Narrowing the Choice to Fundamental Consciousness or Illusionism

Any neuroscientific explanation of consciousness is going to run up against the hard problem of consciousness. Take Global Workspace theories for example. Here is one such version by Dehaene and Naccache:

“At any given time, many modular cerebral networks are active in parallel and processes information in an unconscious manner. Information becomes conscious, however, if the neural population that represents it is mobilized by top-down attentional amplification into a brain-scale state of coherent activity that involves many neurons distributed throughout the brain. The long distance connectivity of these “workplace neurons” can, when they are active for a minimal duration, make the information available to a variety of processes including perceptual categorization, long-term memorization, evaluation, and intentional action. We postulate that this global availability of information through the workplace is what we subjectively experience as a conscious state.”

You can see this theory run up against the hard problem in that last sentence. How is this model associated with inner subjective experience? Why does it lead to experience? There is nothing in this model of information processing that suggests experience should be there. And no matter how much research on neural correlates of consciousness will tend to support or not support this particular theory, those fundamental questions go unanswered.

I’m not picking on global workspace theories either. This would be true of any neuroscientific view of consciousness. How does [insert neuroscientific theory here] lead to subjective experience? And it’s not at all clear what the potential answers would look like, or if they are even possible.

These observations suggest that we may need to accept consciousness as a brute fact, i.e. that it is fundamental in nature. This could mean panpsychist views such as micropsychism, or cosmopsychism, or idealism, or — as neuroscientist Paul Nunez has speculated — the view that consciousness could be a field similar to gravity. Or we could try to run in the other direction and say that our subjective experience is really just a grand illusion. But there are major problems in making that view coherent. Perhaps we could try to marry cosmopsychism and illusionism. But in any case, it’s very difficult to see how neuroscientific theories can give us the full story on consciousness.

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