Understanding the relationship between consciousness, the subjective aspect of the world, the qualitative inner experience we all so intimately know, and the objective description provided by physics, chemistry, biology, neurophysiology, etc., has always been a crucial philosophical problem. The Australian philosopher David Chalmers has recently dubbed it ‘the hard problem’, in contrast to ‘the easy problems’ dealing with purely functional aspects of consciousness, like the ability to report about one’s inner states, etc. In this seminar we shall dive into the deep waters of the ‘hard problem’ from the perspective of quantum physics. We shall find that, when a proper description of the role of the observer in the quantum measurement problem is taken into account, fascinating possibilities (together with interesting and formidable problems!) open up and we are naturally led to envision a ground of being prior to the subject-object duality. We shall explore the convergence of this ‘outline of a theory of consciousness’ both with the ideas of Jung and Pauli and with traditional Buddhist concepts like emptiness and co-dependent origination.
The purpose of this lecture will obviously not be to say a final word about the ‘hard problem’. It will be to offer physics as an ‘instrument of wonder’, opening up surprising vistas, shaking taken-for-granted ideas about the world and helping us to better appreciate this amazing, mysterious reality we find ourselves being part of.
A good collection of essays dealing with the ‘hard problem’ as outlined above is Jonathan Shear, ed., Explaining Consciousness – The ‘Hard Problem’, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London, 1995.