The Problems of Consciousness

A note on "explanation"

Note that, even if we could in principle explain every objective event in terms of other objective events, we would not necessarily be able to predict future states of the objective world in terms of the current state. There might be inherent unpredictabilities in the objective laws of the universe; in fact our current best physical theories strongly suggest that there are, at the quantum level, exactly such unpredictabilities.

So if we were to try to explain a particular objective event in terms of other objective events, we can still count ourselves successful even if, at some point or points in the explanation, we have to say "and at this point a quantum event occurred; the possible outcomes were this and this and this, and their respective probabilities were this and this and this; and when we look at what actually happened, it was perfectly compatible with that." This is not enough to allow us to predict the future from the past, but it is enough to allow us to explain it.

Is this sort of simple randomness a wide enough crack in the objective universe to allow consciousness to sneak in? It seems unlikely. A unimaginably tiny structure that behaves in a limited number of ways with a fixed set of probabilities does not seem to be at all the sort of thing that could connect my experienced decisions to my body's macroscopic actions. That is, the fact that some parts of the universe behave randomly seems to be a very different fact from the fact (if fact it is) that parts of it behave the way that I decide within myself that they ought to behave.

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David Chess accepts all the blame, but Steve White gets some of the credit. If you're lost, see the site map. This page last updated January 15th, 2000.