Does consciousness exist? Why is it that we are so intimately aware of it everyday, yet incapable of properly identifying or defining it?

Why is Consciousness so Mysterious? – Notable Excerpts

Ray Kurzweil:some philosophers say that consciousness is just an illusion, it doesn’t really exist. Do you think otherwise?

David Chalmers: I think consciousness is a thing we know about more directly than we know about anything in the world.


Ray Kurzweil: You can question that “I think consciousness exists” and that “I seem to have a focal point”…you think you’re this unified conscious but really you have these streams of data that you’re focusing on, and that’s all it is. 

David Chalmers: I can question your consciousness, I can’t be 100% certain that you’re conscious…I can’t question my consciousness. I’m experiencing, I’m experiencing it directly. It’s more real than anything else.


Ray Kurzweil: …During the evolutionary process consciousness somehow came in, it was selected for because if we have an awareness of our environment we can avoid tigers a little better, maybe plant the crops better. Who knows what?
But consciousness was a selected factor that maybe emerged at random then developed.

David Chalmers: The fact is any story anyone’s every told about the evolutionary role of consciousness has been quite obscure and doesn’t quite make sense. The trouble is, anything you want evolution to explain; how we react, what we see and so on. I can find some explanation for how that happens that goes wholly in terms of mechanisms and algorithms in the brain and so on. Once I spell out that story you say, “Why do you need consciousness for that?”


Ray Kurzweil: You’ve become quite well known for defining the easy problem and the hard problem. Go for it.

David Chalmers: You might want to explain how my brain perceives something in the environment. A stimulus is my retina, my brain integrates information; I react, I point, I say something. Maybe you could give an explanation of those things in terms of circuits in my brain or algorithms in my brain. But those are just the easy problems of consciousness…

David Chalmers: The hard problem of consciousness is, why is all that processing accompanied by conscious experience? Why does it feel like something from the inside? Why do we have this amazing inner movie going on in our minds all the time. The whole story you tell about neural circuits and computational mechanisms just leaves that question out.



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