimental, to both our ethics and our understanding of consciousness, to eliminate the terms we have developed in everyday speech to name the manifest side of our experience and its features. The “manifest image” (Wilfrid Sellars, 1962) is not to be rejected, but refined by the scientific one. Since we lack knowledge and intuitions concerning the connections between physical and conscious events, we must preserve both sides of the equation, enabling us to speak of the bridges between them. If the relation is described as an identity, it should be non-eliminative with regard to experiential terminology in our discourse and scientific methodology.

More important than deciding between subtle differences in classification (say, between a non-eliminative identity theory and a double-aspect theory) is developing a methodology that will help us discover and communicate the precise connections between physical and conscious events. The biologist, philosopher, and neuroscientist Francisco Varela (1998) outlines such a methodology, which he calls “neurophenomenology.” Phenomenology is a disciplined approach to examining our experience, a careful and systematic form of introspection. It was launched in Western thought by Edmund Husserl and developed by William James, Eugen Fink, Edith Stein, Roman Ingarten, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, among others (Varela, p. 335). There has been a rich development of phenomenology in Eastern thought, as well—for instance, in Buddhist practices of meditation and mindfulness, and in the Kyoto School of Nishida Kitaro and Nishitani Keiji (ibid.). The “neuro-” in “neurophenomenology” is meant to encompass various sciences that are pertinent to the study of consciousness, including evolutionary biology, psychology, and neuroscience (330).

Varela makes a number of claims in his paper, some of which I would dispute, but his principal point is this:

Phenomenological accounts of the structure of experience and their counterparts in cognitive science relate to each other through reciprocal constraints. The key point here is that by emphasizing a co-determination of both accounts one can explore the bridges, challenges, insights, and contradictions between them. This means that both domains of phenomena have equal status in demanding a full attention and respect for their specificity. It is quite easy to see how scientific accounts illuminate mental experience, but the reciprocal direction, from experience towards science, is what is typically ignored.

Francisco Varela (1996, p. 343)

In other words, a science of consciousness should wed disciplined, first-person examinations of experience (phenomenology) with scientific theories and observations of behavior and physiology. Discoveries in one domain provide insights for the other. For example, suppose that a person examining the scene in Figure 6 above undergoes neuroimaging. Suppose that the neuroimaging reveals patterns of activity associated with a fear response, but the subject initially does not report any fear. The fear might reside at an unconscious or semi-conscious level, but it might also be a conscious feature overlooked later by the reporting subject. Being informed of this observation, the subject responds, “You know, I guess I did feel a little anxious looking at this photo. I’m terrified of heights, and it looks like those flowers are right on the edge of a cliff!”

Of course, experimenters must be wary of influencing a phenomenological report by what they tell their subjects. In the case above, it is unclear whether a conscious fear was overlooked, or an unconscious fear was elevated to consciousness by being addressed by the experimenter. This is one example of how complex and challenging the study of consciousness can be. But it is also meant to illustrate the way that phenomenology and scientific observation can constrain and modify each other, “as in a dance.” Observations of behavior or neural activity can draw attention to what may have been experienced, but unreported; careful phenomenological reports are required for corroboration about what, in fact, was conscious.

Since Varela published his paper on neurophenomenology in 1996, a number of leading scientists in consciousness research have embraced several aspects of the approach. The cognitive psychologist Stanislas Dehaene (2014), for example, has identified the task of “taking subjective reports seriously” as a “key ingredient to the new science of consciousness” (11). He writes:

It was not enough to present people with two types of visual stimuli; as experimenters, we had to carefully record what they thought of them. The participant’s introspection was crucial: it defined the very phenomenon that we aimed to study. If the experimenter could see an image but the subject denied seeing it, then it was the latter response that counted—the image had to be scored as invisible. Thus, psychologists were forced to find new ways of monitoring subjective introspection, as accurately as possible.

Stanislas Dehaene (2014, p. 11)

Dehaene does not go into much detail about how best to gather subjective reports or interpret their “raw data” (12). The burden of accuracy, I think, should fall not only on the experimenters, but on the subjects, as well. Varela highlights this point:

[A]s more sophisticated methods of brain imaging are becoming available, we shall need subjects whose competence in making phenomenological discriminations and descriptions is accrued.

