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Philosophize This! / – Episode #179 … Why is consciousness something worth talking about?

Philosophize This! – Episode #179 … Why is consciousness something worth talking about?

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In this episode of “Philosophize This!”, the host explores the fascinating topic of consciousness and its significance in philosophy. By delving into the history of philosophy and examining various philosophical debates, the episode aims to provide listeners with a better understanding of the nature of consciousness and its implications in our lives.

Main Takeaways

Understanding the History of Philosophy

  • Understanding the history of philosophy helps us comprehend the world we live in.
  • Philosophy education can be applied to real-life philosophical debates.

Philosophy of Mind and Consciousness

  • Philosophy of mind includes questions about free will, determinism, identity, intentionality, and consciousness.
  • The hard problem of consciousness is one of the most mysterious questions in the history of philosophy.
  • By the end of the podcast, listeners will have a better understanding of these philosophical debates.

The Impact of Consciousness

  • Every conversation about anything that matters to us as people ultimately emerges out of the assumptions we make about the nature of consciousness and our understanding of what a human mind is.
  • Our assumptions about consciousness affect our thoughts on everything, including morality, relationships, and politics.
  • Learning about the conversations in the philosophy of mind is important because it has huge impacts on real people and affects personal and political policies.

The Relationship Between Philosophy and Science

  • Philosophers weigh in on consciousness because there is a type of conceptual analysis that is just outside the purview of science.
  • The way we conceptually organize things often precedes the scientist doing their work and gives them the assumptions they have to use when doing their work.
  • Philosophers and scientists need each other to understand consciousness.
  • Science tells you what the world is, philosophy tells you how to interpret it.

The Hard Problem of Consciousness

  • Access consciousness vs phenomenal consciousness.
  • Access consciousness allows us to access information from the external world.
  • There is a subjective experience that seems distinct from anything else going on in our brain.
  • Philosophers call this subjective experience qualia, and some say that it cannot ever be reducible to purely physical states of the brain.
  • The hard problem of consciousness refers to the difficulty of explaining how we have subjective experiences that are not themselves physical but seem to arise from purely physical states of matter in the brain.
  • Consciousness may be something fundamentally different than the material world, and therefore may not be something we can even study empirically.

The Ethics of Consciousness

  • The question of whether something can exist without consciousness has direct moral implications in areas such as animal rights and artificial intelligence.
  • Without knowing when consciousness arises, we don’t know at what point animals or AI should be given certain moral protections.
  • The state of consciousness is what we’re ultimately trying to protect in these cases.

Consciousness and Artificial Intelligence

  • The algorithm used by chat GPT is not emulating human intelligence, but rather doing an impression of it.
  • People tend to project their own human experience onto the words produced by chat GPT, making it seem more conscious than it actually is.
  • Philosophers debate whether a machine that is indistinguishable from a human being and capable of doing everything a person does would necessarily be conscious.
  • If a machine could emulate all the functions of a conscious creature, would it be considered conscious from a functionalist perspective?

Consciousness and Animal Experience

  • Classic paper “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” explores consciousness and animal experience.
  • Bats have a different consciousness than humans due to their unique evolution and senses.
  • Blind sight phenomenon shows that animals and humans can perceive the world in ways that differ from our conscious stream of experience.
  • Blind sight suggests that we receive information at different levels, and most of it is not consciously accessible.
  • Intuition and instinct may be ways we access this information, and the self may not exist at this level of processing.
  • Animals could be a type of biological algorithm playing out, lacking the subjective experience that humans have.

Consciousness Hierarchies and Moral Policy

  • Conversations about consciousness could lead to creating a hierarchy of conscious experiences.
  • Society might adopt different precepts about the nature of consciousness, leading to a society centered around the sanctity of human consciousness.
  • In this type of society, non-conscious beings could become resources to improve the state of conscious beings.
  • Consciousness hierarchies in this society would change the way people view aging and disabilities.
  • Setting up consciousness hierarchies requires understanding the criteria being used and the theories in the philosophy of mind being brought into it.
  • The relevance of conversations about consciousness can have real effects on personal and public moral policy.


Understanding the Nature of Consciousness

Exploring the history of philosophy helps us make sense of the world we live in and apply philosophical concepts to real-life debates. The philosophy of mind encompasses questions about free will, determinism, identity, intentionality, and consciousness. The hard problem of consciousness, which refers to the challenge of explaining subjective experiences that seem distinct from physical brain states, remains one of the most mysterious questions in philosophy. Philosophers and scientists collaborate to understand consciousness, as conceptual analysis plays a crucial role in scientific work. Consciousness has profound implications for morality, relationships, and political policies. It raises ethical questions regarding animal rights and the treatment of artificial intelligence. Additionally, discussions about consciousness can lead to the formation of consciousness hierarchies, potentially impacting societal views on aging, disabilities, and moral decision-making.

The Significance of Subjective Experience

Access consciousness allows us to interact with the external world, while phenomenal consciousness encompasses the subjective experience of reality. Philosophers debate the nature of qualia, the subjective aspects of consciousness that may not be reducible to physical brain states. The hard problem of consciousness arises from the challenge of explaining how subjective experiences emerge from purely physical brain processes. This difficulty has implications for studying consciousness empirically. The ethics of consciousness involve determining at what point moral protections should be extended to animals and artificial intelligence. Understanding consciousness is crucial for making informed moral policies and safeguarding the state of consciousness in various beings.

Exploring Consciousness in Different Contexts

Conversations about consciousness extend to the realm of artificial intelligence, where machines may emulate human functions but raise questions about true consciousness. The projection of human experience onto non-human entities, such as animals and algorithms, highlights our limited understanding of their subjective experiences. The unique consciousness of animals, such as bats, demonstrates the diversity of conscious experiences shaped by evolution and sensory capabilities. The phenomenon of blind sight suggests that consciousness operates at different levels, with most information remaining inaccessible to conscious awareness. Intuition and instinct may provide alternative ways of accessing this information. Ultimately, consciousness hierarchies could shape societal values and moral policies, necessitating an understanding of the criteria and theories in the philosophy of mind.


The exploration of consciousness in philosophy reveals its profound impact on our understanding of the world and our place in it. From the history of philosophy to the ethics of consciousness, these discussions shape our moral policies, relationships, and societal values. Understanding the nature of consciousness and its various dimensions allows us to navigate philosophical debates and make informed decisions that respect the sanctity of conscious experiences.

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