Vocabulary: Hard Problem of Consciousness (and Qualia)

Hard Problem of Consciousness

The hard problem of consciousness is the problem of explaining how and why sentient organisms have qualia or phenomenal experiences — how and why it is that some internal states are felt states, such as heat or pain, rather than unfelt states, as in a thermostat or a toaster.


Basically, how and why do conscious organisms have experiences, with feelings some of the time, while some don’t.



In philosophy, qualia are individual instances of subjective, conscious experience.


From this enlightening TEDRadio Hour podcast

Definition: Panpsychism


The belief that everything material, however small, has an element of individual consciousness, or shares a part of a collective consciousness.


More formally that’s harder to understand…

In philosophy, panpsychism is the view that mind or a mind-like aspect is a fundamental and ubiquitous feature of reality.


It’s a little out there, but I love this concept because it brings out more empathy in me. If everything was “living” in the sense of having consciousness, rather than a lot being inanimate, then I would care about it all more. I just naturally care more about living things, even if “care” were not the loving kind, but rather the kind that has an emotional response rather than indifference. If everything were as such, then I feel like I care that much more about everything around me, from the immediate to what I can see in the sky at the far reaches of the galaxy and universe.

While the word is new to me, the concept is not because I had philosophized this very thing on my own accord in my late teens while learning chemistry and other sciences! I didn’t think of it as fantasy or philosophy, though, seeing how atoms and molecules in chemical reactions behave, from a flask to weather systems to stars in astrophysics. While it may be laws of nature (science) that govern these events, it’s not a far stretch to think that the groups of molecules and atoms, and not others like them because no reaction is infinite, behaved like groups of people within society. That’s how I was able to articulate the above on why I liked the idea.


From this great TEDRadio Hour podcast focused on the brain.