Introducing Consciousness
Papineau (David)
Source: Papineau - Introducing Consciousness
Paper - Abstract

Paper Summary


  1. What is Consciousness?: Examples – dental work with or without anaesthetic; eyes shut or open; sleep with or without dreams.
  2. The Indefinability of Consciousness:
    • There seems no scientific, objective2 definition to capture the essence of consciousness.
    • Definitions in terms of the psychological role conscious states play, or in terms of the physiology, seem to miss out the essential feel.
    • We can imagine robots with electronic brains that satisfy a scientific definition, but have no feelings. Lights on but no-one at home.
    • Similarly3 for androids4 made of defined chemical and physical stuff.
    • Analogy5 with jazz “Man, if you gotta ask, you’re never gonna know”.
  3. What is it like to be a Bat?:
    • "Nagel (Thomas) - What is it Like to Be a Bat?" raises the distinction between the subjective and the objective – which we often run together as humans, though they might come apart in intelligent robots.
    • The point is that while we can imagine what it would be like for a human to act like a bat, why cannot imagine what it is like for a bat, despite knowing all there is to know about bat physiology.
    • For instance – no doubt – echo-location would seem to the bat more like vision than hearing does to us, but we can’t fill in any of the details.
  4. Experience and Scientific Description: “… no amount of scientific description will convey a subjective grasp of conscious experience.”
  5. How Does Consciousness Fit In?: The central problem is to explain the “what it’s like” of phenomenal consciousness – how this fits into the objective world and in particular how it relates to the scientific goings-on in the brain. There are three options6, which will be examined in due course:-
    1. Dualist: conscious experience is genuinely distinct from brain activity. But, if the world contains subjective elements, how do they interact with normal space-time entities, and what principles govern their emergence?
    2. Materialist: despite the appearances, there is a unity between the subjective and objective. The problem is to explain how the mind and brain can possibly be identical7 if they appear so different.
    3. Mysterian: the understanding of phenomenal consciousness is beyond human beings at present, and maybe forever.
  6. Hard and Easy Problems: Chalmers (David) distinguishes between the “hard” and “easy” problems of consciousness.
    1. The “easy” problems – while far from simple – are those that psychologists and physiologists know how to address using standard scientific methods without raising insurmountable philosophical obstacles.
    2. Easy problems deal with the objective study of the brain – the causal roles played by psychological states, and how these roles are implemented in the brains of different creatures.
    3. For example, pain is a state typically caused by bodily damage which typically causes a desire to avoid further damage. In humans it is implemented by A- and C-fibre transmissions. Similar analyses are available for vision, hearing, memory and so on.
    4. But such analyses tell us nothing about the feelings involved. Analyses involving causal roles and physical implementation apply just as much to unfeeling robots.
    5. The “hard” problem is to explain where these feelings come from.
    6. The Explanatory Gap: This is the expression used by Levine (Joseph). Objective science can only take us so far – there seems to be a gap between what science tells us and what we most want to know – why does pain hurt?
  7. Creature Consciousness: Animals are said to be conscious if they have some conscious states.
  8. The Hard Problem is New: It’s only since the 20th century that the physical world view has tended to squeeze out consciousness. In earlier times it was taken for granted that there was a world of conscious minds independent of the physical world. The mental was supposed to be at least as basic, with matter a second-rate citizen.
  9. Rene Descartes’ Dualism: Despite his contributions to the foundations of modern physical science, Descartes never doubted that conscious minds exist at a distinct non-physical level. As a dualist, he thought that the mental and physical were two separate but interacting realms.
    1. Matter in Motion: Descartes’ account of the physical world was austere and differed from most accounts before and since. He though the physical world was just matter in motion, with all action by contact. Secondary qualities are not in the things themselves, but colours – say – are impressions produced by the action of material particles on our sense organs.
    2. Mind Separate from Matter: Outside the physical world is the metal world of unextended mental / conscious8 elements – thoughts, emotions, pleasures. The only property these elements share with matter is location in time, though the mental and physical interact – eg. sitting on a pin causes pain, and pain causes your body to jump.
