David Chalmers’ “hard problem of consciousness” is called “hard” because we don’t know how to approach it; the easy one is so because it is all about the amount of work we need to do; it is easy because, even if it implies a huge and hard work, we know what it consists of, we know what we need to do. About the hard one, we don’t even have an idea of what to do, how to effectively conceive it, how to “attack” the problem with clarity.
The solution is based on being aware of a limit, we might even say a flaw, in the scientific way of dealing with problems and concepts. The scientific way is based on abstraction, which consists in getting what is common to several elements. For example, we can talk about the red color because it, or components we are able to identify in it, is shared by several objects. In other words, science is able to talk about repeatable phenomenons only: shared means repeated. If something is 100% unique, science is totally unable to talk about it; it can talk about it only by making use of other known references, which means, already shared concepts. This means that science, in the case of a unique event, tries to determine in it components that can be described by using known reference concepts.
This happens not only in science, but in everything; we can say it simply happens in language. The problem is that this way language and science make us forget, or ignore, that actually, from a different perspective, nothing is totally repeatable: it’s us who take the repeatable, the shared part, in order to deal with descriptions and ideas, and this makes us forget that every experience is actually unique. This seems to be the basic structure how our brain works to get knowledge of things: it works on shared elements and elaborates them.
Now, the hard problem of consciousness arises because when each of us considers consciousness, we probably will give special consideration to our own single specific experience of consciousness. Instead, other people are distracted by their instinct to organize knowledge by making abstractions, the way I described before. These are those who can’t even see the existence of a hard problem of consciousness. They objectify the concept of consciousness, forgetting, ignoring, not paying attention to the fact that their single specific own experience of consciousness cannot be reduced to a general idea of consciousness. Now let’s consider why it cannot be reduced.
My own specific experience of consciousness is like being inside my car: I can realize how being in my car gives me my experience of the world, my perspective, my tastes, the way colors are experienced by me. By considering this, I can realize that I can figure other people’s experience of being inside their car by assuming that it must be somewhat the same, at least very similar. But I can also realize that me is me and nobody else will ever be able to be me, to get my experience of being inside my car. This perception is connected to an instinctive experience of feeling free: I can feel that I can move my arm, if I want, so I assume that other people must feel something similar. But my arm is my arm only, it exists only in me and nobody in the world will ever be able to experience what I exactly feel in moving my arm. It’s not about fine details that may differ between bodies. About this, it is important to realize that the difference of experience that I can figure between two friends of mine is totally different from the difference I can feel by comparing them to me. The two friends of mine are different from each other, but I perceive both of them external to me, so, they are very similar about this. They are both external to me, while instead I am internal to me: this is the real huge difference. So, the essence of my own experience of being me is that I cannot escape from feeling it absolutely unique, impossible to repeat, also because I feel that, when I die, it is equivalent to the whole world stopping to exist, while when other people die I can see that the world continues to exist. This experience of uniqueness of myself is also quite disturbed by the tendency of our brain to organize knowledge through abstraction. This means that there is in me something like a force that continuously tries to make me forget the uniqueness of my experience. I need to concentrate, to leave aside for a moment a lot of thoughts, to remember again my experience of myself, to re-enter in myself and re-realize that the “me” is here, I am inside my car, I am experiencing my unique experience of mastery on my body, my thoughts, my perspectives.
Here is the core, the solution, of what makes the hard problem of consciousness hard: what makes it hard is the fact that science is not at all organized to deal with anything unique. It’s not its job, it is outside its being. So, we might even say that the unique experience that each of us can feel when we concentrate on the existence of our mastery over our body and thoughts is something completely outside the domain of science. This can’t avoid to appear to us quite weird, because each of us can perceive his own perspective from the inside in a way so evident, so clear, so undeniable, that we can’t avoid to wonder how it is possible that science can’t deal with it. Now we have the reason: it is because science is based on repeatability, while instead my own exclusive experience of my conscience has to me a side, from the inside of me, that is impossible to repeat. We get confused also because we see that science is able to deal with a lot of aspects of the experience of conscience; we get even more confused because this ability of science can even make us forget the uniqueness of our experience from the inside of us.
I think that this is related to the intuition that made St. Augustine say, in his Confessions, book XI, chap. XIV: “What then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know”.