In The Nature of Consciousness, Mark Rowlands argues that phenomenal properties, which constitute what it is like to have a conscious experience, are “transcendental”: that they are properties by which we are conscious of the nonphenomenal world, but they are not objects of conscious awareness or even linguistic reference. He uses that conclusion to support a mysterian position on the explanatory-gap problem: that it is impossible to understand how phenomenal consciousness arises from physical systems such as the brain.
In this chapter I look closely at the intentionality of consciousness from a naturalistic perspective. I begin with a consideration of Gurwitsch's suggestive ideas about the role of acts of consciousness in constituting both the objects and the subjects of consciousness. I turn next to a discussion of how these ideas relate to my own empirical approach to intentional relations seen from a developmental perspective. This is followed by a discussion of some recent ideas in philosophical cognitive science on the (...) intentionality of consciousness, both with respect to the objects and the subjects of consciousness. I show that these recent trends tend to naturalize intentionality and consciousness in directions compatible with the descriptive aspects of Gurwitsch's constitutive phenomenology. (shrink)
The phenomenal properties of conscious mental states happen to be exclusively accessible from the first-person perspective. Consequently, some philosophers consider their existence to be incompatible with materialist metaphysics. In this paper I criticise one particular argument that is based on the idea that for something to be real it must (at least in principle) be accessible from an intersubjective perspective. I argue that the exclusively subjective access to phenomenal contents can be explained by the very particular nature of the epistemological (...) relation holding between a subject and his own mental states. Accordingly, this subjectivity does not compel us to deny the possibility that phenomenal contents are ontologically objective properties. First, I present the general form of the argument that I will discuss. Second, I show that this argument makes use of a criterion of reality that is not applicable to the case of subjective experience. Third, I discuss a plausible objection and give an argument for rejecting observation models of self-knowledge of phenomenal contents. These models fall prey to the homunculus illusion. (shrink)
I argue here that consciousness can be engineered. The claim that functional consciousness can be engineered has been persuasively put forth in regards to first-person functional consciousness; robots, for instance, can recognize colors, though there is still much debate about details of this sort of consciousness. Such consciousness has now become one of the meanings of the term phenomenal consciousness (e.g., as used by Franklin and Baars). Yet, we extend the argument beyond the tradition of behaviorist or functional reductive views (...) on consciousness that still predominate within cognitive science. If Nagel-Chalmers-Block-style non-reductive naturalism about first-person consciousness (h-consciousness) holds true, then, eventually we should be able to understand how such consciousness operates and how it gets produced (this is not the same as bridging the explanatory gap or solving Chalmers’s hard problem of consciousness). If so, the consciousness it involves can in principle be engineered. (shrink)
The paper argues that empirical work on Buddhist meditation has an impact on Buddhist epistemology, in particular their account of unity of consciousness. I explain the Buddhist account of unity of consciousness and show how it relates to contemporary philosophical accounts of unity of consciousness. The contemporary accounts of unity of consciousness are closely integrated with the discussion of neural correlates of consciousness. The conclusion of the paper suggests a new direction in the search for neural correlates of state consciousness (...) or creature consciousness. (shrink)
While the study of implicit learning is nothing new, the field as a whole has come to embody — over the last decade or so — ongoing questioning about three of the most fundamental debates in the cognitive sciences: The nature of consciousness, the nature of mental representation (in particular the difficult issue of abstraction), and the role of experience in shaping the cognitive system. Our main goal in this chapter is to offer a framework that attempts to integrate current (...) thinking about these three issues in a way that specifically links consciousness with adaptation and learning. Our assumptions about this relationship are rooted in further assumptions about the nature of processing and of representation in cognitive systems. When considered together, we believe that these assumptions offer a new perspective on the relationships between conscious and unconscious processing and on the function of consciousness in cognitive systems. (shrink)
Human control of action in routine situations involves a flexible interplay between (a) task-dependent serial ordering constraints; (b) top-down, or intentional, control processes; and (c) bottom-up, or environmentally triggered, affordances. In addition, the interaction between these influences is modulated by learning mechanisms that, over time, appear to reduce the need for top-down control processes while still allowing those processes to intervene at any point if necessary or if desired. We present a model of the acquisition and control of goal-directed action (...) that goes beyond existing models by operationalizing an interface between two putative systems—a routine and a non-routine system—thereby demonstrating how explicitly represented goals can interact with the emergent task representations that develop through learning in the routine system. The gradual emergence of task representations offers an explanation for the transfer of control with experience from the non-routine goal-based system to the routine system. At the same time it allows action selection to be sensitive both to environmental triggers and to biasing from multiple levels within the goal system. (shrink)
