Throwing Down the Gauntlet on the Hard Problem of Consciousness (6): The Philosophy of Science

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Thus far, we have attempted to demonstrate that the contemporary failure to adequately explain qualia is not a quirk or an accident. Rather, it follows from the meaning of the terms in which the hard problem of consciousness itself is articulated. The latter are in turn derived straight from the ontology that modern physics has developed, which in turn largely presents an hypostasis of its methodology. In a way, this connection would seem so obvious that one could scarcely imagine how the hard problem could have persisted for so much time and generated so much spirited exchange to no apparent avail. Evidently, treating this subject is not only a question of evaluating evidence in a vacuum. In fact, this does not even makes sense since evidence is always correlative to a theory or paradigm that it can be evidence for, as material cause is to formal one. Otherwise, it would not be evidence but mere observation. Philosophers of science in the twentieth century like Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend captured this in the phrase “all observation is theory-laden.” The former neatly sums up the nature of the hard problem in his monumental work The Structure of Scientific Revolutions:

One of the things a scientific community acquires with a paradigm is a criterion for choosing problems that, while the paradigm is taken for granted, can be assumed to to have solutions. To a great extent these are the only problems that the community will admit as scientific or encourage its members to undertake. Other problems, including many that had previously been standard, are rejected as metaphysical, as the concern of another discipline or sometimes as just too problematic to be worth the time. A paradigm can, for that matter, even insulate the community from those socially important problems that are not reducible to the puzzle form, because they cannot be stated in terms of the conceptual and instrumental tools the paradigm supplies.

Kuhn argues that the questions that a given community is disposed to consider are a function of the metaphysical paradigm in which that community operates. The intent of this investigation has been to disclose the nature and the generation of this paradigm in an effort to reveal the reason for its inability to account for the hard problem of consciousness. To further underscore what Kuhn refers to as “the incommensurability of paradigms,” we can invoke an illustrative example of the 1997 collection of essays on Goethean science titled The Marriage of Sense and Thought in which the authors compare (1) “a warm smile between friends,” to (2) “a widening of the oral aperture, caused by contractions of the cheek musculature.” Obviously the first cannot serve as counter-evidence to disprove the second, nor can the second account for the first in respect to any further interactions and behaviour to follow, to say the least. Rather, in the second instance, one could at most hope to amass statistical correlations between such sequences of muscle contraction and those that tend to follow them, and begin further to correlate these to other physiological processes including brain activity and other physiological parameters. Still, no quantity of such external correlations will compensate for the methodological exclusion of the internal ones. Moreover, and with specific pertinence to the subject of this investigation, no description of physical characteristics accounts for the quale of the happiness itself, which was the formal cause of the smile in the first place, and of which all of the physical processes were a signature. We also offered the illustration of the diachronic metamorphosis of meaning of the term “gravity” in the last section as another expression of evolving paradigmata. Returning Edelglass and Maier’s example: it follows self-evidently from the nature of each of them why only one of these paradigmz will be able to account for qualia, while in the other one they “are rejected as metaphysical, as the concern of another discipline or sometimes as just too problematic to be worth the time.” Indeed such a rejection is just what one discovers amongst several contemporary philosophers of mind—two exemplary figures of which are Daniel Dennett and Thomas Metzinger, whose work we will treat in the next section.


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