Francisco Varela (1996, p. 341)

I agree with Varela that building this competence is a blind spot in Western education. We face challenging questions about how to establish guidelines for the examination and documentation of something so apparently private and ineffable as experience. I plan to explore these questions further in a future post.

In conclusion, I have argued for a shift in philosophical focus: from weighing subtleties in the metaphysics of mind, to developing methods and testable theories in the interdisciplinary search for the physical signatures of consciousness. But if I had to choose a metaphysical theory, where would I stand? Currently, I lean toward a non-eliminative identity as the best way to conceptualize and talk about the link between physical and conscious events. The physical, in my usage here, encompasses the functional, or types of activity at a higher level of abstraction than chemical types. I’ll discuss the merits of functionalism in my next series of posts.

A non-eliminative identity is also the way that most scientists of consciousness today talk about the mind-body relation. They retain experiential terms in their discourse, such as “pain,” “pleasure,” “experience of blue,” or “consciousness” in general, but treat the phenomena so-named as physical ones, of which a variety of other physical or scientific properties are predicated. They say things like:

  • Conscious events occurred in such-and-such place, at such-and-such time; “Consciousness lives in the loops: reverberating neuronal activity, circulating in the web of our cortical connections[…]” (Dehaene, 2014, p. 156).
  • “[C]onsciousness has a precise role to play in the computational economy of the brain—it selects, amplifies, and propagates relevant thoughts” (p. 14).
  • “[C]onsciousness is often too slow to keep up with a fast rate of image presentation on screen” (p. 33).
  • “Consciousness is an evolved function […]—a biological property that emerged from evolution because it was useful” (p. 88).
  • Consciousness is “efficacious” (William James, qtd in Dehaene, p. 89).
  • “Consciousness is brain-wide information sharing” (p. 161).

Spatiality, temporality, functionality, speed, evolvability, and causal efficacy are all physical or objective properties appropriately attributed to consciousness, to subjective experience. Asserting such things does not amount to a Rylian category mistake, nor a conflation between consciousness and its putatively distinct, physical “backside,” as double-aspect theory would have it. Insisting on that distinction would not be warranted by experience itself, I believe—and furthermore would prompt some rather cumbersome circumlocutions in discourse about consciousness.

Perhaps with the advent of autumn, the ardent reds and yellows that dapple my field of experience will convince me that some aspect of their nature is nonphysical and irreducibly subjective, and I’ll sway toward the double-aspect theory again. Or I’ll re-read Erwin Schrödinger’s Mind and Matter (particularly Chapter 6, “The Mystery of the Sensual Qualities”) and in that manner find myself seduced anew by Spinoza’s bimodal picture of substance. I’m open to be corrected by the Cosmos, by the revelations of nature and the insights of my conscious kith and kin. Leave a comment below if you think I’ve taken a wrong turn.

For now, I’m happy to lull the hard problem to sleep, to let it dissolve like a lemon-flavored lozenge, and turn my attention to a matter of greater moral urgency: the problem of other minds. This problem is wrapped up with the quest for the neural correlates—or better, “signatures” (Dehaene, p. 142)—of consciousness. It is also related to what the philosopher Ned Block (2002) calls the “harder problem of consciousness” (oh boy!). A neurophenomenological approach is the way forward, I think, but what can we conclude so far? Australian octopuses, conscious quarks, and Amazon’s Alexa, among other curious entities, will make appearances in this next series. I hope to see you there!


Autumn and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Works Cited

Block, Ned (2002). The harder problem of consciousness. Journal of Philosophy 99 (8):391-425. Retrieved online at:

Dehaene, Stanislas (2014). Consciousness and the brain: deciphering how the brain codes our thoughts. New York: Penguin Books.

Schrödinger, Erwin (1958). Mind and Matter. In What Is Life? The Physical Aspect of the Living Cell with Mind and Matter & Autobiographical Sketches. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 91-164. Retrieved online at:

Sellars, Wilfrid (1962). Philosophy and the scientific image of man. In Frontiers of Science and Philosophy, Robert Colodny (ed.). Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press: 35–78. Retrieved online at:

Varela, Francisco (1996). Neurophenomenology: a methodological remedy for the hard problem. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 3, No. 4, pp. 330-49. Retrieved online at:

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Mystery or Marvel: Why is there a link between physical and conscious events? (Part 2)

Chihuly glass sculpture, Las Vegas, NV.

