If consciousness is a result of physical processes in the brain, then it seems likely that every experience can be reduced to the interplay of physical elements. But not so fast, say some philosophers. Our experience of certain things, such as color, may be impossible to explain in terms of physical laws. A short thought experiment: Imagine a colorblind woman who is also a neuroscientist. She knows everything there is to know about how color works on the brain, but were her colorblindness suddenly cured, she would have an experience of color categorically different from everything she already knows about it (which is a lot).
What’s the Big Idea?
Philosophers who think that experiences are subjective obviously do not discount the physical elements in any event. Of course seeing an object requires light photons to enter the eye and strike the retina, which is then followed by a series of intricate physical reactions. But we also talk of security cameras seeing their surroundings and the essential physical elements, i.e. light and an object, are present in both cases. “But the ‘seeing’ camera has no subjective experience; it has no phenomenal awareness of what it’s like to see something. That happens only when we look at what the camera recorded.”