The three implausible presuppositions of the hard problem

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« on: March 14, 2020, 10:33:35 pm »
The three implausible presuppositions of the hard problem

I deny that the question of the hard problem is sensible, as the presuppositions on which the question rests are not plausible by themselves. I here identify three such implausible presuppositions: first, that consciousness is determined by contents, second that it is cognitive, and third that it can be located in the mind, cognition, brain, body, or world.

If these presuppositions can be replaced by more plausible ones, as I will demonstrate, the question and thus the hard problem itself can be dissolved. In other words, the hard problem is no longer relevant.

Consciousness, especially as defined by philosophers, is often conceived as the pinnacle of our cognitive abilities. This conception has continued in neuroscience, where consciousness is determined by specific cognitive functions ranging from prediction, access and meta-cognition.

However, we experience ourselves and the world even when we shut down all our cognitive functions. For example, consider meditation, where we detach ourselves from our cognitions, perceptions, and ultimately even our body.

Throughout all of the various layers of detachment, one feature remains consistent: the experience of one’s inner time and space relative to the outer time and space in the world. Consciousness can still persist even if devoid of the contents associated with perception and cognition.

In contrast, if one’s inner time and space can no longer relate to the world’s outer time and space, consciousness will cease to exist. This is the case in anaesthesia, deep sleep (except during dreams), and coma. I therefore conclude that consciousness is temporo-spatial, rather than cognitive.

Isn't this panpsychism or idealism?

Now to the final presupposition of the hard problem of consciousness. There is a long tradition persisting until now of locating consciousness in the mind, brain, body, or even the whole world. Something can be located in something else, only if it can be isolated as an entity that is distinct from others and thus special.

Taken in this sense, consciousness is supposed to be a special entity that can be isolated and located. Various suggestions have been made in this regard in both philosophy and neuroscience. Consciousness is supposed to be a special mental or physical property, a special neuronal process like integration, access, or globalisation. In the most extreme view, consciousness is supposed to be a special property that permeates the whole world as assumed in panpsychism.

However, any such isolation and location stands counter to the nature of consciousness. We experience the whole world and its various external events in our consciousness which by itself is part of that very same world. Moreover, we experience our own internal thoughts and their contents as part of that wider world. Given such an ecological nature, consciousness cannot be located and isolated at a specific point in time and space in either the brain, body, or world. Instead, it constitutes a relation between all three. Hence, consciousness is relational, rather than isolated and it is ecological, rather than locational: It is based on a world-brain relation, rather than on properties in the mind, brain, body, or world (Northoff 2016, 2018).