    3. The Pineal Gland: a “whacky idea” but an honest answer – the function of the PG is still not fully understood – to a serious problem. The causal interaction of mind and matter remains the Achilles heel of contemporary dualism.
  10. Berkeley’s World of Ideas: sceptics argued that Descartes’s dualism left us ignorant of the world of matter. Berkeley “solved” the problem by denying that there was a world of matter for us to be ignorant of; mental experiences are all there is. “Esse est percipi”. While Idealism is an affront to common sense, Dr. Johnson’s “refutation” by kicking a stone fails: Berkeley didn’t deny the existence of sense impressions – he simply claimed that their causes were mental rather than physical.
  11. The Idealist Tradition: Idealism’s philosophical advantages and impregnability to disproof attracted many philosophers, including
  12. Idealism in Britain: Despite British philosophy being renowned for adherence to common sense, many of its leaders have been idealists:-
    • Mill (John Stuart): physical objects are “permanent possibilities of sensation” with no separate existence apart from our sensory awareness of them.
    • Russell (Bertrand): Regarded the physical world as a figment of our mental perspective, a logical construction out of the sense-data we are aware of in perception.
    • Ayer (A.J.): The material world has no reality apart from its reflection in the deliverances of our sense organs.
  13. The Scientific Reaction to Idealism:
    1. Idealism has no problem with consciousness, out of which it builds reality.
    2. But this just shifts the problem – how are material things part of reality?
    3. The tide moved against idealism firstly because – if mental events are private, how can third parties know anything about them – and hence – according to idealism – about reality?
  14. Behaviourist Psychology:
    1. The behaviourist response – from Watson (John B.) and Skinner (B.F.) – was to claim that a scientific psychology should be based on an experimental study of behaviour, not on individuals’ judgements of their feelings.
    2. They learned a lot about the training of rats and pigeons using rewards & punishments.
  15. The Skinner Box:
    1. “Operant Conditioning Apparatus”: initial random lever-press releases food, which reinforces the pressing, the frequency of which increases with Positive Reinforcement.
    2. An operantly conditioned rat will continue pressing the lever even when the food reward ceases.
    3. Both Watson and Skinner applied their views to human beings.
    4. Watson was an extreme environmentalist: claiming that the human mind is formed entirely by nurture – rewards and punishments – rather than by genetic nature.
    5. Skinner wrote Walden Two - as a “sequel” to the America idyll "Thoreau (Henry David) - Walden"; therein, Skinner proposed child-rearing should be rigorously based on a system of rewards.
  16. The Ghost in the Machine:
    • While psychologists – “methodological behaviourists” - rejected subjective experience as bad methodology, philosophers – “logical behaviourists” – made out that subjective experience was incoherent.
    • They claimed that all that was meant by “mental states” were publicly observable inclinations to behave in certain ways.
    • Ryle (Gilbert) believed this and described the traditional view of the mind as a subjective realm controlling the body as “the ghost in the machine”.
  17. The Beetle in the Box:
    • Wittgenstein (Ludwig)’s Private Language Argument associates him with Logical Behaviourism. Wittgenstein’s argument9 is that public verification is required for the working of language, and that a language that can only be checked by one person makes no sense.
    • Similarly10, we wouldn’t know what we were talking about if talk of mental states referred to private inner episodes.
    • We might each be referring to different things if we referred to “the beetle (hidden) in our box”, or to nothing at all (if the box were empty).
    • For mental talk to have objective content, we must regard the mental realm as intrinsically connected to the behaviour that makes it publicly observable.
  18. Psychological Functionalists:
    • Both logical and methodological behaviourism are now seen as over-reactions to the subjectivist view of the mind.
    • There’s craziness in supposing that mental states can never be known introspectively, only by observation.
    • The “behaviourist joke11” – “you’re feeling OK, how am I?”
    • Behaviourism has now been superseded by Functionalism12, which upholds behaviourism’s resistance to metal states as essentially subjective, yet allows them to be internal while not necessarily being observable in behaviour.
    • The example given is someone being exhorted not to display pain-behaviour to avoid discovery.
    • So, mental states are to be thought of as internal states identifiable by their typical causes and effects – pain typically arises from bodily damage and typically causes avoidance-behaviour, though actual behaviour depends on interaction with other beliefs and desires.