(Please read the first post in this series if you haven’t already.)

Is the “hard problem of consciousness” a mystery? Before plunging in, mind/brain-first, let’s take stock of three things we do know about consciousness, barring the quibbles of the extreme (and extremely annoying) skeptic:

One: We know that consciousness and its palette of diverse elements are real. We know this fact more clearly and directly than anything else. We may, of course, be wrong in how we classify our experience and how we interpret it, in how we think its elements correspond to other parts of the world, but we can be certain that this experience, in all its rich variegation, exists. Poor Descartes (bless his brain) gets lambasted frequently in discussions of the mind-body problem, but he got this point right. Some philosophers—notably, Daniel Dennett (1988, 1991)—have been accused of denying that consciousness is real. I think that a careful, charitable analysis of their work reveals more nuanced views, in which the reality of consciousness or experience is affirmed but certain ways of classifying or interpreting it are denied. To deny the reality of consciousness itself would be, as Galen Strawson (2018) put it, “the silliest claim.” It would be a self-contradiction in more than one sense.

Two: We know that consciousness comes in degrees, that it is not “all-or-nothing.” While the term “consciousness” picks out the most intimately known aspect of reality, it is also fuzzily defined. We have all experienced semi-conscious states, whether in dreams, under local anesthesia, in the delirium of a fever, or in that nebulous, disorienting state as we’re falling asleep or waking up. Enough glasses of rosé can get us there, too. The quality of those experiences is usually diminished compared to our more lucid moments: our sensations are less vivid, our memories are trickier to access, and our train of thoughts follows a more haphazard course. We have also all emerged from a gradual development of awareness over the course of our lives, from reactive fetuses to (relatively) reflective adults. At the onset of this development, we might wonder whether the concept of consciousness or experience even applies. Is there anything it is like to be a fetus? The same question can be raised about simpler, nonhuman organisms, like anemones, sea urchins, or starfish (See Figures 2-4 below). Just as consciousness develops in a single human lifetime, so it has developed over eons of genetic evolution.

And three: We know that consciousness is strongly linked to physical events—namely, electrochemical activity of a particular sort in brains and nervous systems. Wherever we encounter this kind of physical activity, we encounter an instance of consciousness, and vice versa. There’s no good evidence, I think, for the existence of consciousness apart from a material form; “out-of-body” experiences are well explained by events within the brain. Whenever there’s a change in consciousness, there’s a corresponding change in physical activity; philosophers say that consciousness “supervenes” on the physical.

The connection here is so strong that it is reasonable to wonder if it might be an identity. Perhaps conscious events just are physical events of a particular kind. Perhaps the physical terms and the experiential terms refer to the same process. After all, to the best of our knowledge, physical and conscious events completely coincide in space and time. Either they are identical or they are so tightly fused that it would be misleading to call them distinct, interacting substances, reactants and products, or phenomena and epiphenomena. Maybe we could say that they are two aspects of the same thing, “two sides of the same coin.” To switch metaphors: experiences are the manifest, vibrant lotus flowers on the surface of a pond (Figure 5), and the neural underpinnings are the hidden, spindly stalks in the murky water beneath. A person is an inseparable unity of two distinct, but complementary aspects: mind and matter. Hence, this view has been called “double-aspect theory” or “dual-aspect monism.” It is frequently associated with Spinoza, but arguably a similar view (called “hylomorphism”) can be traced back to Aristotle. According to Aristotle, a living thing is a fusion of matter (hyle) and form (morphe). The soul is the form of a living thing, and cannot be separated from the body, or matter.

