WHAT IS THE PROBLEM OF CONSCIOUSNESS?
(This is part of a series of informal notes, taken during ongoing collaborative conversations on the subject of the problem of consciousness.)
It is a multi-faceted problem.
First of all, what is consciousness? We use it every second of every day but no one seems to be able to give a convincing explanation of what it is. A materialist will say that consciousness is a secondary or tertiary effect of material electro-chemical processes. On the other hand there is some evidence suggesting that it is consciousness which is primary and that matter is a secondary effect of consciousness.
A second facet of the problem is that, out of the 8-9 million species of life on the planet, only homo sapiens can ask the question “What is consciousness?” It’s the one trait that sets us apart from every other species. Behaviors like emotion, language, tool-making, city building, meta-cognition and cultural transmission of information exist in rudimentary form in other species but engagement with the problem of consciousness is of an entirely different order of behavior. While other life forms can use awareness, only humans can ponder the source of the awareness we are using. Usually a trait evolves because it confers some kind of adaptive advantage. What’s the advantage of this trait?
Another facet: even though this behavior is unique to homo sapiens, very few people ever spend any time doing it. Why is that? Is some kind of cultural suppression at work here?