Can art solve the Hard Problem? (Tom Stoppard's play)


EXCERPT: . . . The speech was delivered by a real person, an actress, playing an imaginary person, a psychologist named Hilary, in a play called The Hard Problem. Hilary is the play’s central character, although the hard problem itself is arguably the central character.

. . . Tom Stoppard and David Chalmers raise the same question: Can science solve the mind-body problem, the deepest mystery of existence? The philosopher thinks so. In 1994 he said that “there is no reason to believe that [the hard problem] will remain permanently unsolved.” He thought a solution required moving beyond conventional materialistic methods, in which a phenomenon is reduced to physical processes.

He proposed that reality, in addition to matter and energy, consists of information. Information has an objective, physical aspect, which can be measured, and a subjective aspect, which manifests itself as conscious states. Consciousness is a property of anything that processes information--like a thermostat. Chalmers actually used this example, which Hilary derides.

[...] I can’t be sure what Tom Stoppard thinks, but I suspect Hilary speaks for him. She definitely speaks for me. I don't believe in a God who answers prayers. But I grinned and nodded when Hilary said that “every theory proposed for the problem of consciousness has the same degree of demonstrability as divine intervention.”

As I argue in my new book Mind-Body Problems, I don’t think we can solve the hard problem in the same way we have solved, say, photosynthesis or heredity. [...] Information-based theories of consciousness won’t work, for reasons that I spell out here. I believe and, yes, hope that the more we learn about ourselves, the more we will see ourselves as infinitely, inexplicably improbable--even, you might say, miraculous.

What worries me is that we might think we have solved the hard problem and stop marveling at ourselves. In fact, some philosophers, notably Daniel Dennett, have tried to explain away the hard problem by claiming that consciousness isn’t that big a deal. In a sense, consciousness doesn’t even exist, Dennett argues, because it is an “illusion” produced by our brains.

For rebuttals of this position, see critiques by philosopher Galen Strawson and by me. Or see Stoppard’s marvelous play. Like all great artists, Stoppard doesn’t pretend to solve the mind-body problem. He does something much more valuable. He dramatizes the problem [...] so we can see it from different and even contrary perspectives...

I've GOT to see that play! Tks for the headsup.
(Dec 17, 2018 11:29 PM)Magical Realist Wrote: I've GOT to see that play! Tks for the headsup.

I'll probably have to wait for the movie version and a television series. Or a youtube video jumping the gun on a theater network or PBS stage recording.

On one hand, it's strange how what Horgan calls the "the deepest mystery of existence" took 2,500 years since the dawn of the performing arts to finally become a subject of a play.

On the other hand, maybe not so surprising when considering that the majority of people throughout history have been visceral phenomenal realists. If our native, default assumption -- without even having to think about -- is that things "out there" exist as the same "showing themselves" sensations and conceptual apprehensions as "inside here", then obviously there wouldn't seem to be an explanatory mystery. Especially due to the circularity of the only "external world" which is truly given to us, without any need for reasoning and experiment, presenting itself as composed of such sensory properties.

But upon it later being inferred and introduced into popular beliefs that there is a more valid metempirical version of the world (varyingly labeled material / physical, abstract / intellectual, archetypal, etc)... With the latter devoid of phenomenal properties and disappearing when not represented by the mind... Then the trouble does rear its head, as to how the familiar manifested affairs come from the "invisible stuff" and its arrangements.

In terms of science and the restrictions of its guiding template... Explanations seem subsumed by only two optional generalizations:

1. Qualitative characteristics are fundamental, and incrementally develop in complexity from primitive precursors;

2. Qualitative characteristics are abruptly introduced (conjured) when the performance of a structure (algorithmic, systemically coherent, etc) achieves a certain standard or sophistication.

The first is vulnerable to being interpreted as micro-panpsychism.

The second is vulnerable to being interpreted as dualism (an immaterial agency establishing correlation to a fetal brain/body at a critical stage of maturation).


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