    • Functionalists consequently think of mental states as causal intermediaries. While internal, they are not to be identified purely according to their feel. While unobservable, they are still objective parts of the causal-scientific world.
    • Mental states are consequently thought of as being real – analogous to scientific unobservables such as atoms, genes or quarks13.
  19. Structure versus Physiology:
    • Functionalism has no commitment to what mental states are made of.
    • While functionalists turned inwards from behaviour to the brain, they didn’t involve themselves with neurons and functional areas of the brain, but instead drew flowcharts.
    • So, they hypothesised mental structure – in terms of functional roles – in abstraction from physical structure.
  20. The Mind as the Brain’s Software:
    • The analogy is with digital computers – with the brain as the hardware and the mind as the software.
    • The analogy is stretched to allow that the mind might run on different hardware platforms, just as computer programs can run on different models of computer.
    • What matters with software is its causal structure. On any particular hardware, running the software causes some14 internal states – it doesn’t matter quite what these are as long as they satisfy the structural requirement.
  21. Variable Realisation:
    • According to functionalists, mental states are software rather than hardware / “wetware”.
    • Example: Human and Octopus Pain
      1. Humans and Octopuses both show pain-behaviour – which typically arises from bodily damage and typically causes avoidance behaviour15.
      2. This is in spite of the fact that their “circuitry” differs.
      3. So – the functionalist claims – because the function of pain is the same in both cases, they have the same software but different wetware.
  22. A Physical Basis for Mind:
    • Because functionalism deals only with structure rather than what mental states are made of, it is consistent with dualism or even idealism.
    • Maybe some special “mind-stuff” arises in the brains of conscious creatures to provide the infrastructure needed to fulfil the functional roles.
    • But most functionalists are materialists, arguing that the analogous computers are entirely made of matter.
  23. A Modern Dualist Revival:
    • Functionalism linked to materialism leads to the Hard Problem of consciousness – the mental “feels” that make life worth living.
    • one response to this problem is to insist that the mind must occupy a separate non-physical realm after all. If modern orthodoxy implies that human beings are unfeeling automata, so much the worse for orthodoxy.
    • Chalmers (David) is cited as a modern-day dualist, though one less extreme than Descartes. Descartes thought of mind and matter as separate substances. However, …
  24. A Dualism of Properties:
    • Chalmers and the like think of human beings as a single substance with two kinds of property – they are property dualists.
    • They consider both behaviourism and functionalism as over-reactions to subjectivist idealism.
    • Rather than being just an intuition, modern dualist have two arguments:-
      1. The Argument from Possibility: derives from Descartes (Rene).
      2. The Argument from Knowledge: derives from Leibniz (Gottfried).
  25. Descartes’ Argument from Possibility16:
    • Descartes argued that it is “perfectly possible” for mind and body to exist separately.
    • For, there’s no apparent contradiction in the ideas of ghosts or immortal souls.
    • While – in point of fact – there might not be any ghosts, it still makes sense to think we might continue to exist as conscious beings without a body, as millions have comfortably hoped.
    • Even if in reality mind and body are always found together, the possibility of posthumous survival implies their real distinction.
    • If they were really the same thing, what sense could be made of their coming apart?
    • A modern variant of this argument – attributed to Kripke (Saul) – is the Zombie argument.
  26. A Zombie Duplicate:
    • Kripke imagines a molecule-by-molecule duplicate of himself – such as might be produced by a Star Trek holocopier17, but which has no conscious experience.
    • The philosophical term for such individuals is “zombie18”, not to be confused with the living dead of B-movies.
    • Kripke’s zombies don’t bang into the furniture but act just like normal human beings. They have the same brain structure, but just lack the inner feelings.
    • Even if – as seems likely – there are no such zombies in the physical universe (as with Descartes’ argument) it is the mere possibility that is important. There doesn’t seem to be anything logically contradictory19 about the notion of a zombie.
    • If we admit that zombies are possible, then conscious properties must differ from physical or structural properties.
    • Papineau has an interesting diagram of two doppelgangers screwing together a couple of androids. One asks the other “By the way, which one of us is the zombie?”. The answer is “How should I know. You’re the one with the feelings.” This is presumably ironic, but raises interesting questions20.
