Philosophy of Mind Consciousness Is a Problematic Term Paper

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Philosophy of Mind

Consciousness is a problematic aspect of scientific investigation, whether such science relates to the non-physical concept of mind or the physical investigation of the brain and all its interconnections. Indeed, some philosophers over centuries of thought have even attempted to deny the very existence of consciousness, just as they attempted to deny the existence of the soul. Current philosophers such as David J. Chalmers, however, hold that consciousness is proven not by scientific, objective means, but rather by subjective, individualistic means. Indeed, the fact that the self has experiences related to the brain and body functioning, is the proof of this. The problem lies in the fact that this aspect of self that experiences is terribly illusive. It is impossible to pin down consciousness and study it. Yet it is clear that all human beings and animals experience the world via their consciousness. Perhaps this non-physical aspect of an obviously existing phenomenon could also be used to speculate on the nature of the soul, not so much in religious terms, as in philosophical terms.

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In order to make a case for consciousness as the seat of the soul, works by David J. Chalmers and Stephen Knapp. Chalmers approaches the concept of consciousness from the assumption that it is a non-physical phenomenon that cannot be proved by physical means. Indeed, he spends a large amount of time refuting arguments by materialists in order to prove this point. Knapp takes this a step further. He uses the non-physical nature of consciousness and the difficulty of pinning it down for study in order to make his points regarding the nature and location of the soul. For Knapp, the soul, the consciousness, and the personality are synonymous, as well as separate from the physical body, which includes the brain. Chalmers also argues for the separate nature of consciousness from the physical processes within the body. According to the philosopher, there is no physical process within the brain cells to account for the phenomenon of conscious experience.

Chalmers: The Dual Problem of Consciousness

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In his paper, "Consciousness and its Place in Nature" (2002), Chalmers explicates the problem of studying consciousness in terms of two types of problems: the "easy" and the "hard" (Chalmers, p. 2). The former refers to the "mechanical" functions of consciousness, such as discriminating stimuli, reporting information, and controlling behavior. These functions, being fairly homogeneous among individual persons, do not pose a problem for being explained in terms of neuroscience, according to the author. Indeed, in Knapp's terms, they might as well be performed by very complex machines or robots. The three functions are based upon the human capacity to learn and internalize external stimuli, which then translates into the manifestation of certain functions. These are "easy" problems of consciousness in terms of philosophy.

Chalmers identifies the "hard" problem as one of human experience and the fact that this phenomenon is subjective (Chalmers, p. 2). The basis of the problem is the uniqueness of each experience for each individual. In Chalmer's terms, "...there is something it is like to be..." A particular person. In technical terms, Chalmers refers to this as being phenomenally conscious. Experience are perceived against the backdrop of previous experiences. The human being experiences the world through his or her physical senses. This primary experience is then colored and connected with the emotional and mental experiences of the person. It is this connection that makes the experience unique as well as problematic in terms of study and explication. According to Chalmers, the conscious states includes the perceptual experience of all the sensations and experiences mentioned above, including the physical, the mental, and the emotional. These experiences are accompanied by occurrent thought and imagery. To see vivid green, for example would mean a specific concomitance of different experiences for each individual consciousness on earth. While the physical manifestation of the color may be the same, it is not perceived in the same way by individuals, because individuals bring to the current experience a unique set of previous experiences. One person may for example feel nauseous when seeing the color, while another may feel elated and happy, both because of different past experiences. "What it is like" to be in the state of seeing the color, to feel regret, or to be late, is therefore unique to the individual, depending upon previous experiences that are based upon the same phenomenal experience.

It should be noted that Chalmers does not promote separating the consciousness from the brain, as obviously phenomena such as memory and previous experience are based in the physical brain cells. However, what is unexplained is the reason for the rise of consciousness. There is no logical link between the complexities of consciousness and the physical brain, which is essentially similar for all human beings.

This lack of an obvious link between the physical brain and phenomenal experience is however what Knapp and others like him exploit to explain their concept of the "soul."

Knapp: The Search for the Soul

According to Knapp's philosophy of mind, which he draws in large part from spiritual literature, there is no physiological link between the conscious self and the physical brain. Instead, the consciousness functions as a sort of "passenger" that simply uses the body until the death of the latter. The body is viewed as a physical "machine" that carries out function such as reporting, distinguishing or controlling, as seen above. This separation between the body and consciousness is then what Knapp uses as the basis for his theory of the soul.

Scientifically, the author uses experiments done with epileptic patients to substantiate his claim for the soul. The patients received electric shocks to certain parts of their brains to elicit responses. However, these patients uniformly reported that they did not respond by choice, but that the shock created an unconscious impulse to respond. Hence, these shocks demonstrated only that the physical parts of the body - the brain and the body parts responding - are linked. The consciousness itself played no part in the response. Knapp argues that this substantiates his claim for the consciousness as a separate entity from the body.

The above is directly related to the will. The patients did not want to respond - they did so without exercising their will. Consciousness, as Chalmers also substantiates, can therefore not be mechanistic in nature. It is fluid and experiential. There is no simple robotic stimulus-response cycle to the human mind and consciousness. The experiments then served as a means of proving that whatever link there might be between the physical brain and consciousness is far more tenuous than was once believed.

In terms of experience, Knapp also addresses the phenomena that each individual experiences as unique. The enjoyment of music or a sunset, for example, cannot be experienced in a mechanistic way. The physical experience of seeing a sunset or hearing music is processed physiologically by the brain, but the way in which these are experienced relates to the consciousness. As mentioned above, the specific experiences of these phenomena are unique to each human being.

From this, Knapp moves into a more spiritually oriented argument with the example of the near-death experience. Comatose patients for example were documented as reporting that they experienced a separation from their physical bodies. Many of these patients were able to describe in detail events that they have seen, such as medical and operation procedures, that they could not have any knowledge of unless they had actually seen it. Knapp uses these findings to further substantiate the possibility of a separate consciousness that might adhere to the properties generally ascribed to the soul. In essence, the author holds that the consciousness is a non-physical entity residing within the body, experiencing through the body, and using the body's lifespan for its manifestation on earth. It is nevertheless separate from the physical body and brain, and is also the seat of the personality. Hence, one can derive from Knapp's argumentation that the consciousness, the personality, and the soul are a single phenomenon.

The question is whether these arguments are sufficiently convincing to locate the human soul within the human consciousness. Chalmers offers a somewhat more lengthy and complex argument for the nonphysical nature of the consciousness.

Against Materialism

Chalmers accepts the fact that consciousness and experience are not mechanistic consequences of the brain. The physical link is the basis for these experiences, i.e., human beings experience the world through their senses. The consciousness then takes the experience further to add the emotional and the mental. This leads Chalmers to the recognition that behavioral and cognitive functions are not the issue when considering consciousness. The problem is the experience that accompanies these functions, and Chalmers concludes that the problem should be seen in a different light than the purely behavioral and neurological.

In order to reach his explication of consciousness as separate from the purely physiological, Chalmers begins by offering arguments from the physiological viewpoint in order to point out their limitations. Reductivism… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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