Author’s Introduction (followed by Chapter Structure)
- There is perhaps no other phenomenon besides consciousness that is so familiar to each of us and yet has been so elusive to any systematic study, philosophical or scientific.
- What is at the heart of this puzzlement? Is there a genuine difficulty that underlies it? What are the specific issues that comprise the problem of consciousness? (Is there really a "the problem of consciousness"?) And are we facing a phenomenon the understanding of which lies forever beyond our intellectual capacities? These are the questions that I will pursue below.
- The overarching goal of this introduction is to provide a field guide (with a particular perspective) for anyone interested in the history and present status of philosophical issues in the study of consciousness.
- Part One is a preliminary overview of the current philosophical positions in the literature, as well as a discussion of the unique difficulties inherent in the concept and nature of consciousness.
- Part Two is an account of the study of consciousness in the history of modern psychology. Finally,
- Part Three is an exposition of the mosaic of philosophical puzzles of consciousness, as well as an exploration of their interrelations.
Part One: Conceptual Foundations
- The Puzzle of Consciousness
- The Mystery of Consciousness and the Explanatory Gap:
… Is the mystery essentially a result of a commitment to a materialist1 framework?
… Is the mystery essentially inherent in our (lack of) cognitive capacities?
- Skepticism About Consciousness
- The Consciousness Naturalists
- Approaching Consciousness: A Multitude of Difficulties
- Difficulties with the Concept of Consciousness
… Social consciousness
… Intransitive (“creature”) consciousness
… Transitive (“state” / “consciousness of”) consciousness
- Difficulties with the Nature of Consciousness
… Epistemology vs Ontology (“appearance vs reality”)
- Looking Ahead: The Two Faces of Consciousness
- Causal characterization: "Consciousness is as consciousness does" versus
- Phenomenal characterization: "Consciousness is as consciousness seems"
- Segregationist intuition: if the characterization of consciousness is causal, then it has to be essentially nonphenomenal, and if it is phenomenal, then it is essentially noncausal.
- Integrationist intuition: what consciousness does, qua consciousness, cannot be characterized in the absence of how consciousness seems, but more importantly, how consciousness seems cannot be conceptualized in the absence of what consciousness does.
Part Two: A Brief History of Consciousness
- Consciousness in Early Modern Philosophy
- The Last Hundred Years: William James's Puzzle
- Cognitivism (and Beyond)
- The Study of the Unconscious
- The Freudian Unconscious
- The Cognitive Unconscious
- Status Report: From Information Processing to Qualia
Part Three: Problems of Consciousness – A Perspective on Contemporary Issues and Current Debates
- Consciousness and Intentionality: Two Dimensions of Mind
… The phenomenal versus intentional matrix
- Perspectivity and Epistemic Asymmetry
- First-Person versus Third-Person Approaches to Consciousness
- The Two Faces of Consciousness Revisited
- Access Versus Phenomenal Consciousness
- The "Easy Problems of Consciousness" and the "Hard Problem"
- The Four “W” Questions and the Further “How” Question
… 1. What are the media and mechanisms of consciousness?
… 2. Where, if anywhere, is the locus of consciousness?
… 3. Who can be said to be a conscious being?
… 4. Why is there consciousness at all, and what is the role it plays in the general scheme of mental life and behavior of an organism?
… 5. How does consciousness arise in, or emerge from, its underlying substance, structure, and mechanism, in the way it does?
- The What Question
- The Where Question
- The Who and the Why / Which Questions
- A Road Map for Phenomenal Consciousness and the Unbearable Lightness of Whatitisliketobe
- 1. Qualia: Experiences have phenomenal and thus noncausal, nonrepresentational, nonfunctional, and perhaps nonphysical properties.
- 2. Subjectivity: Certain facts about experiences are subjective, that is, they cannot be completely understood except from a single kind of point of view.
- 3. Knowledge Argument: Certain facts about experiences are nonphysical.
To this, one can add the "base element" in the formula:
- Whatitisliketobe: There is something it is like to have experiences for a certain organism (or, simply, something it is like to be that organism).
- The Qualia Battles
- Epiphenomenalism and the Possibility of Zombies
- Stalemate: How to Settle the Phenomenal Consciousness Dispute?