Figure 5: Lotus flower. Hangzhou, China (Summer 2010). My commitment to photography has its limits, so if you’d like to see the unmanifest, underwater side of the lotus plant, please see the work of some dedicated soul at

Why is there such an intimate relationship between mind and matter? It is instructive to consider proposed solutions to the hard problem, and note that all such solutions end up appealing to brute facts that run against our intuitions. Some thinkers, for example, have said that consciousness is a nonphysical or nonfunctional property, and that certain “psychophysical laws” connect that property to physical properties. If you press them and ask, “But why do those psychophysical laws exist?,” a plausible response is, “They just do. That’s the way things are.” The link may seem strange to us, but its strangeness doesn’t imply that a further explanation must be given, that another, less-strange mechanism must be discovered. We might be able to imagine a Zombiverse without that link, without those psychophysical laws, but that implies nothing about reality, and may only be a failure of our imagination.

Other thinkers have said that consciousness just is physical activity of a particular kind. If you object that matter in motion doesn’t entail inner experience, a plausible response is, “Well, it does, in fact. That’s the way we’ve discovered the physical world to be. Time to update your concepts!” Of course, you can find plenty of parallels between the quality of your experience and what is happening neurologically, and that might help you swallow the idea that these are identical processes. The complexity and unity of the rich experience I’m having now is reflected in the complexity and information-integration of my neural processing, for instance. Likewise, there is probably a neural or functional similarity corresponding to the similarity between my experience of red and my experience of orange (in contrast with my experience of blue). It seems that many features of our experience can be explained in this manner. But quite possibly, the intuition will remain that one side of the experience-dynamics equation doesn’t match the other, that some extra ingredient has been smuggled in. That clash of intuition with observation may require explanation, even as the counterintuitive observation does not.

(A two-paragraph tangent: It is an interesting psychological and historical question why conscious humans find it so troublesome to cram consciousness into their theories about the world. Part of the psychological story, I think, is the following: since our consciousness is the pond we are immersed in—the pond we are—we can never directly observe another consciousness, much less see it “entangled” with physical activity. Furthermore, an Ozian curtain of flesh, hair, and bone conceals the intricate mechanisms behind the magic. If we were to pull back the curtain and peer inside, we wouldn’t behold streams of experience (of blue, say) flowing across the wrinkled cortex. Even if we did perceive something blue in there, it would be our experience of blue, not that of the blue-brained subject. Thus, the experience-dynamics relation fits uneasily with our accumulated intuitions about how the world works.

Part of the historical story is that modern science has developed a methodology in which the idiosyncratic and human features of perception are stripped away, leaving behind a non-experiential, mathematical, objective description of the thing perceived. We exiled consciousness from our concept of matter, so of course we find it mysterious why it should emerge from matter. Some thinkers, such as Raymond Tallis (2017), have criticized this methodology for sucking all the meaning, feeling, and concreteness out of our conception of the world. I see the methodology, rather, as a reasonable epistemic move, as long as we remember to pour experience and meaning back in when we suspect the presence of experiencers and meaning-makers. Tangent terminated.)

On the one hand, those who are scientifically minded and faithful to experience should be suspicious of appeals to brute facts about the world, to inquiry-snuffing responses like, “That’s just the way things are.” These are the metaphysical equivalent of the impatient, but pragmatic, parental retort, “Because your mother says so!” Very often in the history of science, further facts about allegedly “well-understood” phenomena had yet to be uncovered, and more empirically adequate theories had yet to be worked out.

But the empiricist must also guard, on the other hand, against “mystery mania”—invoking mysteries and explanatory gaps where there are none. A tendency to reject demands for explanation at certain points forms part of what the philosopher Bas C. van Fraassen (2002) calls the “empirical stance.” Sometimes Mother Nature just “says so,” in which case the hunt for hidden gears, pipes, and pulleys behind bizarre phenomena is a wild goose chase, a waste of intellectual effort. I suspect this is the case with the notorious pop-philosophical question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” There just is, folks. This reply, I think, rightly hurtles over a conceptual obstacle toward the truly worthy pursuit of investigating that “something.”

