The hard problem of consciousness is the problem of experience – explaining how our brains merge the connection between physical sensations and experience, how and why it is these physical systems are matters of our experience. How sensations acquire characteristics, like taste and colors. Chalmers contrasts the hard problem with the ‘easy problems’ of explaining the ability to discriminate, integrate information, report mental states, focus attention, etc. Regardless of how complex or poorly understood they may be they can be completely consistent with the modern materialistic conception of natural phenomena – the problem of experience is different from this set and will continue even when the performance of all the applicable functions is explained. In understanding the roles that physical processes play in creating consciousness and the extent to which these methods create our subjective qualities of experience could provide an answer to the hard problem of consciousness. Several questions about consciousness must be resolved in order to acquire a full understanding of it. Questions which include, but aren’t limited to, whether being conscious could be entirely defined in physical terms – such as the combination of neural processes in the brain. It follows that if consciousness cannot be clarified exclusively by physical happenings in the brain, then it must surpass the capabilities of physical systems and calls for an explanation of nonphysical means. For philosophers who insist consciousness is non-physical in nature, there is a persistent question about what is external of physical theory that is required to explain consciousness.
How does it differ from the easy problems of consciousness?
The hard problem of consciousness is explaining how our brains blend the connection between physical sensations and experience (our response to being hit or kicked and our response to that physical sensation) – and the easy problems are associated with the belief of awareness, to be capable (awake or alert) to receive information and act on that information accordingly. The easy problems of consciousness differ from the hard problem of consciousness because the easy problems are definable (in terms of what they allow a subject to do), while the hard problem is not definable. What unites all of these definable states is that there is something it’s like to be in them. The hard problem contrasts with easy problems; in explaining how the brain integrates information, categorizes and discriminates environmental stimuli, or focuses attention. The easy problems of consciousness also include – the difference between wakefulness and sleep, deliberate control of behavior, reportability of mental states and the ability of a system to access its own internal state. All of them are states of experience. In this fundamental sense of consciousness an organism is considered conscious if there is something it is like to be that organism, and a mental state is conscious if there is something it is like to be in that state. Easy problems are easy because all that is necessary for their solution is to specify a mechanism that can perform the appropriate function. These sensations are functionally definable. If (or when) we are able to explain how the brain works to integrate information is discovered then we could solve these easy problems, because they concern identifying mechanisms that clarify how functions are performed. Explaining how functions are performed, when experience is related to a variety of functions, still leaves many questions unanswered – such as why their performance is connected to experience and why there is one kind of experience over another kind of experience. Again the example of the experience of being hurt opposed to joy or laughter – the connection between such brain processes and experience, and why they are accompanied by experience at all might well remain unanswered. Discovering neural associates of consciousness and why these correlations exist might also leave the hard problem unresolved.
How does Chalmers propose to address the hard problem of consciousness?
There is no solution for the hard problem of consciousness (yet) – but Chalmers offers to ‘solve’ the hard problem of consciousness (how sensations acquire characteristics) by presenting a speculative theory of structural coherence and of organizational invariance. The hard problem of consciousness is a problem of clarification, and to suggest a solution is not to explain it. Chalmers’ goal was to first separate the hard problem from the ‘easy’ problems, argued that the reductive methods failed to grasp the hardest parts of the problem, and then intended to give a naturalistic description of consciousness that combine non-reductive explanation. His proposal included several ideas of solution – including taking experience itself, alongside, space and time, charge and mass, as a fundamental feature of the world; and naturalistic dualism. Within Chalmers’ principle of organizational invariance, states any two systems containing the same fine grained functional organization would have qualitatively equal experiences. The principle of structural coherence has several aspects – follows that a subject of awareness, given its coherence between awareness and consciousness, would be a link to conscious experience. Awareness is a purely functional concept and contains cognitively reachable information; also, a direct correspondence between consciousness and awareness exists, and within this constitutes the principle of structural coherence.