In this post, I tackle the perennial “problem of other minds,” especially as it applies to nonhuman animals. 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).
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 petContinue reading “Mystery or Marvel: Why is there a link between physical and conscious events? (Part 3)”
(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 diverseContinue reading “Mystery or Marvel: Why is there a link between physical and conscious events? (Part 2)”
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, likeContinue reading “Mystery or Marvel: Why is there a link between physical and conscious events? (Part 1)”