The simulation hypothesis claims that the whole observable universe, including us, is a computer simulation implemented by technologically advanced beings for an unknown purpose. The simulation argument (as I reconstruct it) is an argument for this hypothesis with moderately plausible premises. I develop two lines of objection to the simulation argument. The first takes the form of a structurally similar argument for a conflicting conclusion, the claim that I am a so-called freak observer, formed spontaneously in a quantum or thermodynamic (...) fluctuation rather than through ordinary processes of evolution and growth. The second rejects the basic line of reasoning of both arguments: the sort of evidence they cite is not capable of supporting either the claim that I am a simulant or the claim that I am a freak observer. The evidence that simulants or freak observers exist is not a reason to think that I am one of them. (shrink)
A key failing in contemporary philosophy of mind is the lack of attention paid to evolutionary theory in its research projects. Notably, where evolution is incorporated into the study of mind, the work being done is often described as philosophy of cognitive science rather than philosophy of mind. Even then, whereas possible implications of the evolution of human cognition are taken more seriously within the cognitive sciences and the philosophy of cognitive science, its relevance for cognitive science has only been (...) appreciated relatively recently, and the approach still comes in for some major criticism from prominent theorists within the field. This paper explores some of the reasons for this state of affairs and finds that it might have less to do with due consideration and well-founded scepticism about the relevance of evolutionary theory to these disciplines and more to do with historical accident and faulty assumptions on the part of key theorists in these disciplines. It is also noted that where cognitive scientists are taking evolution into account in their work on the mind, they straying more and more into domains that used to fall exclusively under the purview of philosophy of mind as it is traditionally conceived – qualia, consciousness, perception, intentionality and so forth. The point is made that in ignoring the work being done on the evolution of mind, philosophy of mind runs the risk of becoming obsolete. (shrink)
I am proposing a new Copernican revolution, that Consciousness and not matter is the true basis of the universe. Here is an account of my graduate student days at the Rockefeller University as a woman pioneer in science, and a sense of what I am really about in all of my works. I am giving a woman's take on the universe.
In his paper, in this journal, Sterelney (Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 9:465–481, 2010) claims that cases of extended mind are limiting cases of environmental scaffolding and that a niche construction model is a more helpful, general framework for understanding human action. He further claims that extended mind cases fit into a corner of a 3D space of environmental scaffolds of cognitive competence. He identifies three dimensions which determine where a resource fits into this space and suggests that extended mind (...) models seem plausible when a resource is highly reliable, individualised/entrenched and a single-user resource. Sterelney also claims that the most important cognition-enhancing resources are provided collectively by one generation to the next. In this paper, I argue that Sterelney is both right and wrong and this because he focuses primarily on external, physical resources and construes scaffolding as exclusively unidirectional and diachronic. Using examples of unfamiliar tool use, visual processing and human emotional ontogenesis, I argue, respectively, that extended mind cases include those which fail to meet Sterelney’s dimensional criteria; that the most important cognition—enhancing resources are those which actually build brains; that these are provided on a one-to-one basis in emotional ontogenesis; and, this depends on bidirectional and synchronic (if disproportionate) cognitive scaffolding. (shrink)
In this paper, I focus on a recent debate in extended cognition known as “cognitive assembly” and how cognitive assembly shares a certain kinship with the special composition question advanced in analytical metaphysics. Both the debate about cognitive assembly and the special composition question ask about the circumstances under which entities (broadly construed) compose or assemble another entity. The paper argues for two points. The first point is that insofar as the metaphysics of composition presupposes that composition is a synchronic (...) relation of dependence, then that presupposition is inconsistent with the temporal dynamics inherent in the process of cognitive assembly. The second point is that by developing a diachronic or temporally dynamic ontology for understanding the phenomenon of cognitive assembly, this lends support for a third wave of extended cognition. (shrink)
Part one: the search for cosmic consciousness -- R.M. Bucke and the future of humanity -- William James and the anesthetic revelation -- Henri Bergson and the Elan Vital -- The superman -- A.R. Orage and the new age -- Ouspensky's fourth dimension -- Part two: esoteric evolution -- The bishop and the bulldog -- Enter the madame -- Dr. Steiner, I presume? -- From Goethean science to the wisdom of the human being -- Cosmic evolution -- Hypnagogia -- Part (...) three: the archaeology of consciousness -- The invisible mind -- Cracking the egg -- Lost worlds -- Noncerebral consciousness -- The split -- Part four: participatory epistemology -- The shock of metaphor -- The participating mind -- The tapestry of nature -- Thinking about thinking -- The black hole of consciousness -- Other times and places -- Faculty X -- Part five: the presence of origin -- The ascent of Mount Ventoux -- Structures of consciousness -- The mental-rational structure -- The integral structure -- Last words: playing for time. (shrink)
Course Description: This course is designed as an upper-level seminar, with heavy emphasis on reading and writing. The reading materials are all from contemporary sources. We will cover topics such as the definitions of 'consciousness,' the neurophysiological basis of consciousness, the explanation of consciousness, and the possibility of forming a unified theory of consciousness. Student participation in class discussion is greatly encouraged.
