After a survey of relevant issues, the focus turns onto the question of how best to make sense of the unity of consciousness in experiential terms. Elucidations appealing to higher-order mental states and phenomenal space are found wanting; different ways of construing unity as a primitive feature of consciousness are then considered and compared Matters are brought to a close with a brief look at different approaches to the diachronic unity of consciousness.
In ordinary conscious experience, consciousness of time seems to be ubiquitous. For example, we seem to be directly aware of change, movement, and succession across brief temporal intervals. How is this possible? Many different models of temporal consciousness have been proposed. Some philosophers have argued that consciousness is confined to a momentary interval and that we are not in fact directly aware of change. Others have argued that although consciousness itself is momentary, we are nevertheless conscious of change. Still others (...) have argued that consciousness is itself extended in time. In this entry, the motivations and merits of these and other positions will be expounded and assessed. (shrink)
For those with an interest in the most fundamental components of reality, reflecting on the simplest of things can yield a rich harvest. Consider two buttons, of exactly the same shade of red, one round and made of plastic, the other square and made of wood. Each button is clearly a distinct object in its own right: each is composed of a different portion of matter, each has its own spatial location. But are the buttons completely distinct? It might seem (...) so, but a little reflection can suggest otherwise. Both buttons are the same colour, they are each red. The buttons do not possess merely similar colours, they possess literally identical colours: one and the same colour, a particular shade of red, is found in both objects. This same colour can be also be found in many other objects. Colour, it seems, is not tied down to any specific time or place, in the way ordinary objects are. The same (literally identical) colour can exist at many times and places. And what holds for colour also holds for other shareable characteristics, such as shapes and sizes, and sounds. We are thus led to the (now familiar) distinction between particulars (spatially located objects) and universals (repeatable, multiply-located properties). Plato was no stranger to this line of reasoning, but he found himself driven to take several further steps. He observed that in ordinary life we never encounter a truly perfect circle (or square, or triangle, or straight line), but that we nonetheless have the concept of such a circle. Relying on the (no means absurd) assumption that meaningful terms must have referents – in order to be meaningful at all – he was led to the conclusion that the perfect circle must exist in a non-physical plane of reality, a dimension where perfection is possible. He called this changeless, timeless, realm the world of ‘Forms’. He further reasoned that since ‘circle’ is a universal, all other universals (such as redness) must inhabit this realm also. Resemblances among the familiar objects in the physical world are to be explained in terms of Forms ‘participating’, more or less adequately, in these objects.. (shrink)
That our ordinary everyday experience exhibits both unity and continuity is uncontroversial, and on the face of it utterly unmysterious. At any moment we have some conscious awareness of both the world about us, as revealed through our perceptual experiences, and our own inner states – our bodily sensations, thoughts, mental images and so on. Since once wakened we tend to stay awake for several hours, tracing out continuous routes through whatever environment we happen to find ourselves in, it is (...) hardly surprising that our experience itself is continuous rather than discontinuous. (shrink)
Analytic philosophy in the 20 th century was largely hostile territory to the self as traditionally conceived, and this tradition has been continued in two recent works: Mark Johnston’s Surviving Death , and Galen Strawson’s Selves . I have argued previously that it is perfectly possible to combine a naturalistic worldview with a conception of the self as a subject of experience , a thing whose only essential attribute is a capacity for unifi ed and continuous experience. I argue here (...) that this conception of the self is unthreatened by the otherwise valuable considerations advanced by Johnston and Strawson. Both are inclined to identify selves-at-times with momentary episodes of experience (or centres or ‘arenas’ of consciousness). Both go on to argue, albeit in diff erent ways, that individual selves cannot extend beyond the confi nes of these brief episodes. However, in so doing they give insuffi cient weight to an important phenomenological datum: the continuity of our ordinary experience. When the latter is recognized, and appropriately understood, it provides us with a secure basis upon which a more recognizable conception of the self can be constructed. (shrink)
According to proponents of ‘phenomenal holism’, the intrinsic characteristics of the parts of unified conscious states are dependent to some degree on the characteristics of the wholes to which they belong. Although the doctrine can easily seem obscure or implausible, there are eminent philosophers who have defended it, amongst them Timothy Sprigge. In Stream of Consciousness (2000) I found Sprigge’s case for phenomenal holism problematic on several counts; in this paper I re-assess some of these criticisms. Recent experimental work suggests (...) cross-modal perceptual interference may be far more prevalent than expected. I argue that although these results do lend support to phenomenal holism in one of its guises, they do not support the strong form of holism espoused by Sprigge. I then move on to consider the relevance and impact of certain gestalt-related considerations, and argue that these considerations at best establish that the stronger form of holism applies to some parts of some experiential states, but not to all parts of all states, as Sprigge claims. I then consider a more promising way forward for anyone who wishes to defend an across-the-board holism of the strong variety, arguing that what is required is a form of phenomenal interdependence that is rooted solely in phenomenal unity. I conclude by outlining a case for thinking that an interdependence of this sort is a quite general feature of unified conscious states. (shrink)
We can anticipate what is yet to happen, remember what has already happened, but our immediate experience is confined to the present, the here and now. So much seems common sense. So much so that it is no surprise to see Thomas Reid, that pre-eminent champion of common sense in philosophy, advocating precisely this position.
