Consciousness as a Fundamental Property
Is consciousness a fundamental property?
It is said that David Chalmers thinks that consciousness is a fundamental
property. I want you to think about whether or not that is true.
Before you get started, there's a few concepts I want you to understand.
They are "mass," "wetness," "emergence," and "fundamentality."
Mass is that property of matter that, among other things,
gives it weight. (Actually, there's three kinds of mass, but they're
equivalent, so I'm ignoring the distinction.) Matter (apparantly) has mass
because atoms contain "Higgs bosons," and these Higgs bosons carry mass with
them, so that everything made of atoms will have mass. The more higgs bosons
in an object, the more mass, and therefore the more weight an object will
Wetness is that slight tendency of water to stick
to things. Throw a bucket of water on a friend. You will notice that while most
of the water runs off him on to the floor, some of it sticks to
him. In particular, water sticks to surfaces, so clothing with a lot of
surface area, like a wool sweater, will hold a lot of water, while clothing
with minimal surface area, like plastic raincoat, will hold comparitively
little water. Wetness is caused by the fact that water molecules
(made from one atom of oxygen and two of hydrogen) are weakly attractive to
each other and to other particles. Hence small masses of water will stick to
whatever they touch while larger masses overcome the attraction and flow
Emergence is when a property only shows up in the
universe when certain other conditions are met. For instance,
wetness only appears in the universe when there are weakly attractive
molecules, like water molecules, that can stick to surfaces. Oxygen
molecules do not have wetness. Hydrogen molecules do not have wetness. But
when oxygen and hydrogen are combined to make water, then wetness emerges
from the combination. If you think about it, TONS of properties are
emergent. Just think of any property that you have to put stuff together to
get, and that's an emergent property.
Fundamentality or "being fundamental" happens when a
property is just there in certain objects, and doesn't have to be
made by combining things. Wetness is not a fundamental
property precisely because it emerges from the combination of
hydrogen and oxygen in water. Mass, on the other hand is a
fundamental property because, basically, it's just there. You
really can't get rid of it. Sure, you can take the Higgs bosons out of
particles (theoretically) but you can't get the mass out of the Higgs boson.
You're stuck with it. That's what makes it fundamental.
Apparantly, Chalmers believes (among other things) that consciousness is a
I believe that, whatever else is going on with Chalmers,
consciousness cannot possibly be a fundamental property of
Now read the Wikipedia entry on David
Chalmers and the one on philosophical
According to Chalmers, what must a successful theory do?
According to Chalmers, how must it do this thing?
What is a "fundamental property?"
How do physicists deal with fundamental properties?
What do physicists show about these properties?
What does Chalmers believe that philosophy of mind must face up to?
(You can ignore all the stuff about "property dualism." It really doesn't
help here. Start again at the words "According to Chalmers.")
According to Chalmers, what will happen once we have stated those laws?
According to Chalmers, what exists without those laws?
Now, do you agree with Chalmers that consciousness is a fundamental
property? Why or why not?
What do you think of Chalmers' argument?
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