Critical Review Essay

D. Chalmers discusses the problem of conscious experience in his article “The Puzzle of Conscious Experience”. In fact, this problem is probably one of the central problems of modern psychology because, in spite of a considerable progress of psychology, the “puzzle” of the conscious experience still remains unresolved and modern psychologists still cannot come to agreement on the adequate understanding and explanation of conscious experience. In such a situation, it is quite natural that Chalmers attempts to suggest his own solution to this problem, though, unlike other specialists working on this problem, he has quite original suggestion. In fact, he argues that he suggests the development of a totally theory which could comprise both physics and psychology to explain the main problem of the conscious experience, which Chalmers defines as the question “how physical processes in the brain give rise to subjective experience” (Chalmers, 1995, 63).

First of all, Chalmers provides a brief overview of two opposing, if not to say opposing views on the consciousness.

On the one hand, there is the position supported  by neuroscientists according to which the consciousness can be explained simply the physics of brain. In other words, according to this position, human consciousness is a pure physical phenomenon which can explained by means of in-depth research of brain on neurological level and the mystery of consciousness can be uncovered due to advances in neurology. On the other hand, Chalmers discusses the opposing view, according to which the consciousness is absolutely impossible to research since it is highly subjective and, therefore, cannot be researched in scientific terms.

In fact, the description of two antagonistic views on the consciousness is very important because, firstly, it captures the attention of readers of the article, secondly the author gives certain background of the major problem he is going to discuss in his article and, finally, attempts to show that both these positions are incorrect and too radical in their conclusions. In such a situation, the alternative suggested by the author seems to be a kind of the ideal solution to the “puzzle” of conscious experience. To put it more precisely, the author attempts to create a favorable background in which his own suggestion can be presented in a positive light. Obviously, such an approach to the presentation of his ideas is quite effective, though it mainly refers to the emotional perception of his article rather than to objective evaluation of researches in the field of consciousness. In other words, intentionally or not the author discusses the opposing views on consciousness quite superficially. He does not conduct an in-depth analysis of existing theories concerning consciousness and he does not really discusses researches conducted by other specialists dedicated to the problem of the conscious experience and the link between physical processes and subjective consciousness. Instead, what Chalmers does is a skeptical and quite superficial presentation of two contrasting views on consciousness which he criticizes and eventually defines as erroneous and irrelevant. In such a context, he introduces the solution which he apparently believes to be the best approach to the problem of the conscious experience.

In fact, the author suggests developing a new, alternative approach which would combine both physics and psychology to explain the phenomenon of consciousness and how the subjective consciousness can emerge on the basis of physical process and perception. In such a way, he argues that the compromise between physics and psychology can contribute to uncover the mystery of the conscious experience. Chalmers calls it a new theory which is to be developed, but, in actuality, such a theory does not exist.

At first glance, his suggestion to the problem of understanding the conscious experience is quite logical, especially in the context of a long-running argument between neuroscientists and psychologists concerning the consciousness.

Nevertheless, on a profound reflection, it becomes obvious that his suggestion is far from perfect. In fact, he suggests introducing fundamental laws similar to those which exist in physics. However, these new fundamental laws should be applied to psychology and consciousness should be a core of these laws and concepts. At the same time, such laws have never been invented yet, while the choice of consciousness as one of the fundamental concepts is a very good idea, but, simultaneously, it is a highly controversial idea. In fact, even Chalmers agrees that the concept of consciousness, as well as the consciousness experience, is still not clear for psychologists and physics. In such a context, the suggestion to take the consciousness as one of the fundamental concepts of a new theory seems to be very strange because it is impossible to develop a new theory on the ground of concepts which are not clearly define and which are not fully understood by modern scientists. Hence, it is possible to argue that what Chalmers actually suggests is not a new theory but it is rather a false theory a priori.

In addition, it is worth mentioning the fact that Chalmers views the conscious experience as well as consciousness in statics. What is meant here is the fact that Chalmers views conscious experience as a perception of some external event or phenomenon by human brain, its processing by the brain and its impact on the subjective consciousness of an individual. However, the researcher does not take into consideration the fact that subjective consciousness of an individual exists permanently and it cannot respond on certain physical processes which a person experience at the moment. Instead, human consciousness is very complicated and it is affected not only by the current experience of an individual but also by the past experience of an individual. Moreover, an individual has certain values, principles and personal philosophy which also influence his perception of the surrounding world and physical processes which occur around him. Hence, this past experience should be also taken into consideration, while discussing the puzzle of conscious experience, but Chalmers ignores it focusing entirely on the momentous relationship between processes in the brain and the subjective consciousness. In such a context, his suggestions concerning the possibility of creation of artificial consciousness with the help of silicon chips is absolutely irrelevant since, even though machines were able to perceive the environment physically in the same way as humans do, they would be unable to process the information they perceive in the same way because they did not have human experience, will and truly human identity.

Thus, in conclusion, it should be said that the idea of Chalmers to develop a new theory or theoretical approach which could explain what he calls the hard problem of consciousness is good in principle because it is true that existing theories do not give the full explanation of consciousness and conscious experience. On the other hand, he fails to suggest a truly reliable and effective theoretical approach.

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