Can we directly experience change? Although some philosophers have denied it, the phenomenological evidence is unambiguous: we can, and do. But how is this possible? What structures or features of consciousness render such experience possible? A variety of very different answers to this question have been proposed, answers which have very different implications for the nature of consciousness itself. In this brief survey no attempt is made to engage with the often complex (and sometimes obscure) literature on this topic. Instead, (...) a largely schematic examination of the main options is conducted, with a view to determining the most promising avenues for further investigation. (shrink)
Barry Dainton presents a fascinating new account of the self, the key to which is experiential or phenomenal continuity. Provided our mental life continues we can easily imagine ourselves surviving the most dramatic physical alterations, or even moving from one body to another. It was this fact that led John Locke to conclude that a credible account of our persistence conditions - an account which reflects how we actually conceive of ourselves - should be framed in terms of mental rather (...) than material continuity. But mental continuity comes in different forms. Most of Locke's contemporary followers agree that our continued existence is secured by psychological continuity, which they take to be made up of memories, beliefs, intentions, personality traits, and the like. Dainton argues that that a better and more believable account can be framed in terms of the sort of continuity we find in our streams of consciousness from moment to moment. Why? Simply because provided this continuity is not lost - provided our streams of consciousness flow on - we can easily imagine ourselves surviving the most dramatic psychological alterations. Phenomenal continuity seems to provide a more reliable guide to our persistence than any form of continuity. The Phenomenal Self is a full-scale defence and elaboration of this premise. The first task is arriving at an adequate understanding of phenomenal unity and continuity. This achieved, Dainton turns to the most pressing problem facing any experience-based approach: losses of consciousness. How can we survive them? He shows how the problem can be solved in a satisfactory manner by construing ourselves as systems of experiential capacities. He then moves on to explore a range of further issues. How simple can a self be? How are we related to our bodies? Is our persistence an all-or-nothing affair? Do our minds consist of parts which could enjoy an independent existence? Is it metaphysically intelligible to construe ourselves as systems of capacities? The book concludes with a novel treatment of fission and fusion. (shrink)
Mentalistic (or Lockean) accounts of personal identity are normally formulated in terms of causal relations between psychological states such as beliefs, memories, and intentions. In this paper we develop an alternative (but still Lockean) account of personal identity, based on phenomenal relations between experiences. We begin by examining a notorious puzzle case due to Bernard Williams, and extract two lessons from it: first, that Williams's puzzle can be defused by distinguishing between the psychological and phenomenal approaches, second, that so far (...) as personal identity is concerned, it is phenomenal rather than psychological continuity that matters. We then consider different ways in which the phenomenal approach may be developed, and respond to a number of objections. That with which the consciousness of this present thinking thing can join itself, makes the same person, and is one self with it, and with nothing else; and so attributes to itself and owns all the actions of that thing, as its own, as far as that consciousness reaches, and no farther; as every one who reflects will perceive. Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding [II.xxvii.17]. (shrink)
Meehan finds fault with a number of my arguments, and proposes that better solutions to the problems I was addressing are available if we adopt a higher-order theory of consciousness. I start with some general remarks on theories of this sort. I connect what I had to say about the A-thesis with different forms of higher-order sense theories, and explain why I ignored higher-order thought theories altogether: there are compelling grounds for thinking they cannot provide a viable account of phenomenal (...) unity in phenomenal terms. Meehan. (shrink)
That our ordinary everyday experience exhibits both unity and continuity is uncontroversial, and on the face of it utterly unmysterious. At any moment we have some conscious awareness of both the world about us, as revealed through our perceptual experiences, and our own inner states.
