David Chalmers is a philosopher of mind whose characterization of consciousness
as "the hard problem" has set a very high bar for understanding the mind. He says that "the problem of quantum mechanics is almost as hard as the problem of consciousness."
For the past two decades, he has repeatedly asked two questions, "What is the place of consciousness in nature?," and "What is the reality behind quantum mechanics?"
That these questions are connected comes from many scientists who speculated that the mind of the conscious observer
is the cause of the collapse of the wave function
. This is nonsense. Wave functions have been collapsing long before physicists and human beings existed.
Physicists like John von Neumann
and Eugene Wigner
and many other "interpreters" of quantum mechanics argue that wave-function collapse is evidence for a cosmic consciousness or mind of God at work creating the universe
. Chalmers sees it for evidence of panpsychism
, that consciousness is a fundamental, non-material component of the universe.
Chalmers describes his position as a naturalistic dualism
, also known as physicalism
. He doubts that consciousness can be explained by physical theories, because consciousness is itself not physical. We partly agree, because all experiences are recorded and reproduced as immaterial
information - in both conscious and unconscious playback.
But information, while not material, is embodied in the physical world - as human knowledge
, and as the experiences recorded in our minds (our ERR mind model
). It is a property
of the material world. The relationship between idealism (ideas are immaterial
information) and materialism (the idea that everything in the universe is matter - or energy) is a "dualism." And Chalmers thinks (correctly) it is a "property" dualism, not the "substance" dualism usually attributed to René Descartes
, but actually much older. See our extensive table of dualisms
over the centuries.)
Chalmers says that the failure of supervenience
implies that materialism - as a monistic theory of the complete contents of the world, that there is "nothing but" matter, and that the world is "causally closed," for example - is "false." We agree with this and believe that the reductionist arguments of Jaegwon Kim
can be shown wrong. Here is Chalmers...
- In our world, there are conscious experiences.
- There is a logically possible world physically identical to ours, in which the positive facts about consciousness in our world do not hold.
- Therefore, facts about consciousness are further facts about our world, over and above the physical facts.
- So materialism is false.
Chalmers suggests that the dualistic (non-physical) element might be information
. Indeed it might. With this idea too, information philosophy
completely agrees. Mind/body is a property
dualism, not a "substance" dualism, as Descartes
Chalmers says that a "fundamental theory of consciousness" might be based on information
. He says that "physical realization is the most common way to think about information embedded in the world, but it is not the only way information can be found. We can also find information realized in our phenomenology
He is quite correct. Information is neither matter nor energy. It needs matter to be embedded temporarily in the brain. And it needs energy to be communicated. Phenomenal experiences transmitted to us as visual perceptions, for example, consist of information that is pure radiant energy. The pure (mental) information content in one brain can be transmitted to other brains, by converting it to energy for communication; other brains can then embody the same information (perhaps with significant differences in the details) for use by other minds (the "multiply realizable" software in different brains' hardware).
But such transmitted information is stripped of the contextual emotions that are generated by each individual's past-life experiences reproducer (ERR
). So the same "information" "or "knowledge"
Chalmers comes very close to our view of the mind as
information. He describes his fundamental theory as a "double-aspect principle."
The treatment of information brings out a crucial link between the physical and the phenomenal: whenever we find an information space realized phenomenally, we find the same information space realized physically...It is natural to suppose that this double life of information spaces corresponds to a duality at a deep level. We might even suggest that this double realization is the key to the fundamental connection between physical processes and conscious experience. We need some sort of construct to make the link, and information seems as good a construct as any. It may be that
principles concerning the double realization of information could be fleshed out into a system of basic laws connecting the physical and phenomenal domains.
We might put this by suggesting as a basic principle that information (in
the actual world) has two aspects, a physical and a phenomenal aspect.
Wherever there is a phenomenal state, it realizes an information state, an
information state that is also realized in the cognitive system of the brain.
Conversely, for at least some physically realized information spaces, whenever an information state in that space is realized physically, it is also realized phenomenally...
Information seems to be a simple and straightforward construct that is well
suited for this sort of connection, and which may hold the promise of yielding a set of laws that are simple and comprehensive. If such a set of laws could be achieved, then we might truly have a fundamental theory of consciousness.
It may just be...that there is a way of seeing information itself
In his conclusions, Chalmers declares himself to be a mind-body dualist
I resisted mind-body dualism for a long time, but I have now come to the point where
I accept it, not just as the only tenable view but as a satisfying view in its
own right. It is always possible that I am confused, or that there is a new
and radical possibility that I have overlooked; but I can comfortably say
that I think dualism is very likely true. I have also raised the possibility of
a kind of panpsychism. Like mind-body dualism, this is initially counterintuitive, but the counterintuitiveness disappears with time. I am unsure whether the view is true or false, but it is at least intellectually appealing, and on reflection it is not too crazy to be acceptable.
Chalmers has explored panpsychism
, the thesis that some fundamental material entities have mental states. Information philosophy denies this, identifying mind-like behavior only with the information processing in the "subjective experiences" of living things.
We have surveyed many philosophers and scientists who turned to panpsychism, including Alfred North Whitehead
, Wolfgang Pauli
(greatly influenced by Carl Jung
), Gregory Bateson
, William Seager
, Roger Penrose
, Henry Stapp
, Stuart Hameroff
, Ulrich Mohrhoff
, Uwe Meixner
, David Chalmers
, and Galen Strawson
. Since information is a universal property of matter, it "goes all the way down," so in one sense, the basis of mentality - information - is present in the simplest physical structures.
But information philosophy shows there is nothing like reflective
awareness in the passive
information structures like the galaxies. stars, and planets. It is only living things, that use information processing to manage the flow of matter and energy through this information structures, that have the awareness and reactions to their environments that can be called consciousness in higher beings.
And there is nothing like the accumulated experiences recorded in the brains of higher animals that make their "conscious" reactions to similar events quite diverse. This accounts for the first-person, "subjective" nature of experience that Chalmers calls the "hard problem" of consciousness
Material objects react "objectively" in their interactions with other objects. Living things, with their immaterial
minds, react "subjectively" to events in the world. They have "behaviors," which are the products of their individual life experiences that have been acquired environmentally ("nurture") as well as the past experiences of their species, which are transmitted genetically ("nature"). Higher organisms with two stages of freedom and creativity
also can create genuinely new behaviors and add to the increasing sum
of human knowledge.
Chalmers restates his view of the "hard problem" in a recent publication:
Consciousness and its Place in Nature
The hard problem of consciousness is the problem of experience. Humans beings have subjective
experience: there is something it is like to be them. We can say that a being is conscious
in this sense – or is phenomenally conscious, as it is sometimes put—when there is something it
is like to be that being. A mental state is conscious when there is something it is like to be in that
state. Conscious states include states of perceptual experience, bodily sensation, mental imagery,
emotional experience, occurrent thought, and more. There is something it is like to see a vivid
green, to feel a sharp pain, to visualize the Eiffel tower, to feel a deep regret, and to think that one
is late. Each of these states has a phenomenal character, with phenomenal properties (or qualia)
characterizing what it is like to be in the state.
"What it's like to be..." is to have an experience recorder and reproducer (ERR