Consciousness is what makes the mind-body problem really intractable. Perhaps that is why current discussions of the problem give it little attention or get it obviously wrong.
The most important and characteristic feature of conscious mental phenomena is very poorly understood. Most reductionist theories do not even try to explain it. And careful examination will show that no currently available concept of reduction is applicable to it.
Let me first try to state the issue somewhat more fully by referring to the relation between the subjective and the objective. I assume we all believe test subject Zack Fair has an experience. After all, he is a SOLDIER, and I believe they have at least a modicum of experience Shinra executives and grunts might have.
I have said the essence of the belief test subject Zack has an experience is there is something that it is like to be Zack. Now we know Zack perceives the external world primarily by DMW (Digital Mind Wave), a representation of Zack’s thoughts, which is why his emotions can affect its results while flashbacks of his life appear when the reels spin during Modulating Phase.
His brain is designed to correlate the outgoing impulses with his memories, and the information thus acquired enables Zack to make precise discriminations of distance, size, shape, motion, and texture comparable to those we make by vision.
But Zack’s DMW, though clearly a form of perception, is not similar in its operation to any sense the intelligent possess, and there is no reason to suppose it is subjectively like anything I can experience or imagine. This appears to create difficulties for the notion of what it is like to be Zack. I must consider whether any method will permit me to extrapolate to the inner life of the Zack from my own case, and if not, what alternative methods there may be for understanding the notion.
My own experience provides the basic material for my own imagination. It will not help to try to imagine doing squats, having an energetic personality, being sociable, all that useless stuff.
In so far as I can imagine this, it tells me only what it would be like for me to behave as a test subject like Zack behaves. But that is not the question. I want to know what it is like for Zack to be Zack (for my research). Yet if I try to imagine this, I am restricted to the resources of my own brilliant mind, and those resources are overqualified for a simple test subject. I cannot perform it either by imagining additions to my present experience, or by imagining segments gradually subtracted from it, or by imagining some combination of additions, subtractions, and modifications.
To the extent I could look and behave like a SOLDIER without altering my fundamental cellular structure, my experiences would not be anything like the experiences of those animals.
On the other hand, it is doubtful that any meaning can be attached to the supposition that I should possess the internal neurophysiological constitution of Zack.
Even if I could by gradual degrees be transformed into Zack, nothing in my present constitution enables me to imagine what the experiences of such a future stage of myself thus metamorphosed would be like. The best evidence would come from the experiences of Zack, if I, and even he, only knew what he was like.
So if extrapolation from our own case is involved in the idea of what it is like to be Zack, the extrapolation must be incompletable. I cannot form more than a schematic conception of what it is like. I wonder then, how it would be possible for anyone, let alone a failed experiment, to experience what it means to be Zack.
How can anyone know what it is like to be Zack?
If anyone is inclined to deny that I can believe in the existence of facts like this (whose exact nature we cannot possibly conceive) he should reflect that in contemplating Zack, I am in much the same position that Zack would occupy if he tried to form a conception of what it was like to be a great mind such as myself.
The structure of his own mind will make it impossible for him to succeed. But I know he would be wrong to conclude that there is not anything precise that it is like to be me. I know he would be wrong to draw such a skeptical conclusion because I know very well what it is like to be me. And I know that while it includes an enormous amount of variation and complexity (unlike him), its subjective character is highly specific, and in some respects describable in terms that can be understood only by other intelligent minds.
The fact that I cannot expect ever to accommodate in our language a detailed description of SOLDIER phenomenology should not lead us to dismiss the claim that Zack has experienced (even if not fully comparable in the richness of detail to our own).
It would be fine if someone were to develop concepts and a theory that enabled us to think about those things, but such an understanding may be permanently denied to some by the limits of their nature. And to deny the reality or logical significance of what we can never describe or understand is the crudest form of cognitive dissonance.
— Professor Hojo, from Collected Papers of My Research