Max Tegmark's TEDx-Talk On Consciousness
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Those interested in consciousness will be aware of David Chalmer's "hard problem". This refers to the difficulty of understanding 'qualia', or, subjective phenomenological experience. For example, we may want to understand the colour 'red' which appears to us, phenomenologically, when we see a red car, a red apple or red hair (etc.). We may quantify this experience by measuring brain waves upon a subject's sighting of something red. But, it appears that even if we are presented with all that a physicalist can account for being 'red' (the mathematics, the science) we would see wavelength descriptions and brain waves. But we would not 'see', or 'feel' red amongst the equations. The equations would not suddenly turn from written letters and numbers into the colour 'red', despite being a 'complete' description of it. Therefore, it appears that there is something that it is like for us to see, or feel, 'red' above the physicalists description of it. We have subjective experience of 'red'. The problem becomes more complicated when we attempt to synthesise the idea of having a brain and a 'mind', where the 'mind' is responsible for this subjective experience and the brain more 'functional' duties such as motor control (movement). This is because if the physical (our brain) and the non-physical (our mind) inhabit the same space but yet are fundamentally distinct by following different physical laws, they cannot have any causal effect upon one another. If the 'mind' behaves according to the physical, material laws which we understand then it's the brain. If the mind does not behave materially (particles, chemical reactions etc.) then it cannot affect that which is governed by material laws. And so the 'mind' can have no affect upon the brain because if the 'mind' were to see 'red' and wanted the brain to pick up the juicy red apple because it looks delicious, it could not direct the brain towards it because it would have no way to influence it, physically. There would be no neurochemical influence, no synapses firing and the apple would not be retrieved.
Max Tegmark (physics professor at MIT), discusses this debate within neuroscience, and theorises that we already have the ingredients to understand this hard problem, in this TEDx-Talk. For me this is a major step in synthesising qualia and the physicalist's understanding of the brain. And, ultimately, an extremely positive message: we have the tools already, so let's stop arguing and go forward! Theoretically, I love this. Enjoy!
BA Criminology & Sociology
University of Kent
Third year undergraduate