Kevin Aylward B.Sc.
This paper is to provide a detailed explanation of the proof that the hard problem of consciousness is intrinsically unsolvable, that is, why is it that we can be actually "aware", when we are only composed of inanimate mass-energy? This can be summed up as:
A computer does not "feel" pain, you do. Why?
A clarification of what is meant by understanding, and why it is referred to as an emotion in these papers is presented
The fundamental reason for the hard problem is the meaning and very definition of understanding itself. This crucial notion has simply been ignored.
If an argument can be shown to be circular or self referral, then any explanation within that loop can be made valid. That is, no explanation can be taken as the correct one as they are all "correct". It is shown here that all arguments regarding the explanation of consciousness are self-referral, hence consciousness cannot be explained by reference to its physical parts.
Again, it cannot be emphasized enough that before any statements about understanding conscious awareness can be made whatsoever, the very word and notion of "understanding" must be first defined. Any argument with the word "understanding" in it, is completely meaningless until the word "understanding" is defined. Indeed, the argument presented here is equally applicable to any other terms that inherently depend on the notion that those terms are attempted to "explain".
If we "understand", for example a theory of physics we mean that something clicks in our brain such it "all seems so clear". How than, are we to "understand" our own consciousness, as understanding requires such consciousness?
This is a very special situation. It applies in no other situations where we desire to understand "a something".
For the purposes of this paper, only conscious understanding is relevant, as by inherent assumption, the "understanding" that a non-conscious mechanism might have, is not relevant to a discussion on the hard problem.
So, the hard problem is not rooted in physics, it is rooted in simple logic It is the inability to define the concepts used to describe a something, without appealing to such something in defining such concepts.
It is also noted here, that an initial reaction to the notion that "understanding" is an emotion can be quite negative. This is not because it is really in conflict with someone's existing knowledge, but just that many have not really thought about the issue at all. In reality, it matters little whether there is disagreement on this, as it is fundamentally just a matter of word definitions, and the proof shown here is independent of such an identification.
When someone says that they actually, truly understand something, what do they mean?
When their brain clicks and they jump out of the bath in excitement and say "Eureka, I've got it!!!", "it all makes sense now". What is really happening?
It is clear that there is a general feeling, a feeling of "understanding". Something that they are consciously aware of, that they have solved a problem. It is therefore quite reasonable to refer to such understanding as an emotion, as emotions are those traits that we are consciously aware of.
If we are not conscious, then we can't understand anything, therefore understanding requires consciousness.
Which means that any explanation that refers to understanding, must by its very nature, include consciousness. That is the very word "understanding" can not even be defined without using consciousness in that definition.
Consciousness Cannot Be Derived
"Understanding" itself requires consciousness, therefore consciousness cannot be "understood" without referring to itself for the explanation, therefore the "hard problem" of consciousness, is intrinsically unsolvable as it is self referral.
Understanding that which gives us understanding is intrinsically unsolvable as it is self referral.
"I now understand how inanimate matter results in consciousness. What do you mean by "understand"? Well, understanding is that quality which results when one has consciousness...".
Physics is proven incomplete, that is, no understanding of the parts of a system can explain all aspects of the whole of such system.
The above argument is an argument for the impossibility of deriving an explanation for conscious awareness as a direct consequence of the interaction of the individual components that make up the brain and or human body. That is, the existing laws of physics are not enough. We need to add new ones, as Goedel indicates that we might have to, if physics is to be complete.
What do we actually mean by an explanation, that would satisfy us as in the "Eureka, I've got it". "I finally understand how inanimate matter results in consciousness?
The only way we can actually perceive any explanation at all, is via our consciousness. If we aren't conscious of an explanation, than the explanation means nothing to us, by definition. Since the only way to "understand" or explain anything at all is to be conscious of it, there is no way to "understand" consciousness itself, without invoking consciousness as part of the explanation. This is a 1self referral or circular situation. There is thus no way to derive an explanation of consciousness, i.e. an understanding of consciousness. It is something that just is. Something that occurs when very complicated systems interact. Its a new axiom of physics. However, this does not mean that consciousness is not material i.e. fully physically based. It just means that we need to add a new concept to existing physics to account for all of the properties of mass-energy based systems. For example, the Pauli exclusion principle is just an additional axiom to quantum mechanics not contained in the basic axioms of quantum mechanics.
What this author does find a little surprising, is that so much effort has been undertaken in an attempt to solve the hard problem, with many papers written on the subject, yet such individuals have failed to address what "understanding" itself actually means. This is a fundamental oversight.
No conscious awareness means you can't understand anything. Thus, "understanding" itself requires consciousness. Therefore consciousness can not be "understood" without referring to itself in that explanation. Understanding is simply meaningless without conscious awareness giving it meaning.
Thus all attempts to derive conscious awareness from its physical embodiment are doomed to failure, despite the fact that consciousness is only a function of its physical embodiment. This is an example of a Goedel statement. That is, something that is true, but not derivable from the existing axioms.
Consciousness and Goedel
Kurt Goedel proved a fundamental theorem in mathematics. The exact details are not addressed here, but the essential result is that:
True statements about a system can be made that are not derivable from existing knowledge of that system.
What this means is that if it is desired to know everything about a system, i.e. be complete, than new axioms may have to be added to the existing description. Once these new axioms have been discovered and added, they may allow for other new results about the system to be derived, that would otherwise not be possible.
It has been proven that that conscious awareness can not be derived from knowledge of its system parts.
1 self referral - self referral systems can have any solution or argument as valid. There is no way to determine which particular argument is correct. That is, solutions are non unique, therefore all solutions are meaningless.
Circular reasoning is very useful because anything at all can be proved with it, including things that are obviously false. This delightful property is easily provable, and is shown how below:
For example, take the statement 'Circular Reasoning can be used to prove anything.'
Now, clearly this statement is part of anything.
Therefore, because 'Circular Reasoning can be used to prove anything', the statement can be proved.
Therefore 'Circular Logic can be used to prove anything.'
2David J. Chalmers
http://psyche.cs.monash.edu.au/v2/psyche-2-09-chalmers.html4.6 To really clarify the positions in the vicinity, we have to distinguish three questions:
(1) What does it take to simulate our physical action ?
(2) What does it take to evoke conscious awareness?
(3) What does it take to explain conscious awareness?
4.10 Question (3) is the central question about the explanation of consciousness (a question that much of my own work is concerned with).
Other terms all logically equivalent to "understanding" are terms such as "experience", "feel", "perceive" etc. All of them inherently result in their definitions being circular with relation to conscious awareness and understanding, such that in all cases an independent derivation of consciousness is inherently impossible.
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© Kevin Aylward 2003 - all rights reserved