As is widely appreciated and easily demonstrated, the notion that we are essentially experiential (or conscious) beings has a good deal of appeal; what is less obvious, and more controversial, is whether it is possible to devise a viable account of the self along such lines within the confines of a broadly naturalistic metaphysical framework. There are many avenues to explore, but here I confine myself to outlining the case for one particular approach. I suggest that we should think of (...) ourselves (or our essential cores) as being composed of experience-producing systems, and that such systems belong to the same self when they have the capacity to contribute to unified streams of consciousness. The viability of this proposal rests in turn on a particular conception of the structure of consciousness, both at and over time; this conception is defended in the first part of the paper.. (shrink)
While agreeing with me on many issues, Revonsuo rejects my claim that phenomenal states could be co-conscious without being spatially related (in experience). In defence of my claim I described a thought-experiment in which.
Consciousness exists in time, but time is also to be found within consciousness: we are directly aware of both persistence and change, at least over short intervals. On reflection this can seem baffling. How is it possible for us to be immediately aware of phenomena which are not (strictly speaking) present? What must consciousness be like for this to be possible? In "Stream of Consciousness" I argued that influential accounts of phenomenal temporality along the lines developed by Broad and Husserl (...) were fundamentally flawed, and proposed a quite different account: the overlap model. While recognizing that the latter has merits, Gallagher argues that it too is fundamentally flawed; he also takes issue with some of my claims concerning Broad and Husserl. My reply comes in three main parts. I start by clarifying my use of certain terms, in particular realism and anti-realism as applied to theories of phenomenal temporality in general, and the accounts of Broad and Husserl in particular. I then turn to Gallagher’s main criticisms of the overlap theory. Gallagher argues that the theory is sunk by a problem with ongoing contents, that if our experience possessed the structures I ascribe to it, we would be aware of contents as having longer durations than is actually the case. I suggest otherwise: the version of the overlap theory which is afflicted by this difficulty is not the version I put forward, as becomes clear when two distinct forms of overlap are distinguished. Gallagher is also concerned that the theory lacks phenomenological grounding, and has difficulties with experiential holism. The latter worry, I argue, is completely misplaced. While the former has more warrant, it too is rooted in a misconception: the overlap theory was intended only to provide an account of the most basic sensory components of our short-term experience of temporality, and can easily be expanded to accommodate other aspects. I supply a sketch an augmented theory to back up this claim. I conclude with an assessment of the intentional account of time-consciousness Gallagher ascribes to Husserl. A meaning-based account of this kind is incapable of accounting for experienced sensory continuity, or so I argue. I also suggest that both Broad and Husserl may have had leanings towards the Simple Conception of consciousness. -/- . (shrink)
According to one influential view, consciousness has an awareness– content structure: any experience consists of the awareness of some content. I focus on one version of this dualism, and argue that it should be rejected. My principal argument is directed at the status of the supposed contents of aware- ness; I argue that neither of the principal options is tenable, albeit for different reasons. Although the doctrine in question may seem to be supported by the find- ings of researchers in (...) meditative traditions, I question whether this evidence sup- ports the dualism that is my target here. To conclude, I introduce an innocuous mode of pure awareness. (shrink)
Stream of Consciousness is about the phenomenology of conscious experience. Barry Dainton shows us that stream of consciousness is not a mosaic of discrete fragments of experience, but rather an interconnected flowing whole. Through a deep probing into the nature of awareness, introspection, phenomenal space and time consciousness, Dainton offers a truly original understanding of the nature of consciousness.
(Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 1996: 17-36) I If I am to survive until some later date, what must happen, and what must not happen, over the intervening period? I am talking here about survival in the strict sense. Take an earlier and a later person, if they are one and the same, what is it about them that makes this so? In addressing this question the preferred tool has long been the exploitation of imaginary or science fiction cases. We (...) are asked to reflect on scenarios in which an ordinary person is subjected to some unusual treatment which effectively removes one or more of the elements that usually accompanies personal persistence. If we think the subject survives the treatment, the conclusion is drawn that the elements removed are not necessary to personal identity as we conceive it. The hope is that the repeated use of this method, with a variety of scenarios, will finally produce a convergence of intuitive responses as to what is necessary and sufficient for survival. Unfortunately, this method has failed to produce the goods. The literature is brimming with cunningly constructed scenarios yet consensus as to what personal persistence involves seems as elusive as ever. So it is hardly surprising that the method has come in for some criticism recently. There is a feeling that much time has been wasted on devising fantastic stories about which many people have no firm or reliable intuitions. Hence the demand for a different approach. As for the direction the new approach should take, a general trend can be detected: a focusing on human beings, biological entities of a particular kind, with species-specific identity conditions - a move away from science fiction, towards science. I shall be arguing here that this response is premature. Although it would be a mistake to expect too much from the standard method, it delivers at least one significant result: that of the several strands that make up a human life, we believe that one particular strand is of overriding importance in regard to our continued existence. (shrink)