MNSU Why Neuroscience May Be Able to Explain Consciousness Homework Please I need an one page answer for this question please:
Q: Chalmers distinguishes a hard problem from an easy problem concerning our understanding of the mind. What is the hard problem? Why is it hard? In what respect is it a problem about knowing what states of consciousness are like? He says that states of consciousness cannot be understood in terms of structure and function. Why does he say this? In what respect is his claim similar to Searle’s claim that intentionality cannot be understood in terms of formal function and structure?
– I will attach the chapter that has the answer for this question in the attachments. the
WE ARE AT LAST PLUMBING
ONE OF THE MOST PROFOUND
MYSTERIES OF EXISTENCE.
BUT KNOWLEDGE OF
THE BRAIN ALONE MAY NOT
GET TO THE BOTTOM OF IT
BY DAVID J. CHALMERS
CONSCIOUSNESS, the subjective experience of
an inner self, poses one of the greatest challenges
to neuroscience. Even a detailed knowledge of
the brain’s workings and the neural correlates of
consciousness may fail to explain how or why
human beings have self-aware minds.
Updated from the December 1995 issue
COPYRIGHT 2002 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, INC.
THE HIDDEN MIND
COPYRIGHT 2002 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, INC.
O N S C I O U S experience is at
once the most familiar thing in
the world and the most mysterious. There is nothing we
know about more directly
than consciousness, but it is extraordinarily hard to reconcile it with everything
else we know. Why does it exist? What
does it do? How could it possibly arise
from neural processes in the brain? These
questions are among the most intriguing
in all of science.
From an objective viewpoint, the
brain is relatively comprehensible. When
you look at this page, there is a whir of
processing: photons strike your retina,
been rejecting the idea that consciousness
cannot be studied and are attempting to
delve into its secrets. As might be expected of a field so new, there is a tangle of diverse and conflicting theories, often using
basic concepts in incompatible ways. To
help unsnarl the tangle, philosophical
reasoning is vital.
The myriad views within the field
range from reductionist theories, according to which consciousness can be explained by the standard methods of neuroscience and psychology, to the position
of the so-called mysterians, who say we
will never understand consciousness at
all. I believe that on close analysis both of
something of its general nature. For example, it will probably involve new fundamental laws, and the concept of information may play a central role. These
faint glimmerings suggest that a theory of
consciousness may have startling consequences for our view of the universe and
The Hard Problem
R E S E A R C H E R S use the word “consciousness” in many different ways. To clarify
the issues, we first have to separate the
problems that are often clustered together under the name. For this purpose, I find
it useful to distinguish between the “easy
electrical signals are passed up your optic nerve and between different areas of
your brain, and eventually you might respond with a smile, a perplexed frown or
a remark. But there is also a subjective aspect. When you look at the page, you are
conscious of it, directly experiencing the
images and words as part of your private,
mental life. You have vivid impressions of
the colors and shapes of the images. At
the same time, you may be feeling some
emotions and forming some thoughts.
Together such experiences make up consciousness: the subjective, inner life of
For many years, consciousness was
shunned by researchers studying the
brain and the mind. The prevailing view
was that science, which depends on objectivity, could not accommodate something as subjective as consciousness. The
behaviorist movement in psychology,
dominant earlier in this century, concentrated on external behavior and disallowed any talk of internal mental processes. Later, the rise of cognitive science
focused attention on processes inside the
head. Still, consciousness remained offlimits, fit only for late-night discussion
Over the past several years, however,
an increasing number of neuroscientists,
psychologists and philosophers have
these views can be seen to be mistaken
and that the truth lies somewhere in the
Against reductionism I will argue that
the tools of neuroscience cannot provide a
full account of conscious experience, although they have much to offer. Against
mysterianism I will hold that consciousness might be explained by a new kind of
theory. The full details of such a theory
are still out of reach, but careful reasoning
and some educated inferences can reveal
PEERING into our inner
selves can be frustrating.
problems” and the “hard problem” of
consciousness. The easy problems are by
no means trivial— they are actually as
challenging as most in psychology and
biology— but it is with the hard problem
that the central mystery lies.
