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The problem of consciousness

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Many people find consciousness deeply puzzling. It is often described as one of the few remaining problems for science to address that is genuinely deep—perhaps even unsolvable. Indeed, consciousness is thought to present a challenge to the prevailing scientific image of the universe as physical through-and-through. In part this puzzlement arises because people are (at least tacitly, on an unconscious level) innate dualists—they consider there to be a division between the mental and physical, the mind and body—resulting from a deep disconnect between the core principles of our intuitive, common-sense, or so-called “folk” psychology and the structure of our intuitive (pre-scientific) physics. This is why people the world over have always been open to belief in ghosts and spirits, as well as the possibility of an afterlife. It is hard for them to see how the mind could be comprised of arrangements and interactions of physical matter. But this problem—the problem of how mental states in general can be physical—has arguably been solved by cognitive science through some combination of functionalism and the representational theory of mind. That is, the mind is comprised of physical states that perform distinctive functional roles—such as motivating actions in the case of desires, or guiding them in the case of beliefs—while carrying information about (and representing) objects and properties in the world outside of the thinker. Even cognitive scientists continue to find consciousness mysterious, however. But this is not the consciousness of being awake versus asleep, nor the sort of consciousness involved in being conscious of (that is, perceiving) some event in one’s environment. Neither of these is mysterious from the standpoint of cognitive science. What is thought to be puzzling is so-called phenomenal consciousness—the introspectively accessible felt properties of our experiences. The nature of this puzzlement is best captured through—and arguably depends. . .

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News source: OUPblog » Philosophy

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