Reductive explanations

David Chalmers

David John Chalmers (born April 20, 1966) is a philosopher in the area of philosophy of mind. He is Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Centre for Consciousness at the Australian National University.


Chalmers grew up in Australia. Before he moved to the Australian National University in 2004, he was Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Center for Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona and prior to Arizona he taught at UC Santa Cruz. He was educated at the University of Adelaide (earning an undergraduate degree in mathematics and computer science) and then briefly at Lincoln College in the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar before studying for his PhD at Indiana University Bloomington under Douglas Hofstadter. He was a post-doctoral fellow in the Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology program (directed by Andy Clark) at Washington University in St. Louis (1993-1995).

He is the author of the book The Conscious Mind (1996), which discusses consciousness, arguing that reductive explanations describing consciousness in terms of physical processes do not hold. The book was described by The Sunday Times as "one of the best science books of the year".


He is best known for his support for the notion of the hard problem of consciousness in both his book and in the paper "Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness" (originally published in The Journal of Consciousness Studies, 1995). He makes the distinction between easy problems of consciousness (which are, amongst others, things like finding neural correlates of sensation) and the hard problem, which could be stated "why does awareness of sensory information exist at all?" A main focus of his study is the distinction between brain biology and behavior as distinct from mental experience taken as independent of behavior (known as qualia). He argues that there is an explanatory gap between these two systems, and criticizes physical explanations of mental experience, making him a dualist in an era that some have seen as being dominated by monist views.

In his argument (as it appears in his book The Conscious Mind) he creates a hypothetical philosophical zombie, which is the same as a normal person, except lacking qualia or sentience. He argues that since this zombie is logically possible, then qualia and sentience are not fully explained by physical properties alone.

Instead, Chalmers argues that consciousness arises from any information-bearing system (in the sense of information theory), leading him to adopt a form of panpsychism, believing that even thermostats are somewhat conscious. Chalmers has elsewhere said ("Consciousness and the Philosophers: an Exchange") that he is agnostic on the issue of panpsychism, but that it is not nearly as indefensible an idea as some think.

After the publication of this paper, more than twenty papers in response were published in the Journal of Consciousness Studies. These papers (by Daniel Dennett, Colin McGinn, Francisco Varela, Francis Crick, and Roger Penrose among others) were collected and published in the book Explaining Consciousness: The Hard Problem. John Searle fiercely critiqued Chalmers's views in The New York Review of Books.

Chalmers, with Andy Clark, has written The Extended Mind, a popular article about the borders of the mind 


On his web site, David Chalmers has compiled what could be the largest bibliography on the philosophy of mind and related fields with close to 18000 annotated entries topically organized.

Chalmers appears in The Matrix video documentary "The Roots of the Matrix" and presents a novel take on a large part of the traditionally skeptical "brain in a vat" hypothesis. He maintains that this hypothesis is not, contrary to common philosophical opinion, a skeptical hypothesis.

He serves on the editorial board of the journals Philo, Consciousness and Cognition, the Journal of Consciousness Studies, and Psyche.



A partial list of publications by Chalmers:

  • The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory (1996). Oxford University Press. hardcover: ISBN 0-19-511789-1, paperback: ISBN 0-19-510553-2
  • Toward a Science of Consciousness III: The Third Tucson Discussions and Debates (1999). Stuart R. Hameroff, Alfred W. Kaszniak and David J. Chalmers (Editors). The MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-58181-7
  • Philosophy of Mind: Classical and Contemporary Readings (2002). (Editor). Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-514581-X or ISBN 0-19-514580-1

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