The Anomaly of Consciousness
Excerpted from book From Science to God
Science has had remarkable success in explaining the structure and functioning of the material world, but when it comes to the inner world of the mind science falls curiously silent. There is nothing in physics, chemistry, biology, or any other science that can account for our having an interior world. In a strange way, scientists would be much happier if there were no such thing as consciousness.
David Chalmers, professor of philosophy at the University of Arizona, calls this the "hard problem" of consciousness. The so-called "easy problems" are those concerned with brain function and its correlation with mental phenomena: how, for example, we discriminate, categorize, and react to stimuli; how incoming sensory data are integrated with past experience; how we focus our attention; and what distinguishes wakefulness from sleep.
To say these problems are easy is, of course, a relative assessment. Solutions will probably entail years of dedicated and difficult research. Nevertheless, given sufficient time and effort, we expect that these "easy problems" will eventually be solved.
The really hard problem is consciousness itself. Why should the complex processing of information in the brain lead to an inner experience? Why doesn't it all go on in the dark, without any subjective aspect? Why do we have any inner life at all?
I now believe this is not so much a hard problem as an impossible problemimpossible, that is, within the current scientific worldview. Our inability to account for consciousness is the trigger that will, in time, push Western science into what the American philosopher, Thomas Kuhn, called a "paradigm shift." (See: Paradigms)
All our scientific paradigms are based on the assumption that the physical world is the real world, and that space, time, matter and energy are the fundamental components of reality. When we fully understand the functioning of the physical world, we will, it is believed, be able to explain everything in the cosmos.
This is the belief upon which all our various scientific paradigms are based. It is, therefore, more than just another paradigm; it is a metaparadigmthe paradigm behind the paradigms.
So successful has this metaparadigm been at explaining just about every phenomenon we encounter in the material world, it is seldom, if ever questioned. It is only when we turn to the nonmaterial world of the mind that this worldview begins to exhibit weaknesses.
Nothing in Western science predicts that any living creature should be conscious. Yet one thing we know for sure is that we are experiencing beings. For the materialist metaparadigm, consciousness is one big anomaly.