The easy problems of consciousness
include the following: How can a human
subject discriminate sensory stimuli and
react to them appropriately? How does
the brain integrate information from
many different sources and use this information to control behavior? How is it
that subjects can verbalize their internal
states? Although all these questions are
associated with consciousness, they all
concern the objective mechanisms of the
cognitive system. Consequently, we have
every reason to expect that continued
work in cognitive psychology and neuroscience will answer them.
The hard problem, in contrast, is the
question of how physical processes in the
brain give rise to subjective experience.
This puzzle involves the inner aspect of
thought and perception: the way things feel
for the subject. When we see, for example, we experience visual sensations, such
as that of vivid blue. Or think of the ineffable sound of a distant oboe, the agony
of an intense pain, the sparkle of happiness or the meditative quality of a moment lost in thought. All are part of what
THE HIDDEN MIND
COPYRIGHT 2002 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, INC.
RENÉ MAGRITTE, THE DOUBLE SECRET, 1927; © 1997 C. HERSCOVICI, BRUSSELS; ARTISTS RIGHTS SOCIETY (ARS),
NEW YORK; GIRAUDON/ART RESOURCE, NEW YORK (preceding pages); DUSAN PETRICIC (this page)
A theory of consciousness may have startling
consequences for our view of the universe and of ourselves.
ISOLATED NEUROSCIENTIST in a black-and-white room knows everything about how the brain
processes colors but does not know what it is like to see them. By itself, empirical knowledge of the
brain does not yield complete knowledge of conscious experience.
it is like to experience a color such as red.
It follows that there are facts about conscious experience that cannot be deduced
from physical facts about the functioning
of the brain.
Indeed, nobody knows why these
physical processes are accompanied by
conscious experience at all. Why is it that
when our brains process light of a certain
wavelength, we have an experience of
deep purple? Why do we have any experience at all? Could not an unconscious
BLACK-AND-WHITE PHOTOGRAPH BY DAN WAGNER; DIGITAL COMPOSITION BY TOM DRAPER DESIGN
I call consciousness. It is these phenomena that pose the real mystery of the mind.
To illustrate the distinction, consider
a thought experiment devised by the Australian philosopher Frank Jackson. Suppose that Mary, a neuroscientist in the
23rd century, is the world’s leading expert on the brain processes responsible for
color vision. But Mary has lived her
whole life in a black-and-white room and
has never seen any other colors. She
knows everything there is to know about
physical processes in the brain— its biology, structure and function. This understanding enables her to grasp all there is
to know about the easy problems: how
the brain discriminates stimuli, integrates
information and produces verbal reports.
From her knowledge of color vision, she
knows how color names correspond with
wavelengths on the light spectrum. But
there is still something crucial about color vision that Mary does not know: what
automaton have performed the same
tasks just as well? These are questions
that we would like a theory of consciousness to answer.
Is Neuroscience Enough?
that consciousness arises from the brain. We know, for
example, that the subjective experience
of vision is closely linked to processes in
the visual cortex. It is the link itself that
perplexes, however. Remarkably, sub-
I AM NOT DENYING
DAVID J. CHALMERS studied mathematics at Adelaide University in Australia and as a Rhodes
Scholar at the University of Oxford, but a fascination with consciousness led him into philosophy and cognitive science. He has a Ph.D. in these fields from Indiana University and is
currently in the department of philosophy at the University of Arizona. Chalmers is author
of The Conscious Mind and numerous articles. The book Explaining Consciousness: The Hard
Problem collects responses to the ideas in this article along with Chalmers’s reply.
THE HIDDEN MIND
COPYRIGHT 2002 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, INC.
jective experience seems to emerge from
a physical process. But we have no idea
how or why this is.
Given the flurry of recent work on
consciousness in neuroscience and psychology, one might think this mystery is
starting to be cleared up. On closer examination, however, it turns out that almost all the current work addresses only
the easy problems of consciousness. The
confidence of the reductionist view comes
from the progress on the easy problems,
but none of this makes any difference
where the hard problem is concerned.
