Conscious Realism and the Hard Problem of Consciousness by Donald D. Hoffman
Abstract: There are many correlations between brain activity and conscious experiences. Your experience of color, for instance, is correlated with activity in area V4 of visual cortex; electric stimulation of this area leads to the experience of illusory colors. We don’t know why these correlations exist. The hard problem of consciousness is to devise a scientific theory that explains them. Physicalist theories posit that spacetime is fundamental and consciousness emerges. No physicalist theory to date can explain even one correlation between brain activity and a specific conscious experience. I argue that modern theories of gravity, quantum mechanics, and evolution by natural selection entail that spacetime is not fundamental, and thus that physicalist theories must fail. In place of physicalism, I propose "conscious realism": fundamental reality is a vast interacting network of conscious agents. Spacetime and physical objects are a visualization tool that some conscious agents use to comprehend and interact with that complex network. The hard problem of consciousness is transformed into figuring out the mathematical mapping from the network of conscious agents into this visualization tool. I sketch the theory of conscious agents and its novel approach to the hard problem of consciousness.
Donald Hoffman received a PhD from MIT, and is a Professor Emeritus of Cognitive Sciences at the University of California, Irvine. He is an author of over 120 scientific papers and three books, including The Case Against Reality: Why Evolution Hid the Truth from Our Eyes. He received a Distinguished Scientific Award of the American Psychological Association for early career research, the Rustum Roy Award of the Chopra Foundation, and the Troland Research Award of the US National Academy of Sciences. His writing has appeared in Scientific American, New Scientist, LA Review of Books, and Edge, and his work has been featured in Wired, Quanta, The Atlantic, Ars Technica, National Public Radio, Discover Magazine, and Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman. He has a TED Talk titled “Do we see reality as it is?”