Consciousness as a Fundamental Property

Is consciousness a fundamental property?

Somewhere around pages 144-145 in the Palmer text, there is discussion of the philosophy of David Chalmers. In that discussion, it is said that Chalmers thinks that consciousness is a fundamental property. I want you to think about whether or not that is true.

I only want you to read one paragraph about Chalmers. It's the middle one of the three that discuss his work. Start reading at "According to Chalmers, a successful theory must deal with consciousness as a fundemental property" and finish with "This dualistic picture will become part of the scientific understanding of reality." The paragraphs before and after this one are much too vague to be helpful. The middle one is a bit more specific, (and the bit in the middle of that paragraph is useless) and hopefully we will be able to get something out of it.

Before you read that paragraph, 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 have.

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 away.

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 fundamental property.
I believe that, whatever else is going on with Chalmers, consciousness cannot possibly be a fundamental property of anything.

Now read the paragraph that begins with "According to Chalmers, a successful theory must deal with consciousness as a fundemental property" and ends with "This dualistic picture will become part of the scientific understanding of reality."

Reading Questions
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?

You can also check out the Wikipedia entry on David Chalmers and the one on philosophical zombies Read all about the P-Zombies!

What do you think of Chalmers' argument?

Copyright 2010 by Martin C. Young

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