On the intrinsic nature of states of consciousness: Attempted inroads from the first person perspective

Journal of Mind and Behavior 22 (3):219-248 (2001)
The Jamesian streams of consciousness are each made up of states of consciousness one at a time in tight temporal succession except when a stream stops flowing momentarily or for a longer time. These pulses of mentality are typically complex in the sense of their possessing, each of them, many ingredients or features. But, also, every state of consciousness is, in a different sense, simple: a unitary awareness, a single mental act. Although unitary, a state of consciousness often has many objects, which have some kind of existence, past, present, or future, or which are nonexistent, merely apparent, only imaginary. The problem concerning the intrinsic nature of states of consciousness is what they are themselves, not what they are about or what they may seem to be about, but what are their own intrinsic properties. For example, in my view, conscious states are, literally, certain occurrent states of the brain. In James’s different view, conscious states are mental in the sense of nonphysical yet directly produced by the total brain process or by a substantial part of it. In our attempts to determine the intrinsic properties of states of consciousness, we are well advised to attend to our inner awareness of them. Any true statement about a state of consciousness that we may succeed in formulating from the first-person perspective is, in my view, a fact concerning a brain state and may help us to learn which among the occurrent brain states are actually the states of consciousness. Their being unitary awarenesses is among the facts we know firsthand about the states of consciousness. I can think of no instance of such a state that is missing the property of intentionality, the property of its being at least as though about something. Also, although we may distinguish various ingredients belonging to a state of consciousness — a state can be, for example, an auditory, a visual, a sexual, a memorial, and an anticipatory experience, all at the same time — these ingredients are not apprehended side by side, but as integrated together in a unitary state. It will be argued that how we find firsthand a state of consciousness to be is illusory, that any such state is actually made up of separate processes. But this claim has its own problems, including having to explain the difference between two simultaneous states of consciousness belonging each of them to a different stream and an integral state that includes several different kinds of experience
Keywords Consciousness  Experience  First Person  Intrinsic  Metaphysics  Mind  James
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