Within theoretical and empirical enquiries, many different meanings associated with consciousness have appeared, leaving the term itself quite vague. This makes formulating an abstract and unifying version of the concept of consciousness – the main aim of this article –into an urgent theoretical imperative. It is argued that consciousness, characterized as dually accessible (cognized from the inside and the outside), hierarchically referential (semantically ordered), bodily determined (embedded in the working structures of an organism or conscious system), and useful in action (...) (pragmatically functional), is a graded rather than an all-or-none phenomenon. A gradational approach, however, despite its explanatory advantages, can lead to some counterintuitive consequences and theoretical problems. In most such conceptions consciousness is extended globally (attached to primitive organisms or artificial systems), but also locally (connected to certain lower-level neuronal and bodily processes). For example, according to information integration theory (as introduced recently by Tononi and Koch, 2014), even such simple artificial systems as photodiodes possess miniscule amounts of consciousness. The major challenge for this article, then, is to establish reasonable, empirically justified constraints on how extended the range of a graded consciousness could be. It is argued that conscious systems are limited globally by the ability to individuate information (where individuated information is understood as evolutionarily embedded, socially altered, and private), whereas local limitations should be determined on the basis of a hypothesis about the action-oriented nature of the processes that select states of consciousness. Using these constraints, an abstract concept of consciousness is arrived at, hopefully contributing to a more unified state of play within consciousness studies itself. (shrink)
The article presents a perspective on the scientific explanation of the subjectivity of conscious experience. It proposes plausible answers for two empirically valid questions: the ‘how’ question concerning the developmental mechanisms of subjectivity, and the ‘why’ question concerning its function. Biological individuation, which is acquired in several different stages, serves as a provisional description of how subjective perspectives may have evolved. To the extent that an individuated informational space seems the most efficient way for a given organism to select biologically (...) valuable information, subjectivity is deemed to constitute an adaptive response to informational overflow. One of the possible consequences of this view is that subjectivity might be (at least functionally) dissociated from consciousness, insofar as the former primarily facilitates selection, the latter action. (shrink)
The aim of the article is to formulate a universal characterization of consciousness, despite the conceptual vagueness of that term. The fundamental aspects of this phenomenon as studied by science consist of four features: its being accessible from the inside and the outside (subjectively and objectively), its being about something (referential), its being bodily determined, and its possessing a certain function (being useful). Approached in this way and in broad terms, consciousness seems to be a graded rather than all-or-none phenomenon. (...) However, it is argued that the main problem for the gradational approach is to establish reasonable, empirically justified limits on how extended (locally and globally) the range of a graded consciousness could be. Such constraints should then help to avoid the counterintuitive consequences of IIT (Integrated Information Theory), which ascribes consciousness even to such simple artificial systems as photodiodes. The article introduces global limits for conscious systems by pointing to the ability to individuate information as a necessary developmental condition of subjective perspectives. Local limits, meanwhile, are determined on the basis of a hypothesis about the action-oriented nature of the processes that select states of consciousness. Ultimately, the limits put forward imply that consciousness is to be characterized as individuated information in action. (shrink)
The article suggests answers to the questions of how we can arrive at an unambiguous characterization of consciousness, whether conscious states are coextensive with subjective ones, and whether consciousness can be graded and multidimensional at the same time. As regards the first, it is argued that a general characterization of consciousness should be based on its four dimensions: i.e., the phenomenological, semantic, physiological and functional ones. With respect to the second, it is argued that all informational states of a given (...) organism are subjective, but not all are necessarily conscious. Finally, where the third question is concerned, in each of the four dimensions of consciousness a graded element is identified: quality of information in the phenomenological one, abstractness in the semantic one, complexity in the physiological one, and usefulness in the functional one. The article also considers certain consequences of the solutions proposed, as well as some practical applications of the 4D-view of consciousness. (shrink)
The paper argues that dozens conceptions of consciousness encountered in cognitive neuroscience, the philosophy of mind, and other related fields (e.g. phenomenal, access consciousness; sensorimotor, perceptual, self-consciousness; normal, altered and impaired consciousness, visual, tactile, social, body, animal, machine consciousness) can all be understood as constituted with reference to four fundamental criteria i.e. epistemic (dealing with kinds of consciousness), semantic (concerned with orders of consciousness), physiological (reflecting states of consciousness) and pragmatic (types of consciousness).
This article addresses two issues: the distinction between objective and subjective measures and the directness of such measures. It is argued that the distinction is unambiguous only when based on a methodological criterion rather than a semantic one. Different senses of directness are discussed: metaphysical, methodological, semantic, and causal.