Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

The subjective state

  1. Dec 9, 2005 #1
    Why haven't we observed a subjective state physically yet?
    I mean, we have the physical brain creating the state, and the person having the state, but we don't have the state itself.
    We examine the brain, all parts of it, and we get the neurons, the chemistry, everything is fine and dandy.

    When I am having a dream, and the brain interprets these signals into an image that I see in my head, is the image itself just a pseudo layer of reality?
    Is a pseudo layer even pseudo?
    A common example is color.
    Color doesn't really exist except in the mind, and minds can see the color differently too.
    But where is this color stored?
    When I have the vivid experience of reality via my senses, where does this reality keep its home?

    Is there really a place in the science of physics for this kind of experience, or must we look somewhere else.

    We can measure and predict the sound waves hitting my ear drums, being converted into signals to the brain, we can predict the light hitting my retina and then being converted into an image in my head.
    We can even predict the feeling of touch, from my nerves in my skin.
    But this doesn't grasp or contain the actual experience of these senses in the mind, it only explains the physical part.

    I don't know, but I wonder how this is possible.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 9, 2005 #2


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Yes, you have hit upon what is know as "the hard problem of consciousness." For a fairly detailed philosophical look at the hard problem and possible resolutions, I recommend David Chalmers' paper Consciousness and its Place in Nature. Personally, I find what Chalmers calls Type-F Monism to be the most compelling sort of solution to the hard problem.
  4. Dec 9, 2005 #3
    no he didn't hit onto any problem u actually explained the reason for why it happens precisely. The problem is that u want there to be something beyond the physical which in all actuality there isn't. The physical is all there is. When we interpret color that is a purely physical process just as everything else in the universe. The only way to explain it is by doing it from a physical perspective because there is no other way to do it.
  5. Dec 9, 2005 #4
    hypnagogue thanks a lot of the link, I'll read it soon with a warm cup of coffee and some donuts :)


    Please provide some empirical proof of that statement though.
    Also think about this; how would you explain the color red to someone else?
    The color is a certain frequency in the spectrum, or a collection, however, it doesn't carry the color itself, the brain interprets the frequency and the the mind sees it as "red."
    This is compelling evidence that there is more to the universe than just the physicality of things.

    Not only that, but it's pretty silly to say that the physical is all there is, when we don't even know what that physical is.
    To take it further, everything a human can possible ever know, is only what he senses, as in sees, hears, feels and smells.
    He cannot know anything else, ever. Unless he builds up some sort of sensitivity for other areas of the physical reality.
    So then, how can we know that there isn't other dimensions, or other layers of reality, than aren't even made of time space, but still interacts with time space?

    All I'm saying is, thinking everything isj ust energy floating in time, is a bit silly, and not at all the solution I think.
  6. Dec 9, 2005 #5


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    This is a pretty strong argument. As far as we know, everything the brain does can be explained in terms of physical processes. Those are the easy problems per Chalmers.

    The hard problem asks, how do those processes give rise to consciousness, and why should they? Why can't a person go about their daily lives without any sensation of qualia? When looking at a red sign for example, we might say "yes, that is a red sign", however we have a sensation of seeing red as opposed to simply recognizing it.
    I completely agree. Why are we not simply p-zombies, people with no sensation of red, no sensation of unity, no sensation of qualia whatsoever?

    Ref: http://www-csli.stanford.edu/~paulsko/papers/IZombiePenultimate.pdf [Broken]

    The "easy" problem of knowing how the brain works can be understood, but why is it that the machine should have any sensation whatsoever?

    GODENTITY suggests it is a physical process, and I'd agree it is not a supernatural one. However, I believe the physical process is one science hasn't fully grasped yet. Clearly, science hasn't identified any physical process which suggests how such things as qualia can come about. Further, the possibility that zombies could exist is another possible indication that science hasn't even provided the fundamental concepts yet, let alone an explanation. Personally, I think we're missing something very big, as big as dark matter was 60 years ago, as big as dark energy was 20 years ago.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  7. Dec 10, 2005 #6
    I disagree that this is an easy problem though.
    Everything the brain sees and senses and creates, is part of the hard problem.
    The reason I believe this to be so, is because none of the things the brain sees and senses, can be adequately explained with physicality.
    Not even the color red.

    It seems to me this is some sort of "dimension" (using the word lightly because of lack of appropirate terms here), and that this dimension actually holds all of perceived physicality in sort of a cache.
    Like a computer, the cache changes every second, every millisecond, every instant.
    The cache holds the information from all the senses, the memory, the sub conscious, etc.

    This is just my hypothesis at the moment.
  8. Dec 10, 2005 #7


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    Hi Octel. Actually, we're on the same page here. " . . . everything the brain does . . . " to me, means the interaction of neurons, the exchange of ions in the cell, the physical movement of blood, the interaction of glucous molecules, etc... is all something that can be understood in principal. The physical interactions are the easy problem, they are reducible using scientific method. The hard problem is understanding why and how that should give rise to sensations of qualia, of seeing the color red.
  9. Dec 10, 2005 #8
    Oh ok, I see.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook