THE HARD PROBLEM OF POETRY

Today I’m going to interview philosopher Philip Goff about his book Galileo’s Error, for Words on a Wire, to air in our 11th season in the Fall 2021. 

It’s about the Hard Problem of consciousness, which is the question of how a physical system, the body, can create conscious experience, or qualia, like the taste of a carne asada burrito, or that first glimpse into the eyes of your lover. 

Scientists have three major solutions to the Hard Problem, one of which is Duality, that the mind and the brain are separate entities. In this theory, consciousness may be correlated to brain activity, but it’s separate from the material brain. We have a soul, if you will. We are eternal beings, or at the very least connected to the Eternal, through our consiousness. 

This is the belief held by most people and rejected by most scientists.

Scientists hate duality. 

They want a grand unified Theory of Everything. 

The two other approaches either say that consciousness doesn’t exist at all (Materialism) or that consciousness is a fundamental element of the universe (Panpsychism), as fundamental to the workings of reality as space and time and matter. (I like this idea and will play with the metaphors in future musings)

The Hard Problem will not be easily solved, but I’ve noticed a lot of physicists, who speak on the level of math, are getting into neuroscience these days, perhaps to escape the academic myopia that tends to pop up in science departments throughout history. I’m not saying they have to beware of string theory Nazis or whatever is going on in their department, just that there is solid evidence that even science departments can be so subjective as to ostracize those seeking unconventional explanations that don’t conform with popular theories. That’s all I’m saying.

Whether or not it has anything to do with the physicists, neuroscience is discovering new mathematical descriptions of brain activity and correlations with consciousness. 

They can brilliantly express equations that depict brain activity during conscious experience, but they cannot explain WHY brain activity produces my experience of biting into that juicy carne asada burrito.  

They can’t explain what I, Daniel Chacón, or you, are experiencing right now, and why. 

This hard problem is to  neuroscience what the unity problem is to physicists, uniting relativity with quantum theory. 

Goff writes, “We’re still waiting for the Newton of consciousness to produce the simple equation that will capture the connection between body and mind. “

When it comes to who we are, science has not been able to help us answer that question, at least not yet. 

Scientists can explain HOW we are this way, but not WHY.  

Goff claims that Galileo, who was the first one to establish math as the language of science, never intended to describe the quality of experience, but rather the quantitative experience of things.

How things behave, not why.

How a carne asada burrito behaves in relation to other matter and space and time, but not the intrinsic nature of a delicious burrito. Or taco for that matter.

(By stating burrito, you can tell a lot about me, that I’m a Chicanx person, as we may favor burritos over the tacos that might be the first choice of our Mexicanx neighbors. )

The problem with scientists trying to explain qualia is that they don’t have the language for it. What is the mathematical equation for my experience of biting into a juicy mango?

Or for that matter what is the equation that describes my intrinsic nature?

For that you need the philosopher.

For that you need the poet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s