David Chalmers may be philosophy of mind's token bad-boy, but his preference for long hair, faded jeans, and t-shirts, hasn't hurt his credibility. He is one of today's leading figures in the quest for a comprehensive theory of consciousness. Best known for articulating what he calls the hard problem of consciousness, Chalmers is passionate about discovering what conscious awareness is, how it arises, and why it even exists at all? Chalmers spoke with WIE's Craig Hamilton over tacos and beer at the 2004 Consciousness Conference (a biannual event which Chalmers helps organize) in Tuscon, Arizona. The resulting bout of mind-bending conversation provides a fascinating glimpse into a frontier where philosophy, science, and mysticism inexorably converge.
Part 1: The evil genius and your brain in a vat
In the first part of this audio, Chalmers explains to a visiting film-crew the classic thought puzzle known as the Cartesian evil genius hypothesis. This bit of mental provocation, also referred to as, “the brain in a vat,” is a hypothetical scenario in which one is asked, “what if you were actually a brain in a vat, being fed a stream of complex sensory information through sophisticated electronic equipment (controlled by the evil genius), and how would or would not this knowledge alter your experience of reality?”
Part 2: The “hard” problem of consciousness
The second part of the audio is a conversation between WIE editor Craig Hamilton and Dr. Chalmers, in which they discuss the hard problem of consciousness, free will, and the materialist view of reality.
“Consciousness is the biggest mystery. It may be the largest outstanding obstacle in our quest for a scientific understanding of the universe....We have good reason to believe that consciousness arises from physical systems such as brains, but we have little idea how it arises, or why it exists at all. How could a physical system such as a brain also be an experiencer? Why should there be something it is like to be such a system? Present-day scientific theories hardly touch the really difficult questions about consciousness. We do not just lack a detailed theory; we are entirely in the dark about how consciousness fits into the natural order.”–David Chalmers.