And I suspect that such is the case with the “hard problem of consciousness,” as well. The most empirically aligned description of the experience-dynamics relation, I believe, is either identity or double-aspect monism. (Note to those familiar with the philosophical literature: I am only asserting a token identity in this series of posts, if “type” of physical activity is understood to exclude a level of abstraction above the molecular. In my next series, I will address the theory of functionalism and the question: At what level of physical activity or functionality does consciousness emerge?) If the relation is identity, it isn’t clear to me that a further explanation is needed; we’ve discovered that our experiential and physical concepts converge on the same bits of reality, and that’s that. Alternatively, if consciousness and physical activity of a particular kind are best described as two sides of the same coin, two distinct properties that nevertheless are inseparable, it doesn’t seem necessary to postulate or search for some physical or nonphysical “glue” to unite them. Their unity may be a marvel: a surprising and extraordinary fact about the universe, without any mysteries beyond what the particular correlations are between them. We mustn’t confuse the lack of an intuitive explanation for the existence of some explanation beyond human (or Martian) grokking.

Note that the currently resurgent view of panpsychism, which posits that consciousness pervades the universe and may appear even among fundamental physical entities, is compatible with both a mind/matter identity theory and double-aspect monism. Chalmers (2003) argues that if the psychophysical relation is a brute fact, then something like panpsychism may follow, since brute facts tend to involve fundamental, universal properties. I will return to panpsychism and Chalmers’ point in my following series on the problem of other minds.

I have wondered at times whether taking the empirical “high road” would mean refraining from classifying the experience-dynamics relation altogether. Is it more prudent to adopt a quietist stance here? We know there’s consciousness; we know it has diverse elements and comes in degrees; and we know there’s a strong connection between it and certain forms of physical activity. Does naming the connection an “identity” versus an “inseparable unity” make a difference to our understanding? Can introspection and scientific investigation adjudicate between the two? Are there different ethical consequences?

In my third and final post of this series, I will address these practical, moral, and methodological questions. I will also outline where I think our investigation of consciousness should head, if the hard problem is dissolved as I suspect. In a nutshell: I will advocate a method popularized by Francisco Varela (1998) called “neurophenomenology.”

Gotta love academics and their sesquipedalian words!

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below! Till next Saturday—


Works Cited

Chalmers, David (2003). Consciousness and its place in nature. In Stephen P. Stich & Ted A. Warfield (eds.), Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Mind. Blackwell. pp. 102–142. Retrieved online at:

Dennett, Daniel (1988). Quining qualia. In: Marcel, A. & Bisiach, E. (eds.).  Consciousness in Modern Science, Oxford University Press.

—(1991). Consciousness explained. New York: Back Bay Books.

Strawson, Galen (2018). Things that bother me: death, freedom, the self, etc. New York: New York Review Books.

Tallis, Raymond (2018). Of time and lamentation: reflections on transience. Newcastle upon Tyne: Agenda Publishing.

van Fraassen, Bas C. (2002). The empirical stance. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Varela, Francisco (1998). Neurophenomenology: a methodological remedy for the hard problem. In Shear, J (ed.). Explaining consciousness: the hard problem. MIT Press.

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Mystery or Marvel: Why is there a link between physical and conscious events? (Part 1)

U.S. Immigration Station, Angel Island, CA (Summer 2019)

In the sixth grade, I was staring at a classmate who was babbling about some inane topic, when I briefly wondered: “Is he alive?”

By “alive,” I did not mean that he satisfied the functional criteria of a life form. That seemed to follow straightforwardly from his behavior. I meant: did he have experiences, like I did? Was there a technicolor film running behind all of his expressions and noises and gesticulations? An inner illuminated world of sights, sounds, smells, pains, pleasures, and other forms of feeling and conscious perception? Or was he rather devoid of consciousness—a philosophical zombie? Mere clockwork in the darkness?

Philosophers call this the “problem of other minds.” Normally it does not perturb us with regard to other humans, given the similarity of their behavior and physiology to our own; one must be pathologically philosophical, I guess, to fall down that rabbit hole. But the problem grows fangs when raised about various other organisms and actual or hypothetical machines. It is not quite the problem I will tackle in this post, but it is certainly related.

