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Hypothesis and Theory ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Syst. Neurosci. | doi: 10.3389/fnsys.2019.00058

A naturalistic approach to the hard problem of consciousness

  • 1Ernst Strüngmann Institut für Neurowissenschaften, Germany
  • 2Max-Planck-Institut für Hirnforschung, Germany
  • 3Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies, Germany

Following a brief review of current efforts to identify the neuronal correlates of conscious processing (NCCP) an attempt is made to bridge the gap between the material neuronal processes and the immaterial dimensions of subjective experience. It is argued that this “hard problem” of consciousness research cannot be solved by only considering the neuronal underpinnings of cognition. The proposal is that the hard problem can be treated within a naturalistic framework if one considers not only the biological but also the socio-cultural dimensions of evolution. The argument is based on the following premises: Perceptions are the result of a constructivist process that depends on priors. This applies both for perceptions of the outer world and the perception of oneself. Social interactions between agents endowed with the cognitive abilities of humans generated immaterial realities, addressed as social or cultural realities. This novel class of realities assumed the role of priors for the perception of oneself and the embedding world. A natural consequence of these extended perceptions is a dualist classification of observables into material and immaterial phenomena nurturing the concept of ontological substance dualism. It is argued that perceptions shaped by socio-cultural priors lead to the construction of a self–model that has both a material and an immaterial dimension. As priors are implicit and not amenable to conscious recollection the perceived immaterial dimension is experienced as veridical and not derivable from material processes – which is the hall mark of the hard problem. These considerations let the hard problem appear as the result of cognitive constructs that are amenable to naturalistic explanations in an evolutionary framework.

Keywords: neural correlates of consciousness, qualia, the hard problem, Social realities, priors of perception, constructivism, ontological dualism, emergence, self-model

Received: 04 Jun 2019; Accepted: 07 Oct 2019.

Copyright: © 2019 Singer. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Prof. Wolf J. Singer, Ernst Strüngmann Institut für Neurowissenschaften, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, w.singer@brain.mpg.de