Consider the hypothesis put forward
by neurobiologists Francis Crick of the
Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San
Diego and Christof Koch of the California Institute of Technology. They suggest
that consciousness may arise from certain oscillations in the cerebral cortex,
which become synchronized as neurons
fire 40 times per second. Crick and Koch
believe the phenomenon might explain
how different attributes of a single perceived object (its color and shape, for example), which are processed in different
parts of the brain, are merged into a coherent whole. In this theory, two pieces
of information become bound together
precisely when they are represented by
synchronized neural firings.
The hypothesis could conceivably
elucidate one of the easy problems about
how information is integrated in the
brain. But why should synchronized oscillations give rise to a visual experience,
no matter how much integration is taking place? This question involves the
hard problem, about which the theory
has nothing to offer. Indeed, Crick and
Koch are agnostic about whether the
hard problem can be solved by science at
all [see box below].
The same kind of critique could be
applied to almost all the recent work on
consciousness. In his 1991 book Consciousness Explained, philosopher Daniel C. Dennett laid out a sophisticated
theory of how numerous independent
processes in the brain combine to pro-
WHY NEUROSCIENCE MAY BE ABLE TO EXPLAIN CONSCIOUSNESS
By Francis Crick and Christof Koch
e believe that at the moment the best
approach to the problem of explaining
consciousness is to concentrate on finding
what is known as the neural correlates of
consciousness— the processes in the brain
that are most directly responsible for
consciousness. By locating the neurons in
the cerebral cortex that correlate best with
consciousness, and figuring out how they
link to neurons elsewhere in the brain, we
may come across key insights into what
David J. Chalmers calls the hard problem: a
full accounting of the manner in which
subjective experience arises from these
We commend Chalmers for boldly
recognizing and focusing on the hard
problem at this early stage, although we are
not as enthusiastic about some of his
thought experiments. As we see it, the hard
problem can be broken down into several
questions: Why do we experience anything
at all? What leads to a particular conscious
experience (such as the blueness of blue)?
Why are some aspects of subjective
experience impossible to convey to other
people (in other words, why are they
private)? We believe we have an answer to
the last problem and a suggestion about the
first two, revolving around a phenomenon
known as explicit neuronal representation.
What does “explicit” mean in this
context? Perhaps the best way to define it
is with an example. In response to the
image of a face, say, ganglion cells fire all
over the retina, much like the pixels on a
television screen, to generate an implicit
representation of the face. At the same
time, they can also respond to a great many
other features in the image, such as
shadows, lines, uneven lighting and so on.
In contrast, some neurons high in the
hierarchy of the visual cortex respond
mainly to the face or even to the face
viewed at a particular angle. Such neurons
help the brain represent the face in an
explicit manner. Their loss, resulting from a
stroke or some other brain injury, leads to
prosopagnosia, an individual’s inability to
recognize familiar faces consciously—even
his or her own, although the person can still
identify a face as a face. Similarly, damage
to other parts of the visual cortex can cause
someone to lose the ability to experience
color, while still seeing in shades of black
and white, even though there is no defect in
the color receptors in the eye.
At each stage, visual information is
reencoded, typically in a semihierarchical
manner. Retinal ganglion cells respond to a
spot of light. Neurons in the primary visual
cortex are most adept at responding to lines
or edges; neurons higher up might prefer a
moving contour. Still higher are those that
respond to faces and other familiar objects.
On top are those that project to pre-motor
and motor structures in the brain, where
they fire the neurons that initiate such
actions as speaking or avoiding an
Chalmers believes, as we do, that the
subjective aspects of an experience must
relate closely to the firing of the neurons
corresponding to those aspects (the neural
correlates). He describes a well-known
thought experiment, constructed around a
hypothetical neuroscientist, Mary, who
specializes in color perception but has
never seen a color. We believe the reason
Mary does not know what it is like to see a
color, however, is that she has never had
an explicit neural representation of a color
in her brain, only of the words and ideas
associated with colors.
In order to describe a subjective visual
experience, the information has to be
transmitted to the motor output stage of
the brain, where it becomes available for
verbalization or other actions. This
transmission always involves reencoding
the information, so that the explicit information expressed by the motor neurons is
related, but not identical, to the explicit
THE HIDDEN MIND
COPYRIGHT 2002 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, INC.
duce a coherent response to a perceived
event. The theory might do much to explain how we produce verbal reports on
our internal states, but it tells us very little about why there should be a subjective experience behind these reports. Like
other reductionist theories, Dennett’s is a
theory of the easy problems.
