Psychology Wiki

Assessment | Biopsychology | Comparative | Cognitive | Developmental | Language | Individual differences | Personality | Philosophy | Social |
Methods | Statistics | Clinical | Educational | Industrial | Professional items | World psychology |

Philosophy Index: Aesthetics · Epistemology · Ethics · Logic · Metaphysics · Consciousness · Philosophy of Language · Philosophy of Mind · Philosophy of Science · Social and Political philosophy · Philosophies · Philosophers · List of lists

The term hard problem of consciousness, coined by David Chalmers[1], refers to the difficult problem of explaining why we have qualitative phenomenal experiences. Chalmers contrasts this with the "easy problems" of explaining the ability to discriminate, integrate information, report mental states, focus attention, etc. Easy problems are easy because all that is required for their solution is to specify a mechanism that can perform the function. That is, their proposed solutions, regardless of how complex or poorly understood they may be, can be entirely consistent with the modern materialistic conception of natural phenomena. Chalmers claims that the problem of experience is distinct from this set, and he assumes that the problem of experience will "persist even when the performance of all the relevant functions is explained".[2]

Formulation of the problem

Various formulations of the "hard problem":

  • "Why should physical processing give rise to a rich inner life at all?"
  • "How is it that some organisms are subjects of experience?"
  • "Why does awareness of sensory information exist at all?"
  • "Why do qualia exist?"
  • "Why is there a subjective component to experience?"
  • "Why aren't we philosophical zombies?"
  • "Phenomenal Natures are categorically different from behavior"


It has been argued that the hard problem has scholarly antecedents considerably earlier than Chalmers.

Gottfried Leibniz wrote:

Moreover, it must be confessed that perception and that which depends upon it are inexplicable on mechanical grounds, that is to say, by means of figures and motions. And supposing there were a machine, so constructed as to think, feel, and have perception, it might be conceived as increased in size, while keeping the same proportions, so that one might go into it as into a mill. That being so, we should, on examining its interior, find only parts which work one upon another, and never anything by which to explain a perception.[3]

Isaac Newton wrote in a letter to Henry Oldenburg:

to determine by what modes or actions light produceth in our minds the phantasm of colour is not so easie.[4]

T.H. Huxley remarked:

how it is that any thing so remarkable as a state of consciousness comes about as the result of irritating nervous tissue, is just as unaccountable as the appearance of the Djin when Aladdin rubbed his lamp".[5]


Scientific attempts

Main article: Neural correlates of consciousness

There have been scientific attempts to explain subjective aspects of consciousness, which is related to the binding problem in neuroscience. Many eminent theorists, including Francis Crick and Roger Penrose, have worked in this field. Nevertheless, even as sophisticated accounts are given, it is unclear if such theories address the hard problem. Patricia Smith Churchland has famously remarked about Penrose's theories that "Pixie dust in the synapses is about as explanatorily powerful as quantum coherence in the microtubules."[6]

Consciousness is fundamental or elusive

Some philosophers, including Chalmers himself, argue that consciousness is a fundamental constituent of the universe, a form of panpsychism sometimes referred to as Hylopathism.

Thomas Nagel has posited that we can, in principle, never have an objective account of consciousness.

New mysterianism, such as that of Colin McGinn, proposes that the human mind, in its current form, will not be able to explain consciousness.

Deflationary accounts

Some philosophers, such as Daniel Dennett,[7] oppose the idea that there is a hard problem. These theorists argue that once we really come to understand what consciousness is, we will realize that the hard problem is an illusion. Notable deflationary accounts include so called Higher-Order Thought (HOT) theories of consciousness.[8]

See also


  1. The Place of Mind, ed. Brian Cooney
  2. "Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness", David Chalmers, Journal of Consciousness Studies 2 (3), 1995, pp. 200-219.
  3. Leibniz, Monadology, 17, quoted by Istvan Aranyosi
  4. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Panpsychism
  5. The Elements of Physiology and Hygiene: A Text-book for Educational Institutions, by T.H. Huxley & W.J. Youmans. Appleton & Co., 1868 p. 178
  6. Churchland, Patricia Smith (2002). Brain-wise: studies in neurophilosophy, p. 197, MIT Press.
  7. Dennett, Daniel. "Commentary on Chalmers: Facing Backwards on the Problem of Consciousness"
  8. Carruthers, Peter "Higher-Order Theories of Consciousness". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.  

External links

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).