Recently, in cognitive science, the enactivist account of cognition has been gaining ground, due in part to studies of movement in conjunction with thought. The idea, as Noë (2009), has put it, that “cognition is not something happening inside us or to us, but it’s something we do, something we achieve,” is increasingly supported by research on joint attention, movement coordination, and gesture. Not surprisingly, therefore, enactivists have also begun to look at “movement specialists”—dancers—for both scientific and phenomenological accounts of (...) thinking with and through movement. In this paper, I argue that a serious exploration of dance and movement does not merely bolster the enactivist view, but rather, it suggests a radical enactivism, as envisaged by, e.g., Hutto (2011). To support this claim, I examine an account of “Thinking in Movement” provided by Maxine Sheets-Johnstone (1981, 2009) in order to highlight the ways in which intentional agency and meaning-making occur in improvisational dance. These processes, I further argue, closely mirror some of the key components of participatory sense making, as described by De Jaegher and Di Paolo (Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 6(4):485–507, 2007). This is beneficial to my case, because it permits a discussion of “thought-full action” that does not depend upon standard cognitivist frameworks for explanation. By carefully focusing on how agency can help to separate mere “thrashing about” from meaningful movement, this paper aim to strengthen the position of radical enactivism from the unique perspective and dance and sense-making. (shrink)
Symbolic healing, that is, responding to meaningful experiences in positive ways, can facilitate human healing. This process partly engages consciousness and partly evades consciousness completely (sometimes it partakes of both simultaneously). This paper, presented as the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness Distinguished Lecture at the 2011 AAA meeting in Montreal, reviews recent research on what is ordinarily (and unfortunately) called the “placebo effect.” The author makes the argument that language use should change, and the relevant portions of what is (...) often called the placebo effect should be referred to as the “meaning response.”. (shrink)
This paper is a methodological and theoretical meditation on how some research has approached the question of the evolution of human cognitive traits. I discuss views that explicitly or implicitly endorse a view of human cognition as originating from a cause that can be singled out. Following Ross and Ladyman (2010), I suggest that this “singling-out” strategy correlates with a “container” metaphor that doesn’t fit with the interactive process-ontology of modern physics (Campbell 2009). Instead, Ross and Ladyman as well as (...) Campbell recommend the metaphor of ‘emergence’. The logic and ontology of emergent systems finds resonance with developmental systems theory in biology. I suggest in agreement with Stotz (Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 9(4), 2010) that we view the origins of human mindedness within such a framework. (shrink)
In this model consciousness is a form of memory. We are essentially “living in the past” as our experience, the qualia, is always of past events. Consciousness represents the storage of past events for use in future situations and it is altered by external experience of the organism. Psychological frameworks of conditioning and learning theory are used to explain this model along with recent neuropsychological research on synaesthesia and phantom limb pain. Consciousness results from the gradual evolutionary development of the (...) human information processing function. Language is hypothesised to have evolved at a pre-conscious stage of human development as a function of the need for ‘within-organism’ data storage. Communication with others may not have been the initial evolutionary advantage conferred by language. The later incidental use of language as a communication tool, which results in the reflecting back of one’s experience through others, is what has triggered a conscious experience. (shrink)
Conscious mental states are states we are in some way aware of. I compare higher-order theories of consciousness, which explain consciousness by appeal to such higher-order awareness (HOA), and first-order theories, which do not, and I argue that higher-order theories have substantial explanatory advantages. The higher-order nature of our awareness of our conscious states suggests an analogy with the metacognition that figures in the regulation of psychological processes and behaviour. I argue that, although both consciousness and metacognition involve higher-order psychological (...) states, they have little more in common. One thing they do share is the possibility of misrepresentation; just as metacognitive processing can misrepresent one’s cognitive states and abilities, so the HOA in virtue of which one’s mental states are conscious can, and sometimes does, misdescribe those states. A striking difference between the two, however, has to do with utility for psychological processing. Metacognition has considerable benefit for psychological processing; in contrast, it is unlikely that there is much, if any, utility to mental states’ being conscious over and above the utility those states have when they are not conscious. (shrink)
This document consists primarily of excerpts (chapters 5 and 10-12) from the author’s book From Brain to Cosmos. These excerpts address several traditional problems about the histories of conscious subjects, using the concept of subjective fact that the author developed earlier in the book. Topics include the persistence of conscious subjects through time, the unity or disunity of the self, and the possibility of splitting conscious subjects. (These excerpts depend heavily upon the author’s concept of subjective fact as developed in (...) From Brain to Cosmos. Readers unfamiliar with that concept are strongly advised to read chapters 2 and 3 of that book first. See the last page of this document for details on how to obtain those chapters.). (shrink)
