10 Problems of Consciousness

What philosophers call “phenomenal consciousness” is the “what-it-is-like” to being conscious, the raw, felt texture of conscious experience. For example, there’s a what-it-is-like to the experience of eating a pomegranate (the weird squishiness), there’s a what-it-is-like to accidentally hitting your thumb with a hammer (the pressure, pain, and throbbing feeling), there’s something distinctive about seeing the color red rather than say, the color yellow, or any other color. Not just sensations have a felt experience, there’s also a felt, what-it-is-like to being remorseful, to having thoughts, desires, etc. Many people would have you believe that human beings are nothing more than their physical bodies, or perhaps their brains, or a part of their brains, that is, we are only physical machines.

There’s one problem: none of the experiences of phenomenal consciousness seem to be physical.

Ten Problems of Consciousness is a book by philosopher Michael Tye who teaches at the University of Texas, Austin – he’s a physicalist. Physicalists believe that all of reality is fundamentally made up of the stuff that physicists study and no more: so there’s no room for gods, souls, spirits, etc. on this kind of worldview. Tye recognizes the ten most challenging problems of consciousness that make trouble for any physicalist theory and lays them out nicely for his readers. Those who think science need only advance just a little bit more and then we’ll solve the problems of consciousness might be in for a surprise. Ultimately during the show we argue that these problems for physicalism are intractable; human beings are not just their bodies, they’re more than their bodies.

If you find the show interesting, and you’d like to study more about consciousness (and philosophy of mind in general), I’ve put together a list of books that might pique your interest. While I think Tye’s is one of the best books out there for introducing readers to the subject of phenomenal consciousness, the rest of the material in the book is rather difficult. I’d put it in the advanced section of the books listed below.

Philosophy Made Slightly Less Difficult – Geivett and Moreland
Naturalism – Goetz and Taliaferro

Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview – Moreland and Craig (there are good chapters on dualism and personal identity. The book as a whole is an excellent resource as well)
Body & Soul – Moreland and Rae
Philosophy of Mind – Kim
The Soul Hypothesis – Baker and Goetz

The Waning of Materialism – Koons and Bealer (a great collection of papers by top notch philosophers who are against materialism)
The Evolution of the Soul – Swinburne
Physicalism or Something Near Enough – Kim (This is a great display of intellectual honesty. Kim, a prominent philosopher of mind and physicalist himself, comes to the conclusion that strict physicalism is false)
Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting – Cooper
Soul, Body, and Survival – Corcoran
Persons: Human and Divine – Van Inwagen and Zimmerman

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