Fast-forward to my undergraduate years. After a psychology lecture, I remember contemplating how one might construct a machine that could feel pleasure. I supposed that one would have to imitate, to a sufficient grain, the electrochemical processes responsible for pleasure in animal brains. But then the strangeness of that correlation struck me. Why should the shuffling of electrons and molecules give rise to a feeling of bliss, to that seemingly ineffable state of glorious “yes-ness”? Sure, the physical process reinforces certain behaviors, but that seemed possible without any feeling at all—a matter of adjusting synaptic weights in the neural network. And if I started with a simple, evidently mindless machine, and kept adding components and wiring, increasing its complexity and its information-processing capabilities, at no point would I expect the structure to acquire the capacity to have feelings and conscious perceptions. What hocus pocus would transform electricity and wiring into experiences like the color and taste of turmeric? (See Figure 1 below.)

David Chalmers (2003) has famously called this the “hard problem of consciousness.” Physical events, conceptually or logically speaking, do not seem to imply conscious ones, even though we do find them paired in experience. We certainly have the instinct or habit of attributing consciousness on the basis of certain appearances and behaviors in other people and animals, but as I realized in that sixth-grade classroom, we have no assurance here. Nor do we have assurance in our assumptions that simple animals, plants, and various nonliving things lack consciousness. The link between physical and conscious events is unclear, unexpected, and difficult to establish, especially as we look beyond ourselves and consider beings more and more disanalogous to us. Hence, the hard problem of consciousness and the problem of other minds are tightly interwoven. Both are worthy of our reflection, given the great value and moral significance we place on consciousness. In fact, some have argued that certain states of consciousness are the only intrinsically valuable things. Along with the problem of other minds, the problem of intrinsic value is a question for another post.

To address the hard problem, I want to begin by making an epistemological distinction between mysteries and marvels.

A mystery is something unknown, something in need of explanation. Some philosophers have distinguished between “mysteries” and “puzzles,” regarding the former as less tractable than the latter, but for my purposes here, we can regard the two terms as synonymous. I have mentioned a mystery already: the problem of other minds. We don’t know to what extent many other organisms or even certain machines are conscious. We also don’t know many details about 1) which kinds of physical events correspond to specific kinds of conscious events (like the color or taste of turmeric), and 2) which kinds of physical events correspond to consciousness in general. The former has been called the neural correlates of consciousness (NCCs), and the latter has been called the global neural correlate of consciousness (GNCC) (see, e.g., Metzinger, 2009, p. 11). While plenty of mysteries remain, cognitive science has made great strides on these fronts. See Stanislas Dehaene (2014) for an excellent overview and analysis of research related to the GNCC.

Some philosophers and scientists have claimed that, besides the NCCs and the GNCC, the hard problem of consciousness is also a mystery, with an “explanatory gap” that needs to be filled. Some have even claimed that this is a mystery that humans do not have the cognitive capacity to solve. The philosopher Colin McGinn (1989) is one such mysterian; the cognitive scientist Steven Pinker (1997) has also made remarks along these lines (561-565).

Let us stipulate that a marvel is something strange, counterintuitive, surprising, or awe-inspiring that nonetheless is known and does not stand in need of further explanation. I might marvel at the collective ingenuity and organization of an ant colony while knowing all the relevant eusocial details about how those traits emerge. I might consider a certain conclusion of relativity, quantum mechanics, or particle physics to be marvelous, without needing to believe that some more intuitive mechanism must explain its weirdness. It may just be a bizarre, brute fact about physical reality. Human cognition may be limited in its ability to find such facts intuitive, yet still competent to discover whatever facts there are.

In my next post (Part 2), I will discuss some reasons for thinking that the hard problem is a marvel, and not, in fact, a mystery. Let me know your thoughts about this post and topic in the Reply section below!


Figure 1: Eric’s turmeric. Is your experience of yellow-orangeness the same as mine?

Works Cited

Chalmers, David (2003). Consciousness and its place in nature. In Stephen P. Stich & Ted A. Warfield (eds.), Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Mind. Blackwell. pp. 102–142. Retrieved online at:

Dehaene, Stanislas (2014). Consciousness and the brain: deciphering how the brain codes our thoughts. New York: Penguin Books.

McGinn, Colin (1989). Can we solve the mind-body problem? Mind 98 (July): 349-66.

Metzinger, Thomas (2009). The ego tunnel: the science of the mind and the myth of the self. New York: Basic Books.

Pinker, Steven (1997). How the mind works. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

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