Sebastián Mejía Rendón
Instituto de Filosofía
Universidad de Antioquia
Since David Chalmers distinguished between the easy and hard problems of the consciousness in his book The Consciousness Mind (1996), he opened a debate about how to explain the hard problem. According to Chalmers, the easy problems are related to the explanation information processing, categorizing, introspecting and how a subject react to certain stimuli. Instead, the hard problem is related to the explanation of the phenomenal character or experiential aspect of the mind (Chalmers, 1995), that is, the what-it’s-likeness to be in any mental state. Up to now, the hard problem of the consciousness has been studied by philosophers of the analytical tradition like Thomas Nagel (1974), John Searle (1992), Daniel Dennet (1991) inter alia. But, in the last years, some philosophers coming from the continental tradition have become interested in the hard problem of consciousness and have advanced some ideas (Gallagher & Zahavi, 2007).
The phenomenological tradition share with the modern philosophy of mind the project of trying to understand the subjective experience. In the Logic Investigations, Edmund Husserl (2001) defines phenomenology as the investigation about the conditions of possibility of experience; that is, phenomenology studies how it is possible the experience for anyone who experiences the world. In particular, phenomenology is interested in the phenomena: how the things are experimented or how objects are presented to the subject in experience. In this sense, the phenomenology and modern philosophy of mind shares the interest of trying to understand the subjective experience; what many authors in cognitive science and philosophy of mind call ‘qualia’ (Jackson, 1982) or the ‘what-it-is-like’ to have a mental state (Nagel, 1974).
According to some authors, the phenomenological tradition has a toolbox that could shed light on the problem of consciousness (Schmicking, 2010). The ‘epoché’ and the ‘phenomenical reduction’, two essential instruments of the phenomenological method, can be considered as two closely linked tools whose purpose is to liberate us from our preconception and prejudges. According to Zahavi (2007), the purpose of the epoché or bracketing is to suspend certain natural attitudes towards the world such as own beliefs or expectations about the phenomenon under investigation, whereas the aim of the phenomenological reduction is to analyze the correlational interdependence between specific structures of subjectivity (the perception, judgement, or valuation) and specific modes of appearance of the object (p. 25); that is, by adopting the phenomenological method, we pay attention to how public objects (trees, planets, paintings, symphonies, numbers, states of affairs, social relations, etc.) consciously appear to us in experience. In this sense, as Gallager says (1997), the phenomenology could shed light on the problem of consciousness.
But, this is not an easy job. Phenomenology is far from solving the hard problem. The main trouble with the phenomenological view is their impenetrable terminology that blocks our understanding. Phenomenologists such as Zahavi and Gallagher spend a lot of time saying that the phenomenology tradition can help to cognitive science, and they refer to the husseralian method dispersed in his voluminous work, but when one really wants to apply the ‘epoché’ or the ‘phenomenical reduction’ for understanding the hard problem, it is not clear how this first-person analysis could help.
I think that an open-minded study of consciousness should erase this disciplinary and traditional boundaries. A clear example of an open-minded study of consciousness is Villada’s suggestion that buddhist meditation and introspection practices could help us to understand conscious experience. Certainly, if the hard problem of consciousness is the biggest problem of our time, we ought not to stick to just one perspective; there are many different alternatives and methods that could shed light on it. Finally, the solution of hard problem of consciousness vanish when some traditions of thinking say that they haves the solution, but it is encrypted in their philosophical jargon.
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