An Update and Chalmers

This aside is meant to provide some context for upcoming posts.

In ‘Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness,’ David Chalmers explains exactly those features which make the ‘hard problem of consciousness’ oh so very hard. In light of his explanation, he suggests a way forward for nonreductive explanation, pointing out that in physics, it occasionally happens that an entity must be taken as fundamental (that is, not explained in terms of any [simpler] constituents or component parts), pointing out that to explain electromagnetism, the ontology of physics had to be expanded (with new basic properties and laws to explain electromagnetic phenomena). In a similar way, physics takes matter and spacetime as fundamental.

This leads him to propose that we take perceptual experience as fundamental (in a way analogous to electromagnetism and spacetime). He points out a number of features that a nonreductive theory of consciousness ought to have, and then goes on to suggest three basic principles in a theory of consciousness, namely (1) the principle of structural coherence, (2) the principle of organizational invariance, and (3) the double-aspect theory of information. Our discussion will primarily revolve around 3.

Chalmers understands information in the sense of Shannon information.  From the observation that there is a direct isomorphism between physical processes and phenomenal (or experiential) processes — that is, physical processes and conscious experience each embody the same abstract information. Chalmers hypothesizes that (at least some) information has two basic aspects, viz. the physical and the phenomenal. On this thought, experience arises in virtue of its status as one aspect of information and physical processes embody the other aspect of information.

Chalmers says that one motivation for this view comes from Wheeler and his ‘it-from-bit’ doctrine. The laws of physics can be cast in terms of information, and he takes it that Wheeler shows that information is fundamental to the physics of the universe.

Upcoming posts will be primarily concerned with exploring the viability of both information being fundamental and if this is the sort of thing that would actually buttress Chalmers’ view.


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