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David Chalmers

  • 1. What is the hard problem of consciousness? Why is Chalmers skeptical about any suggested solution to this problem involving functionalist or neurobiological explanations?
  • 2. Chalmers asks us to conceive of a zombie world just like ours, but minus consciousness. How does he think the conceivability of such a world is evidence for dualism? Can you provide a counterargument?
  • 3. Is a zombie world identical to ours, only minus consciousness, possible? If the physical laws are identical and consciousness is a natural phenomenon, would it not have to occur in both worlds? Is not Chalmers’s suggestion akin to thinking there could be a world just like ours, but minus photosynthesis? In what sense is Chalmers thinking of possibility—as logical or physical—and what difference would it make to his argument?
  • 4. What does Chalmers mean by suggesting that consciousness is a fundamental? Why does he make this move? What motivates it?
  • 5. On the view of consciousness as a fundamental, how does Chalmers picture consciousness as fitting in with the physical universe? Is he able to avoid epiphenomenalism?
  • 6. What is Chalmers’s notion of a psychophysical bridge law? What work does this notion do in his account of the possibility of a science of consciousness?
  • 7. What consequence does Chalmers’s principle of structural coherence have for his account of the existence of consciousness in the universe? Why does it bring him to suggest that a thermostat could well be conscious?
  • 8. How can Chalmers’s principle of structural coherence be used to articulate conditions for the multiple realizability of consciousness? What would have to be the case according to this principle if, for example, a robot and a human had the same conscious experiences?
  • 9. What is the dual-aspect theory of information? How does it define consciousness?
  • 10. Is information intrinsic to nature? For Chalmers’s account of consciousness to get off the ground, he has to show that information is intrinsic to nature and not observer relative. If information is not part of physics, then it is difficult to see how there could be psychophysical bridge laws between information structures in the physical world and consciousness. The way Chalmers uses the term, information is computational, and this use goes back to Shannon’s early work on information-processing theory. The term does not involve meaning, unlike our ordinary notion of information; when a computer is processing information, it is a matter of syntactical processing. The computer doesn’t need to understand or have intentionality to process information. Information processing can, in other words, be seen as a purely mechanical process. This may make it seem as if information processing could be found intrinsically in nature because nature is, in a sense, mechanical. But is information processing intrinsic to nature? If all philosophers and the rest of humankind were wiped out by a comet, our solar system would still be around, but would there be computation, information, and syntactical structures? Would there be information processing? Why, or why not?
  • 11. How could consciousness come from information? Chalmers takes us from the world of physically instantiated information patterns to the world of conscious experience through the principle of structural coherence. But suppose a critic pointed out that to say there are correlations between brain patterns and consciousness adds nothing beyond what we should expect. If there was no structural coherence between—let us say—visual processes in the brain and what we see, that would be remarkable. So when we learn, for example, that there are cells that correspond to points in the visual field, both in the retinas and in the visual cortex, it is hardly surprising. Chalmers’s real challenge is to explain why consciousness should be seen as ubiquitous to physics and not a causal neurobiological phenomenon. Would you agree with such a critique? How might Chalmers respond?
  • 12. Chalmers makes a division between phenomenal consciousness, with subjective experience, and nonphenomenal consciousness, without subjective experience? Is it a helpful division? Why, or why not?
  • 13. Chalmers’s account of consciousness as a noncausal fundamental feature of the universe appears epiphenomenal. Should this worry us? Why, or why not?
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