The critical common trait among
these easy problems is that they all concern how a cognitive or behavioral function is performed. All are ultimately
questions about how the brain carries
out some task— how it discriminates
stimuli, integrates information, produces reports and so on. Once neurobiology
specifies appropriate neural mechanisms,
showing how the functions are performed,
the easy problems are solved.
The hard problem of consciousness,
in contrast, goes beyond problems about
how functions are performed. Even if
every behavioral and cognitive function
related to consciousness were explained,
there would still remain a further mystery: Why is the performance of these
functions accompanied by conscious experience? It is this additional conundrum
that makes the hard problem hard.
information expressed by the firing of the
neurons associated with color experience,
at some level in the visual hierarchy.
It is not possible, then, to convey with
words and ideas the exact nature of a
subjective experience. It is possible,
however, to convey a difference between
subjective experiences— to distinguish
between red and orange, for example. This
is possible because a difference in a highlevel visual cortical area will still be
associated with a difference in the motor
stages. The implication is that we can never
explain to other people the subjective
nature of any conscious experience, only
its relation to other ones.
The other two questions, concerning
why we have conscious experiences and
what leads to specific ones, appear more
difficult. Chalmers proposes that they
require the introduction of “experience” as
a fundamental new feature of the world,
relating to the ability of an organism to
process information. But which types of
neuronal information produce consciousness? And what makes a certain type of
information correspond to the blueness of
blue, rather than the greenness of green?
Such problems seem as difficult as any in
the study of consciousness.
We prefer an alternative approach,
involving the concept of “meaning.” In what
sense can neurons that explicitly code for a
face be said to convey the meaning of a
face to the rest of the brain? Such a
property must relate to the cells’ projective
field— the pattern of synaptic connections
to neurons that code explicitly for related
concepts. Ultimately, these connections
extend to the motor output. For example,
neurons responding to a certain face might
be connected to ones expressing the name
of the person whose face it is and to others
for her voice, memories involving her and so
The Explanatory Gap
that to solve
the hard problem, we need to bring in
new tools of physical explanation: non-
SOME HAVE SUGGESTED
KANIZSA TRIANGLE stimulates neurons that code
explicitly for such illusory contours.
on. Such associations among neurons must
be behaviorally useful— in other words,
consistent with feedback from the body and
the external world.
Meaning derives from the linkages
among these representations with others
spread throughout the cortical system in a
vast associational network, similar to a
dictionary or a relational database. The
more diverse these connections, the richer
the meaning. If, as in our previous example
linear dynamics, say, or new discoveries
in neuroscience, or quantum mechanics.
But these ideas suffer from exactly the
same difficulty. Consider a proposal from
Stuart R. Hameroff of the University of
Arizona and Roger Penrose of the University of Oxford. They hold that consciousness arises from quantum-physical
processes taking place in microtubules,
which are protein structures inside neurons. It is possible (if not likely) that such
a hypothesis will lead to an explanation
of how the brain makes decisions or even
how it proves mathematical theorems, as
Hameroff and Penrose suggest. But even
if it does, the theory is silent about how
these processes might give rise to con-
of prosopagnosia, the synaptic output of
such face neurons were blocked, the cells
would still respond to the person’s face,
but there would be no associated meaning
and, therefore, much less experience.
Therefore, a face would be seen but not
recognized as such.
Of course, groups of neurons can take
on new functions, allowing brains to learn
new categories (including faces) and
associate new categories with existing
ones. Certain primitive associations, such
as pain, are to some extent inborn but
subsequently refined in life.
Information may indeed be the key
concept, as Chalmers suspects. Greater
certainty will require consideration of
highly parallel streams of information,
linked— as are neurons— in complex
networks. It would be useful to try to
determine what features a neural network
(or some other such computational
embodiment) must have to generate
meaning. It is possible that such exercises
will suggest the neural basis of meaning.
The hard problem of consciousness may
then appear in an entirely new light. It
might even disappear.
FRANCIS CRICK is Kieckhefer Distinguished
Research Professor at the Salk Institute for
Biological Studies in San Diego. CHRISTOF
KOCH is Loi…
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