By Denyse O’Leary at Evolution and News
Boldly putting aside Darwin’s “horrid doubt” about the naturalist view of the mind, researchers decided to embrace naturalism. That meant, of course, addressing what philosopher David Chalmers has called “the hard problem” of consciousness.
Decades later, they have not discovered anything that reduces basic, overlapping concepts such as consciousness, the mind, the self, or free will to naturalistic explanations. There are those, like philosopher Alex Rosenberg, who simply assert such explanations as fact. Yet there is no serious scientific theory of consciousness now, and none on the horizon.
When we are conscious, we are both observers and observed. Greg Peterson suggests, “It is as if we were trying to look both in and out of the window at the same time.”1 But lack of objectivity is only one difficulty. Consciousness cannot be observed directly. There is no single center of consciousness in the brain. Nor is it a mechanism of the brain.
Research has taught a few things, of course. Self-talk, for example, was found to take up a quarter of conscious experience. We have also detected consciousness in patients in a vegetative state (using an Alfred Hitchcock movie — which demonstrated, among other things, that some of his films really can (well, almost) wake the dead).
But the difficulties are formidable, even if naturalist approaches can solve them. For one thing, as neurobiologist Nicholas Spitzer explains, the neuroscience is fairly new”
“We have a hundred billion neurons in each human brain … Right now, the best we can do is to record the electrical activity of maybe a few hundred of those neurons.”
Evolution hasn’t turned out to be much help. Human and monkey brains are more similar than expected, which only makes the gap harder to account for.