We just recorded our discussion of the philosophy of mind last Sunday, though it’ll be a while before it gets all mixed and edited and posted. The discussion was very wide-ranging and covered a number of colorful personalities in not very much detail at all, so I’m going to post a series of videos to introduce you to these folks.
So, here, first, is apparently a member of Whitesnake, i.e. David Chalmers:
Now, a lot of what he says seems obvious, and it should: it is obvious to us that we are conscious, and this recognition is something different than knowing anything about neurology, and our experience has a certain “feel” to us (he calls these feelings “qualia”).
He argues (using an example from Frank Jackson; most of the ideas from this interview are from the literature and not specific to Chalmers) that the fact that we could know all there is to know about the physicality of seeing a color, and still learn something when we at last see it ourselves, and this suggests to him that there is something over and above the physical to consciousness, i.e. he argues from an observation about our epistemic access to the world (how we know things) to an ontological point (i.e. what kind of stuff there is in the world).
One weird point, that we actually don’t discuss in the podcast is the possibility of “zombie,” i.e. beings that act just like we do, including claiming that they’re conscious, yet they have no inner lives. He doesn’t argue that such beings actually exist, but only that they are conceivable, and hence metaphysically possible. Now, it sounds here like he’s just saying that there could be beings that cleverly imitate the behavior of conscious beings that aren’t conscious. This I can buy as as possibility. What he means, though (and he says this elsewhere) is the stronger claim that it’s possible for someone to have all the same brain states that I do, yet still not be conscious, which to me is not at all intuitively obvious, and arguably begs the question against physicalism (the view that, ontologically, everything is physical, and thus mental states are physical… most likely brain states).
There’s an equivocation to watch out for here. His interviewer claims that lots of people deny the existence of consciousness. Well, there are some that do that, but that sort of behaviorism is for the most part dead; we can’t actually deny the obvious. What a greater number of people do deny is that a complete theory that explains our experience has to have any “mental terms” like believe, desire, qualia, etc. in it. So no one (well, almost no one) is saying that consciousness doesn’t exist as phenomenon-to-be-explained; they’re just saying that talk of consciousness won’t be part of the theory that does the explaining. Chalmers’s ultimate claim is that it is impossible to conceive of how physical accounts can “explain” to our intuitive satisfaction the appearance that our experience has to each of us, while his opponents’ position is that it’s not impossible, just very very hard.
For more on how Chalmers responds to arguments against the conceivability of zombies and other matters, you can read his article “Consciousness and its Place in Nature.”