The “Hard Problem of Consciousness” is Only Hard If You Make It So

Jim Mason
2 min readFeb 24, 2022

It’s like the problem of physical hardness and the problem of group behavior

The so-called “Hard Problem of Consciousness” is the difficulty of reconciling our subjective experience of consciousness with the workings of our brains. Its proponents claim that those are inherently different and, although correlated, impossible to reconcile completely. To try to explain consciousness in terms of neuroscience is, they say, incomplete and inappropriate physical reductionism.

Yet think about the hardness of solid objects. At our scale of experience, we do not fall through solid floors. Yet from results of over a century of scientific investigations we know that solid objects are composed of individual atoms made up of electrically charged particles that are constantly in motion. In solid objects the atoms are packed closely enough together by electrically attractive forces that their combined electrically repulsive forces prevent them from penetrating very far into other solid objects. In liquids and gases the individual atoms are farther apart, making them less solid.

To explain and understand the hardness of solid objects that way isn’t to deny their hardness. It’s just an example of effects of scale — how properties of large numbers of things in groups can combine to give the groups themselves overall properties that the individual constituents lack.

So it is as the vast numbers of nerve networks in our brains and other parts of our nervous systems give rise to what we call “consciousness”. And so it is as large numbers of people communicating with each other give rise to coordinated group actions like creating countries, making cell phones, exploring space, and going to war that transcend the capabilities of individual people — what we could call “The Hard Problem of Humanity”.

Jim Mason

I study language, cognition, and humans as social animals. You can support me by joining Medium at