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Within psychology and neuroscience, some new and rigorous experimental paradigms for studying consciousness have helped it begin to overcome the stigma that has been attached to the topic for most of this century.
Sense data are much more controversial than qualia, because they are associated with a controversial theory of perception - that one perceives the world by perceiving one's sense-data, or something like that.
I think that consciousness has always been the most important topic in the philosophy of mind, and one of the most important topics in cognitive science as a whole, but it had been surprisingly neglected in recent years.
Now I have to say I'm a complete atheist, I have no religious views myself and no spiritual views, except very watered down humanistic spiritual views, and consciousness is just a fact of life, it's a natural fact of life.
Even when I was studying mathematics, physics, and computer science, it always seemed that the problem of consciousness was about the most interesting problem out there for science to come to grips with.
Actually, I think my view is compatible with much of the work going on now in neuroscience and psychology, where people are studying the relationship of consciousness to neural and cognitive processes without really trying to reduce it to those processes.
My interests started about in science and in mathematics; I always thought I was going to be a mathematician.
Studying consciousness tells us more about how the world is fundamentally strange. I think we have a few revolutions to go yet before we get to the bottom of it.
There's certainly nothing original about the observation that conscious experience poses a hard problem.
What does it mean, exactly, for a given system to be a 'neural correlate of consciousness'?
Things are still in early stages, but one can imagine that as we build up and systematize our theories of these associations, and try to boil them down to their core, the result might point us toward the sort of fundamental principles I advocate.
I think the existence of zombies would contradict certain laws of nature in our world. It seems to be a law of nature, in our world, that when you get a brain of a certain character you get consciousness going along with it.
Because the idea of zombies seems to make sense, and seems to, in a certain sense, be possible, I think one can use that to argue against the thesis that everything is purely physical. Now many people, I think, agree that the idea of zombies are conceivable, including people who want to be physicalists.
Actually, I think most people accept the existence of qualia.
Although I'm Australian, I find myself much more in sympathy with the Austrian version!
Anyway, there is a lot of really interesting work going on in the neuroscience and psychology of consciousness, and I would love to see philosophers become more closely involved with this.
Here, the broader issues are already familiar, and discussion has focused at a more sophisticated and detailed level. Within the philosophy of mind, the problem of consciousness is no big news.
It probably helps that my background is in the sciences and I can speak the scientists' language.
People have managed to avert their eyes and hope for the best.
I had the idea that it would be wonderful to be a physicist or a mathematician maybe 500 years ago around the time of Newton when there were really fundamental things just lying around to be discovered.
I never expected this to catch on in the way it did! Of course similar observations have been made by any number of people, and the distinction is obvious to anyone who thinks about the subject a little.
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