XAT 2018 Question 8


Please read the passage below and answer the questions that follow:

It is sometimes said that consciousness is a mystery in the sense that we have no idea what it is. This is clearly not true. What could be better known to us than our own feelings and experiences? The mystery of consciousness is not what consciousness is, but why it is.

Modern brain imaging techniques have provided us with a rich body of correlations between physical processes in the brain and the experiences had by the person whose brain it is. We know, for example, that a person undergoing stimulation in her or his ventromedial hypothalamus feels hunger. The problem is that no one knows why these correlations hold. It seems perfectly conceivable that ventromedial hypothalamus stimulation could do its job in the brain without giving rise to any kind of feeling at all. No one has even the beginnings of an explanation of why some physical systems, such as the human brain, have experiences. This is the difficulty David Chalmers famously called ‘the hard problem of consciousness’.

Materialists hope that we will one day be able to explain consciousness in purely physical terms. But this project now has a long history of failure. The problem with materialist approaches to the hard problem is that they always end up avoiding the issue by redefining what we mean by ‘consciousness’. They start off by declaring that they are going to solve the hard problem, to explain experience; but somewhere along the way they start using the word ‘consciousness’ to refer not to experience but to some complex behavioural functioning associated with experience, such as the ability of a person to monitor their internal states or to process information about the environment. Explaining complex behaviours is an important scientific endeavour. But the hard problem of consciousness cannot be solved by changing the subject.

In spite of these difficulties, many scientists and philosophers maintain optimism that materialism will prevail. At every point in this glorious history, it is claimed, philosophers have declared that certain phenomena are too special to be explained by physical science - light, chemistry, life - only to be subsequently proven wrong by the relentless march of scientific progress.

Before Galileo it was generally assumed that matter had sensory qualities: tomatoes were red, paprika was spicy, flowers were sweet smelling. How could an equation capture the taste of spicy paprika? And if sensory qualities can’t be captured in a mathematical vocabulary, it seemed to follow that a mathematical vocabulary could never capture the complete nature of matter. Galileo’s solution was to strip matter of its sensory qualities and put them in the soul (as we might put it, in the mind). The sweet smell isn’t really in the flowers, but in the soul (mind) of the person smelling them … Even colours for Galileo aren’t on the surfaces of the objects themselves, but in the soul of the person observing them. And if matter in itself has no sensory qualities, then it’s possible in principle to describe the material world in the purely quantitative vocabulary of mathematics. This was the birth of mathematical physics.

But of course Galileo didn’t deny the existence of the sensory qualities. If Galileo were to time travel to the present day and be told that scientific materialists are having a problem explaining consciousness in purely physical terms, he would no doubt reply, “Of course they do, I created physical science by taking consciousness out of the physical world!”

Question 8

Which of the following statements captures the essence of the passage?


The author argues throughout the passage that materialists cannot solve the hard problem of consciousness, which is backed by Galileo's observations. Option A is a minor point. Option C is not true according to the passage. Option D is far-fetched. Option E has been disapproved in the passage.

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