In Place of a Conclusion
- I started by noting an epistemological asymmetry in the way one has access to (the facts about) one's own experiences versus those of others. This asymmetry leads us to the notion of perspectivity, something quite unique to (the study of) consciousness, and to the distinction between first-person and third-person points of view. This duality between points of view with respect to accessing facts about experiences also manifests itself in a duality in characterizing consciousness, in causal versus phenomenal terms.
- Taking these characterizations as mutually exclusive, based on the presumption that phenomenal consciousness is essentially phenomenal and essentially non-causal, yields what I called the segregationist intuition. Opposing it is the integrationist intuition, which maintains that phenomenal consciousness can only be characterized by means of all causal, functional, or representational elements. Given these two intuitions, I briefly argued that the former plays into the hands of the doctrine of epiphenomenalism, which, when combined with considerations from the possibility of absent qualia and zombiehood, leads us into untenable and non-commonsensical conceptions of phenomenal consciousness. This is good evidence, on the other hand, to take the latter seriously and use it as the pre-theoretical basis in re-examining our notion of phenomenal consciousness.
- Another domain where the epistemic element of perspectivity figures in is the problem of the explanatory gap and the question of the "hard problem" of consciousness. There seems to be an unbridged gap in the explanation of how physical embodiment and conscious experience are linked. The former is in general given a causal characterization from a third-person perspective, the latter a phenomenal characterization in first person terms. It seems that under our existing conceptual scheme, bolstered by the segregationist intuition, the "hard problem" just does not, and cannot, lend itself to a solution.
- What is important to note here is that the explanatory gap, in the way it is set up, stems from an epistemological issue. The further question that remains is whether its persistence is good enough evidence to yield ontological conclusions. Some think yes; introducing an "extra ingredient" into the picture and thus augmenting one's ontology to include consciousness as a fundamental element could indeed relieve one of the nagging problem of having to bridge mechanism and experience (by emergence, reduction, elimination, and so forth) or vice versa. Others think that the epistemological nature of the explanatory gap does not warrant ontological conclusions. Although I cannot go into this debate in any further detail here, I too would like to lend my support to this latter position. True, in the presence of the explanatory gap, the link between experience and its physical underpinnings may seem arbitrary, but I think that the decision to introduce a new fundamental element into the ontology, based on the explanatory gap, seems equally arbitrary as well. At least I fail to see how the most steadfast belief in a thus-expanded new ontology would leave one less puzzled about just how consciousness relates to its physical underpinnings, hence diminishing the explanatory gap and explaining away the further-How question. What seems the most promising direction in re-approaching consciousness and pursuing its deep-rooted problems in the present era involves rethinking epistemology and conceptual schemes (as opposed to a priori postulation of new ontology) to yield a cross-fertilization of the first-person and third-person perspectives, which would allow theorizing about how causal efficacy figures in how consciousness feels, and how phenomenal quality relates to what consciousness does.
- In any case, at present it just does not seem as if there is a way to settle the dispute decisively about the "hard problem" or the consequences of the explanatory gap. And given the troublesome stalemate over the ontological nature of phenomenal consciousness, we seem to be not quite near a satisfactory understanding of the phenomenon. If anything, the survey of the contemporary issues and current debates surrounding consciousness points to a need for a careful re-examination of our pre-theoretical intuitions and conceptual foundations on which to build better accounts of consciousness. It also seems probable that an entirely satisfactory understanding of consciousness will be possible, if at all, only when the constitutive elements of a more comprehensive framework, in which consciousness needs to be theoretically situated, are themselves better understood. And these elements include nothing less than causality2, representation, indexicality, and personhood, and especially the deep-rooted dichotomies between mental and physical, and subjective and objective. As such, it is probably reasonable to assume, as Jerry Fodor likes to prognosticate regarding a complete account of rationality, that "no such theory will be available by this time next week."
- This being said, I conclude on a more positive note. Presently, there is an impressive rising tide of interest in the study of consciousness, and thanks to recent advances in interdisciplinary research, we are now in a better position to penetrate the mysteries of this great intellectual frontier. By integrating methodologies and perspectives from psychology, philosophy, neuroscience, cognitive science, and other disciplines and by keeping a mindful eye on the successes and failures of the past, we should be able to reach a higher vantage point and to see more broadly and more deeply than has ever before been possible. These are very exciting times for thinking about consciousness.
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2021
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)