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Consciousness: a mystery even deeper than we believed

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The enigma of human consciousness, far from being a simple theme linked to the brain, is a cornerstone of our being and continues to confuse scientists and thinkers. Since the dawn of the 1990s, thanks to the innovative thinking of Australian philosopher David Chalmers, the debate on the dichotomy between “ easy problems » and the “ difficult problems ” of consciousness has grown in scope.

Easy problems refer to explanations of behavior and cognitive functions, such as discrimination, categorization or reaction to stimuli for example. They are called “easy” because they can be addressed by standard scientific mechanisms. Hard problems of consciousness, on the other hand, concern the question of why and how these cognitive processes are accompanied by subjective experience. That is, why is there conscious experience associated with brain functions, and why don't they just take place “in the dark” without consciousness.

At present, the emergence of new perspectives only deepens the mystery surrounding consciousness, making it more impenetrable than ever.

The difficult problem of consciousness: a persistent philosophical challenge

To illustrate the complexity of this paradox, Chalmers coined the concept of “ philosophical zombie “, an entity behaving identically to a human being, with similar reactions and cognitive processes, but devoid of all consciousness. Such a zombie could scream in pain following an injury, without actually experiencing this sensation.

This notion raises a fundamental question: whether our behavior can change ;#8217;explained entirely by physical mechanisms, where our ability to feel comes from? Chalmers argues that our human (non-zombie, so to speak) nature necessarily indicates the existence of an additional element in our constitution, the only one able to explain our consciousness.

The controversy surrounding this difficult problem divides the philosophical community. Chalmers and his disciples postulate the existence of a dimension of consciousness irreducible to simple physical processes. In contrast, thinkers such as Daniel Dennett consider this distinction between feeling and behavior to be meaningless. According to him, understanding consciousness means elucidating behavior, including the internal mechanisms of the brain. He thus refutes the existence of a “difficult problem” distinct from these behavioral explanations.

Recent developments: an even deeper divide?

Recently, a growing number of philosophers have begun to consider that the dissociation between “feelings” (subjective experiences) and “behaviors” (observable reactions) raises an even more complex challenge than that initially envisaged by David Chalmers.

Certain thinkers pushed the reflection even further than Chalmers, by proposing even more radical concepts to test this distinction. Let’s take the example of chromatic inversions. Let's imagine an individual who, when faced with a banana, perceives the color that we usually associate with a tomato, and vice versa. Although this individual behaves identically to others (affirming, for example, that bananas are yellow and tomatoes red), his subjective experience of colors is reversed.

Another striking example is pleasure-pain reversals. Let us imagine the existence of living beings experiencing pleasure where they should feel pain and vice versa. So an injury would give them pleasure, but that pleasure would cause them to scream and run away, just like someone feeling pain. Likewise, the act of eating or drinking would inflict pain on them, which paradoxically would encourage them to continue these activities.

These concepts demonstrate that if we admit the possibility of dissociating behaviors and subjective experiences (as philosophical zombies suggest), then these inverted beings should be conceivable. This calls into question the very coherence of this separation between behavior and feeling. In other words, if we can consider pleasure-pain inversions as plausible, it means that our current understanding of consciousness and its relationship to behavior is flawed and in need of a thorough reevaluation.

Psychophysical Harmony

The notion of psychophysical harmony stands out as a pivotal concept in this debate, according to which consciousness and behavior are coherently and rationally coordinated in our Universe, unlike hypothetical scenarios where these two aspects would be misaligned. If we evolved in a world where pleasure and pain were reversed, natural selection should have shaped us to experience pleasure in the face of bodily harm and pain in food.

This highlights that evolutionary explanations of our consciousness already presuppose our non-membership in the category of pleasure-pain inversions, just as they postulate the existence of self-replicating life.

Certain thinkers see in this psychophysical harmony proof of divine existence. Others believe that it encourages us to question our most fundamental assumptions about reality. Since the advent of the scientific revolution, we have conceived of natural laws as operating from the past to the present. In other words,current events are the direct result of past events, in a continuous causal chain.

Consciousness still remains an enigma, which invites us to rethink the very foundations of our understanding of reality. Beyond current philosophical debates, this quest could well lead us towards unexplored horizons of science, calling into question our conception of time, causality and existence itself. Perhaps the key to this mystery lies in a radically new approach, transcending the limits of our current thinking and opening the way to a conceptual revolution as profound as that initiated by mechanics quantum in the last century.

  • The philosopher David Chalmers introduced the distinction between the easy problems (behavioral explanations) and the hard problem (subjective experience) of consciousness.
  • Certain concepts (philosophical zombies, inversion pleasure-pain) challenge our current understanding of consciousness.
  • The notion of psychophysical harmony suggests that consciousness and behavior are coherent, which may require a profound reassessment of our scientific assumptions.

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Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116