Sunday, September 10, 2017

Some speculations about the "hard problem"

If physicalism is to be defended, the phenomenological features must themselves be given a physical account. But when we examine their subjective character it: seems that such a result is impossible. The reason is that every subjective phenomenon is essentially connected with a single point of view, and it seems inevitable that an objective, physical theory will abandon that point of view. (1.)

This quotation is from a very popular paper by the philosopher Thomas Nagel entitled "What is it Like to be a Bat." (See footnote 1.) For those not familiar with philosophy jargon, physicalism (see quote) is the view that everything is, at bottom, physical. In more technical language, everything supervenes on the physical. An opposite perspective would be idealism. Idealism states that everything is mental; or everything is, at bottom, mental or mind. So, all things supervene on the mind. For science, everything supervenes on the physical. Science, not as method but in its metaphysical outlook is physicalistic. In scientific thought, consciousness or subjective experience is supervened by the physical. Consciousness is said, therefore, to be grounded in physical processes, i.e., consciousness is the result of neural processes. 

When Nagel says that "the phenomenological features must themselves be given a physical account" he states the view that most neuroscientists, cognitive scientists, analytic philosophers of mind, and many philosophers hold. The phenomenological features are the subjective contents of consciousness. Hence, Nagel discusses what it must be like to be a bat--the bat's subjective experience of being a bat. 

Digest this and I'll be back for more. 

1. Nagel, Thomas. "What Is It Like to Be a Bat?" The Philosophical Review 83, no. 4 (1974): 435-50. doi:10.2307/2183914.

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