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

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  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. Materialist7: despite the appearances, there is a unity8 between the subjective and objective. The problem is to explain how the mind and brain can possibly be identical9 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: David Chalmers 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 Joseph Levine. 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 / conscious10 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:-
    • John Stuart Mill: physical objects are “permanent possibilities of sensation” with no separate existence apart from our sensory awareness of them.
    • Bertrand Russell: 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.
    • A.J. Ayer: 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 John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner – 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.
    • Gilbert Ryle 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:
    • Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Private Language Argument associates him with Logical Behaviourism. Wittgenstein11’s argument12 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.
    • Similarly13, 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 joke14” – “you’re feeling OK, how am I?”
    • Behaviourism has now been superseded by Functionalism15, 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 quarks16.
  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 some17 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 behaviour18.
      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 materialists19, arguing that the analogous computers are entirely made of matter.
  23. A Modern Dualist Revival:
    • Functionalism linked to materialism20 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.
    • David Chalmers 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 Rene Descartes.
      2. The Argument from Knowledge: derives from Gottfried Leibniz.
  25. Descartes’ Argument from Possibility21:
    • 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 Saul Kripke – is the Zombie argument.
  26. A Zombie Duplicate22:
    • Kripke imagines a molecule-by-molecule duplicate23 of himself – such as might be produced by a Star Trek holocopier24, but which has no conscious experience.
    • The philosophical term for such individuals is “zombie25”, 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 contradictory26 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 androids27. 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 questions28.
  27. Leibniz’s Argument from Knowledge:
    • This argument is attributed to a passage in Gottfried Leibniz’s Monadology29.
    • 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-experiment30 that Papineau considers to be the modern variant of Leibniz’s idea, it strikes me that this argument is similar to John Searle’s “Chinese Room31” 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 consciousness32.
  28. The Modern Argument from Knowledge:
    • This is a TE proposed by Frank Jackson33.
    • 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:
    • We’re referred to David Chalmers who – Papineau claims – while not anti-science is persuaded by these dualist arguments that the scope of science should be expanded to include consciousness, just as physics was expanded to include electromagnetism rather than hope to reduce it to mechanics. Chalmers thinks that “there is a separate phenomenal realm where conscious awareness can be found”.
    • We need a theory that accounts for the emergence of conscious states in the same way34 that Maxwell’s laws govern electromagnetic fields.
  30. Arguments against Dualism:
    • Attempts to revive dualism have to face the old problems of mind-body interaction originating with Descartes and his pineal gland.
    • However, the modern dualism is a theory of properties rather than substance, so doesn’t have to explain how two difference substances communicate causally.
    • But we’re still left with the most difficult question – how can mind influence matter without violating the laws of physics?
  31. Causal Completeness:
    • The physical world appears to be causally complete.
    • An example35 is given of a goalie’s save: retinal registration of ball’s motion → neuronal activity in sensory cortex → physical activity in motor cortex → electrical messages travel through nerves → physical contraction of muscles.
  32. The Demise of Mental Forces:
    • Hence, we never seem to leave the realm of the physical, and there’s no room for non-physical properties like conscious experience to make a difference to behaviour.
    • Conscious experiences seem to be causal danglers, with as little impact on events as a child’s toy steering wheel has on the direction of her mother’s car.
    • Squaring dualism with the causal completeness of physics was recognised as a problem in the 17th century. While Descartes wasn’t concerned, his successors pointed out that deterministic physics ruled out mind36 influencing matter.
  33. Newtonian Physics:
    • This problem receded a bit in the 18th and 19th centuries as Newtonian physics allowed action at a distance, rather than insisting that change in motion requires contact between bodies.
    • Not just gravity, but chemical forces and “forces of adhesion”.
    • Also, vital and mental forces that allow living creatures to direct their bodies.
    • It is only recently that such forces have begun to seem cranky. Newtonians thought of them as no more mysterious than gravity or magnetism. According to Papineau, C.D. Broad in his 1923 book Mind and its Place in Nature defended an “emergentist37” philosophy whereby special “configurational” forces arise in matter of sufficient organisational complexity, like living bodies and intelligent brains.
  34. Back to Descartes38:
    • The current consensus:-
      • Still have action at a distance rather than cause requiring contact.
      • Quantum mechanics39 means we no longer have physical determinism.
      • Material effects always have material causes.
      • There are three fundamental forces
        → Strong nuclear
        → Electroweak
        → Gravity
      • All non-random influence on the motion of material bodies results from these forces.
    • So, there’s no room for an independent mind to make a material difference. The mind cannot move the body.
  35. Materialist40 Physiology:
    • The major reason special mental forces have been discredited is advances in neuroscience.
    • While it seems contrary to common sense that a physical system can display human behaviour, brain research suggests the opposite.
    • Particularly, this is demonstrated by advances in understanding the body’s neuronal network, and the chemistry of the neurotransmitters that enable inter-cellular communication.
  36. No Separate Mental Causes:
