David Chalmers’ Unanswerable Questions: “Why do I have THIS experience?” and “Why do we see red, rather than hear a trumpet?”

Paul Austin Murphy
7 min readDec 21, 2022

The philosopher David Chalmers believes that there are answers — or just possible answers — to his questions about conscious experiences. But what if there aren’t any answers — or even any possible answers? So perhaps it’s fair to say that Chalmers simply assumes that there are answers to his questions.

Left: W.H. Auden. Right: David Chalmers. The source of this quote can be found here.

Firstly, David Chalmers isn’t asking for answers which refer to anything physical, functional, structural, etc.:

(1) He isn’t asking for the “physical correlates” of experiences.
(2) He isn’t asking for the causal and physical connections between the brain and experiences — or any connections between experiences and anything physical.
(3) He isn’t asking for the functional (or otherwise) underpinnings of experiences.
(4) And he isn’t asking for any evolutionary answers either.

As Chalmers is keen to stress, all the physical things referred to above can be instantiated, and the experiences may still not occur. Alternatively, all these things can be instantiated and the experiences could still be very different.

[All David Chalmers’ questions in this essay come from his book, The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory.]