Consciousness may seem difficult to explain, yet the “difficult problem” of consciousness is not a scientifically valid question. Here’s why :
The exposition of the problem attempts to put the phenomenon of consciousness beyond the reach of rational understanding by creating a radical dualism between neural excitations and conscious experience. It forbids linking the phenomenon and its micro-mechanisms. It requires a strong emergence, that is to say a property without any possible link with its underlying organization. A similar example would be to speak of the “difficult problem of magnetism”, impossible to explain from the properties of electrons. While the detailed understanding of magnetism was slow to obtain, it now makes it possible to classify it as a weak emergence.
Similarly, it is our poor understanding of the organization of neural networks that allows the “difficult problem” to survive. Yet we have the phenomenon under the eyes, perfectly reproducible: any incredibly complex network of neurons as it is organized at each birth of human brain produces a consciousness, as particular as the architecture of the networks in question.
It is hardly adventurous to predict that any network as complex as that of the neurons, the day when it will be correctly understood, will systematically produce a consciousness. Note that it is not necessary to have 100 billion neurons for this. Animals have a phenomenal awareness with much less. Organizational issue and not additions of neurons as we do with transistors in our computers.
So that the “difficult problem” seems to be the survival of a sacred armor placed around the human conscience, to avoid scientific dissection. Subjectivity daughter of the soul, last bastion of our dignity?
Arguments in support of the “difficult problem” are also invalid. As Glyn Williams puts it, the philosophical zombie does not exist. It is an experiment of thought, tried in all ignorance of the organization of the neural schemas, supported by a machinic and reductive vision of the mind. Idem for “automatic” behaviors in the state of narcolepsy: these are states where mental functions are so poorly integrated into each other that consciousness is no longer recognized as such. But there is a multitude of conscious states, not “the” consciousness. No need to be narcoleptic. We have all experienced the gradual transitions from the “unconscious” dream to consciousness, for some the awaken dreams. We have all experienced automatic driving back home while our consciousness was in the shadows.
The loss of certain neural connections paralyzes a muscle while others make disappear a phenomenon experienced in full consciousness. Motive action and sensation have the same kind of physical support, but they are located at different levels in the neural architecture.
In the end the “difficult problem” is not simply an admission of powerlessness shared by some philosophers and scientists. It is an active obstacle, unfortunately arbitrary and archaic, to let the consciousness phenomenon enter the knowledge.