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Machines Like Us

David Chalmers

David Chalmers is the author of the book The Conscious Mind (1996), which argues that reductive explanations describing consciousness in terms of physical processes do not hold. The book was described by The Sunday Times as "one of the best science books of the year." He is best known for his articulation of the hard problem of consciousness in both his book and in the paper Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness (originally published in The Journal of Consciousness Studies, 1995). He makes the distinction between easy problems of consciousness (which are, amongst others, things like finding neural correlates of sensation) and the hard problem, which could be stated "why does awareness of sensory information exist at all?" A main focus of his study is the distinction between brain biology and mental experience (known as qualia). He argues that there is an explanatory gap between these two systems, and criticizes physical explanations of mental experience, making him one of the few remaining dualists left in the philosophy world. In his argument (as it appears in his book The Conscious Mind) he creates a hypothetical philosophical zombie, which is the same as a normal person, but is missing qualia or sentience. After the publication of this paper, about 25 papers were published in The Journal of Consciousness Studies in response to the hard problem. These papers (by Daniel Dennett, Colin McGinn, Francisco Varela, Francis Crick, and Roger Penrose, among others) were collected and published in the book Explaining Consciousness: The Hard Problem.

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David Chalmers Quotes

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.

I argue that neuroscience alone isn't enough to explain consciousness, but I think it will be a major part of an eventual theory.

People have managed to avert their eyes and hope for the best.

Some part of me still self-identifies as a scientist. And while doing philosophical work, I've also wanted to engage the issues at a level that people outside philosophy can understand, and in particular in a way that resonates with people in science.