“This is surely the ultimate expression of the top-down approach to consciousness, written with Sommerhoff's characteristic clarity and precision. It says far more than other books four times the size of this admirably concise volume. This book is destined to become a pillar of the subject.” —Rodney Cotterill, Technical University of Denmark The problem of consciousness has been described as a mystery about which we are still in a terrible muddle and in Understanding Consciousness: Its Function and Brain Processes, the (...) author attempts to unravel this mystery by offering a clarification of the main concepts related to consciousness, and positing a comprehensive biological explanation. Consequently, this book will be ideal for a wide-range of upper level undergraduate and postgraduate courses. The author interprets consciousness as a property that can be possessed by many creatures lacking a language faculty and comprises all of the following: awareness of the surrounding world; awareness of the self as an entity; and awareness of such things as thoughts and feelings. He argues that a biological approach can achieve both the necessary conceptual clarifications and a joint explanation of these divisions of awareness in terms of just two accurately defined concepts of 'internal representation' and two empirically supported assumptions about the functional architecture of a specific set of brain processes. Despite this striking simplicity, his model covers these divisions of awareness both as objective faculties of the brain and as subjective experience. These conclusions are applied to a broad range of fundamental questions, including the biological rationale of subjective experience and where consciousness resides in the neural networks. (shrink)
(1) Aristotle, Dignāga, Descartes, Arnauld, Locke, Brentano, Sartre and many others are right about the nature of conscious awareness: all such awareness comports—somehow carries within itself—awareness of itself . (2) This is a necessary condition of awareness being awareness at all: no ‘higher-order’ account of what makes conscious states conscious can be correct. (3) But (2) is very paradoxical: it seems to require that awareness be somehow already present, in such a way as to be available to itself as object (...) of awareness, in order to be constituted as awareness in the first place. (4) Can anything relate to itself in this way? Can there be a relation that is (i) necessarily one-term, (ii) reflexive, (iii) non-logical (non-trivial), (iv) concretely realizable, (v) dynamically real, (vi) such that its holding is a necessary condition of the existence of the thing it holds of? It helps to consider the thought this very thought is puzzling. (5) Many accept the reality of the kind of awareness of awareness posited in (1) and (2), and think it must be not only ‘pre-reflective’ and ‘non-positional’, but also irrelational or non-intentional. But perhaps such awareness of awareness can be fully relational and fully intentional, and can be legitimately said to be its own object or content, even while being pre-reflective and non-positional. (shrink)
Defining Imagery: Experience or Representation? Historical Development of Ideas about Imagery Subjective Individual Differences in Imagery Experience Theories of Imagery, and their Implications for Consciousness Picture theory Description theory Enactive theory.
A current, comprehensive summary of Velmans' theoretical work that updates and deepens the analysis given in Edition 1. Part 1 reviews the strengths and weaknesses of all currently dominant theories of consciousness in a form suitable for undergraduates, postgraduates and researchers focusing mainly on dualism, physicalism, functionalism and consciousness in machines. Part 2 gives a new analysis of consciousness, grounded in its everyday phenomenology, which undermines the basis of the dualism versus reductionist debate. It also examines the consequences for realism (...) versus idealism, subjectivity, intersubjectivity and objectivity, and the relation of consciousness to brain processing. Part 3 gives a new synthesis, with a novel approach to understanding what consciousness is and what consciousness does. It also introduces Reflexive Monism, an alternative to dualism and reductionism that is consistent with the findings of science and with common sense. (shrink)
I respond to Ned Block’s claim that it is ridiculous to suppose that consciousness is a cultural construction based on language and learned in childhood. Block is wrong to dismiss social constructivist theories of consciousness on account of it being ludicrous that conscious experience is anything but a biological feature of our animal heritage, characterized by sensory experience, evolved over millions of years. By defending social constructivism in terms of both Julian Jaynes’ behaviorism and J.J. Gibson’s ecological psychology, I draw (...) a distinction between the experience or what-it-is-like of nonhuman animals engaging with the environment and the secret theater of speechless monologue that is familiar to a linguistically competent human adult. This distinction grounds the argument that consciousness proper should be seen as learned rather than innate and shared with nonhuman animals. Upon establishing this claim, I defend the Jaynesian definition of consciousness as a social–linguistic construct learned in childhood, structured in terms of lexical metaphors and narrative practice. Finally, I employ the Jaynesian distinction between cognition and consciousness to bridge the explanatory gap and deflate the supposed hard problem of consciousness. (shrink)
In "What is it Like to be a Bat?" Thomas Nagel argues that we cannot imagine what it is like to be a bat or presently understand how physicalism might be true. Both arguments have been seriously misunderstood. I defend them against various objections, point out a problem with the argument against physicalism, and show how the problem can be solved.
