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Front Syst Neurosci. 2019 Oct 25;13:58. doi: 10.3389/fnsys.2019.00058. eCollection 2019.

A Naturalistic Approach to the Hard Problem of Consciousness.

Singer W1,2,3.

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Max Planck Institute for Brain Research (MPI), Frankfurt am Main, Germany.
Ernst Struengmann Institute for Neuroscience in Cooperation with the Max Planck Society (ESI), Frankfurt am Main, Germany.
Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies (FIAS), Frankfurt am Main, 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 hallmark 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.


consciousness; dualism; emergence; qualia; self-model; social realities

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