  27. Leibniz’s Argument from Knowledge:
    • This argument is attributed to a passage in Leibniz (Gottfried)’s Monadology21.
    • The argument is that if we walked about in a (super-sized) machine that “produces thinking, feeling and perceiving” we would see nothing but moving parts – and “never anything that could explain perception”.
    • While the text goes on to investigate the “Red Mary” thought-experiment that Papineau considers to be the modern variant of Leibniz’s idea, it strikes me that this argument is similar to Searle (John)’s “Chinese Room22” argument.
    • Leibniz’s point – says Papineau – is that even if we knew all there was to know about the workings of the brain, we still wouldn’t know about consciousness23.
  28. The Modern Argument from Knowledge:
    • This is a TE proposed by Frank Jackson24.
    • Mary’s a research psychologist – supposed to have grown up in a black-and-white environment – who knows all there is to know about colour – the properties of light and of eyes and the visual centres in the brain – but has ever seen red. Then one day she sees a red rose and so - it is said – comes to learn something new, namely, what it is like to see red.
    • If this is right, not all mental properties are physical or structural properties – because (ex hypothesi) Mary knew all these before she experienced the colour red.
    • Hence, this further property must be distinct from the physical and structural properties she already knew about, since she learned something new – the phenomenally conscious “what it is like”.
  29. A Dualist Science of Consciousness:
  30. Arguments against Dualism:
  31. Causal Completeness:
  32. The Demise of Mental Forces:
  33. Newtonian Physics:
  34. Back to Descartes:
  35. Materialist Physiology:
  36. No Separate Mental Causes:
  37. What about Quantum Indeterminism?:
  38. Causal Impotence:
  39. Pre-established Harmony:
  40. Modern Epiphenomenalism:
  41. The Oddity of Epiphenomenalism:
  42. The Materialist Alternative:
  43. Materialism is not Elimination:
  44. The Example from Temperature:
  45. Functionalist Materialism:
  46. Making a Computer Conscious?:
  47. The Turing Test:
  48. The Chinese Room:
  49. Language and Consciousness:
  50. Functionalist Epiphobia:
  51. Mental States are “Wetware”:
  52. Human Chauvinism:
  53. Facing up to the Dualist Arguments:
  54. Zombies are Impossible:
  55. Mysteries of Consciousness:
  56. The Mysterian Position:
  57. A Mysterian Speculation:
  58. Special Concepts of Consciousness:
  59. Everybody Wants a Theory:
  60. Neural Oscillations:
  61. Neural Darwinism:
  62. Re-entrant Loops:
  63. Evolution and Consciousness:
  64. The Purpose of Consciousness:
  65. Quantum Collapses:
  66. How Quantum Physics Differs:
  67. Schrodinger’s Cat:
  68. Quantum Consciousness:
  69. Another Link to Quantum Physics:
  70. Quantum Collapses and Godel’s Theorem:
  71. The Global Workspace Theory:
  72. CAS Information Processing (CAS = Conscious Awareness System):
  73. Equal Rights for Extra-Terrestrials:
  74. Intentionality and Consciousness:
  75. Consciousness and Representation:
  76. Explaining Intentionality:
  77. Can We Crack Intentionality?:
  78. Non-representational Consciousness:
  79. In Defence of Representation:
  80. Non-conscious Representation:
  81. Panpsychist Representation:
  82. Behaviour without Consciousness:
  83. What versus Where:
  84. The Problem of Blindsight:
  85. HOT Theories (HOT = Higher-order Thought):
  86. Criticism of HOT Theories:
  87. Self-consciousness and Theory of Mind:
  88. The False-belief Test:
  89. Conscious or Not?:
  90. Cultural Training:
  91. Sentience and Self-consciousness:
  92. Future Scientific Prospects:
  93. PET and MRI:
  94. A Signature of Consciousness:
  95. The Fly and the Fly-bottle:
  96. The Dualist Option:
  97. The Materialist Option:
  98. A Question of Moral Concern:
  99. Is There a Final Answer?:

Papineau’s Reading list includes the following:-

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: Footnote 2: Footnote 3: Footnote 5: Rather a poor one. Jazz can doubtless be defined, though I’m not going to try.

Footnote 6: Are these the only three possibilities?

Footnote 7: Footnote 8: I don’t think Descartes distinguished consciousness from the mind generally, assuming all thought to be conscious.

Footnote 9: See "Kripke (Saul) - Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language" for Kripke (Saul)’s take on Wittgenstein’s argument.

Footnote 10: I’ve added this comparator – the (highly compressed) “arguments” – really just claims – are run together in Papineau’s text.

Footnote 11: This is a sanitised version of the usual one – “it was great for you, how was it for me?”

Footnote 12: See my Note.

Footnote 13: Footnote 14: Footnote 15: Footnote 16: Footnote 17: See my Note on Teletransportation.

Footnote 19: Footnote 20: Footnote 21: Footnote 22: Footnote 23: Footnote 24:

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2017

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