    • While the picture is far from complete, we’ve learnt enough in the last 100 years to be sure there are no “special mental forces” lurking in intelligent brains.
    • Two of the last to hold out against the causal completeness of physics were John Eccles and Roger W. Sperry, both Nobel prize-winners. But the consensus is against them, even though theories of physics as we know it may not be correct or complete.
    • Modern physical science would be very surprised indeed were matter to move other than from physical causes, though this idea is not incoherent.
  37. What about Quantum Indeterminism?:
    • Does quantum indeterminism create the loophole to allow mind to make a difference?
    • No, because QM fixes the probabilities of the outcomes of events. If the mind – by way of independent conscious decisions – could affect the probabilities of neurotransmitter movements, then their prior probabilities wouldn’t be fixed by QM after all.
    • Again, loading of the quantum dice isn’t incoherent, but it would greatly surprise modern science to find it to be true.
  38. Causal Impotence:
    • According to Papineau, most41 contemporary dualists – who accept the completeness of physics – consider it to be an illusion42 that the mental has any effect on the material world. We appear to be in control, but we are not – no more than a child with a toy steering wheel.
    • Consequently, the conscious mind is “causally impotent”.
  39. Pre-established Harmony:
    • This is the (crazy43) idea of Leibniz44 – who was a dualist who accepted the causal completeness of physics – and therefore that mind cannot really influence matter. God has set up the initial conditions45 so that mind and matter keep in step, and so that pains follow bodily insult and action follows the willing thereof.
  40. Modern Epiphenomenalism:
    • Epiphenominalism doesn’t require divine action or advance planning, but simply allows influence from brain to mind, while denying influence in the other direction.
    • This makes the conscious mind an epiphenomenon of the brain – a “dangler” with no causal powers of its own.
    • While it so happens that the brain gives rise to conscious experience, it might have been otherwise, and everything would work the same.
    • Using the analogy of a train – it all works fine at the physical level. The mental experience is just like the smoke – a by-product that makes no difference to the motion.
  41. The Oddity of Epiphenomenalism:
    • This is rather counter-intuitive, implying (at least) two things:-
      1. Firstly – say – the sensation of thirst doesn’t cause us to go and get a drink.
      2. Secondly, it also implies that phenomenological Zombies46 would act the same as us.
    • Papineau gives a longish quotation from "Chalmers (David) - The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory", where Chalmers says that his Zombie-simulacrum would carry on writing volumes about consciousness – including about his experiences – just like he does, without experiencing a thing.
    • I think these are two completely different situations, and are not equally plausible47, and aren’t equally necessary as consequences of epiphenominalism.
  42. The Materialist48 Alternative:
    • Papineau agrees with the absurdity of the zombie implication, especially of our verbal accounts of our sensations. While it looks as though physicalism49 forces epiphenomenalism upon us, there are alternatives.
    • The materialist50 option is to question whether conscious states really are different from physical states. If they are not, then they can cause physical events, and we can ignore zombies, because if mental states are necessarily brain states, then zombies can’t exist51.
    • On the materialist52 view, physical duplicates are necessarily conscious duplicates.
    • So, materialism53 avoids the drawbacks of epiphenomenalism. But, is it an options – What about the objections of Saul Kripke (Zombies, Section 26) and Frank Jackson (Section 28) who purported to prove that conscious states must differ from brain states?
  43. Materialism54 is not Elimination:
    • We must note that materialism55 agrees that conscious experiences are real. If you’re in a particular brain state, that’s just “what it’s like” for you.
    • In contrast with David Chalmers’s analogy with electricity (see Section 2956), here we have an analogy with temperature.
  44. The Example from Temperature:
    • Rather than adding temperature to the ontology of physics, it has been reduced to mean kinetic energy.
    • Temperature57 hasn’t been eliminated – unlike “animal spirits”. Similarly, Consciousness really exists – it just isn’t anything over and above brain activity.
  45. Functionalist Materialism58:
    • Philosophers like Jerry Fodor – a Functional59 Materialist60 – want to associate conscious experience with structures rather than with physiology.
    • Just like different hardware can run the same software, so – it is claimed – different physiologies can have the same kind of conscious experience.
    • So, humans and octopuses both feel pain, despite their different physiologies, because they share a structural property of being in some physical state arising from bodily damage that causes a desire not to incur further damage.
    • Similarly – it is claimed – with silicon-based aliens, provided they had the same structural property.
    • However, many theorists – including myself61 – find this implausible as “it seems odd that your material construction should be irrelevant to how you feel” and it makes computer consciousness too easy to attain.
  46. Making a Computer Conscious?:
    • We can program a computer to realise any causal structure whatever, and to role-play actions associated with pain or the emotions based on its internal states.
    • But it’s hard to believe62 that such a computer would share our rich mental life – and our fear of death – even if structured in the right way.
    • But functionalism also applies to – correctly configured – heaps of junk, not just to slick 2001-HAL-style computers. Would a scrap-metal machine really “feel anything”?
  47. The Turing Test:
    • Standard description of the Turing Test63
    • Standard objection: how can a computer feel anything? One that passes the Turing Test is only simulating a conscious mind, and is no more conscious than a weather program is wet.
    • Papineau thinks this naturally leads on to John Searle’s Chinese Room argument.
  48. The Chinese Room:
    • The usual exposition of the argument, where it’s clear that the homunculus in the Room, carefully following the manual, doesn’t understand Chinese. So, the appearance of understanding doesn’t guarantee the real thing – and no more does the appearance of consciousness.
    • This is much disputed64, of course.
  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. Evolution65 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 Materialist66 Option:
  98. A Question of Moral Concern:
  99. Is There a Final Answer?:

Papineau’s Reading list includes the following:-

In-Page Footnotes

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