This paper suggests that it is largely a want of notional distinctions which fosters the "explanatory gap" that has beset the study of consciousness since T. Nagel's revival of the topic. Modifying Ned Block's controversial claim that we should countenance a "phenomenal module" which exists in its own right, we argue that there is a way to recuperate the intuitions he appeals to without engaging in an onerous reification of the facet in question. By renewing with the full type/token/tone trichotomy (...) developed by C. S. Peirce, we think the distinctness Block (rightly) calls attention to can be seen as stemming not from any separate module lurking within the mind, but rather from our ability to prescind qualities from occurrences. (shrink)
I respond to Chalmers’ (2006, 2010) objection to the Phenomenal Concept Strategy (PCS) by showing that his objection is faced with a dilemma that ultimately undercuts its force. Chalmers argues that no version of PCS can posit psychological features that are both physically explicable and capable of explaining our epistemic situation. In response, I show that what Chalmers calls ‘our epistemic situation’ admits either of a phenomenal or of a topic-neutral characterization, neither of which supports Chalmers’ objection. On the one (...) hand, if our epistemic situation is characterized phenomenally, then Chalmers’ demand that PCS should explain our epistemic situation is misplaced. PCS can explain our epistemic situation only if there is a reductive explanation of consciousness. But according to PCS, no reductive explanation of consciousness can be given. On the other hand, if our epistemic situation is characterized topic-neutrally, then PCS is not only physically explicable, but it also explains our epistemic situation. Either way, PCS is safe. (shrink)
In this article I distinguish the notion of there being something it is like to be a certain kind of creature from that of there being something it is like to have a certain kind of experience. Work on consciousness has typically dealt with the latter while employing the language of the former. I propose several ways of analyzing what it is like to be a certain kind of creature and find problems with them all. The upshot is that even (...) if there is something it is like to have certain kinds of experience, it does not follow that there is anything it is like to be a certain kind of creature. Skepticism about the existence of something that it is like to be an F is recommended. (shrink)
The concept of consciousness has been the source of much philosophical, cognitive scientific and neuroscientific discussion for the past two decades. Many scientists, as well as philosophers, argue that at the moment we are almost completely in the dark about the nature of consciousness. Stuart Sutherland, in a much quoted remark, wrote that.
I discuss the meaning of 'There's something e is like', in the context of a reply to Eric Lormand's 'The explanatory stopgap'. I argue that Lormand is wrong to think it has a specially perceptual meaning. Rather, it has one of at least four candidate meanings: (a) e is some way as regards its subject; (b) e is some way and e's being that way is in the possession of its subject; (c) e is some way in the awareness of (...) its subject; (d) e's subject is the "experiencer" of e. I provide additional argumentation for the view in this paper that in the context, 'like this' functions as a predicate variable. (shrink)
It is common parlance among philosophers who inquire into the nature of consciousness to speak of there being something it is like for the subject of a mental state to be in it. The popularity of the ‘what-it-is-like’ phrase stems, in part, from the assumption that it enables us to distinguish, in an intuitive and illuminating way, between conscious and unconscious mental states: conscious mental states, unlike unconscious mental states, are such that there is something it is like for their (...) subjects to be in them. The ‘what-it-is-like’ phrase, however, has not gone unopposed; some very clever philosophers have vigorously disputed it. Peter Hacker, for example, argues that the phrase should be abandoned because it is ungrammatical, and Paul Snowdon argues that it should be abandoned because the propositions expressed by its usage are either trivial or false. This paper mounts a case for the claim that neither of these conclusions is warranted. Against Hacker, it is argued that the arguments he produces for the ungrammaticality of the phrase are unpersuasive, and against Snowdon it is argued that he fails to consider a plausible and independently motivated interpretation of the phrase, and that on this interpretation, the propositions expressed by its usage are nontrivially true. (shrink)