Investigations of the function of consciousness in human information processing have focused mainly on two questions: (1) where does consciousness enter into the information processing sequence and (2) how does conscious processing differ from preconscious and unconscious processing. Input analysis is thought to be initially "preconscious," "pre-attentive," fast, involuntary, and automatic. This is followed by "conscious," "focal-attentive" analysis which is relatively slow, voluntary, and flexible. It is thought that simple, familiar stimuli can be identified preconsciously, but conscious processing is needed (...) to identify complex, novel stimuli. Conscious processing has also been thought to be necessary for choice, learning and memory, and the organization of complex, novel responses, particularly those requiring planning, reflection, or creativity. (shrink)
The mysteries of consciousness have gripped the human imagination for over 2,500 years. At the dawn of the new millennium, Understanding Consciousness provides new solutions to some of the deepest puzzles surrounding its nature and function. Drawing on recent scientific discoveries, Max Velmans challenges conventional reductionist thought, providing an understanding of how consciousness relates to the brain and physical world that is neither dualist, nor reductionist. Understanding Consciousness will be of great interest to psychologists, philosophers, neuroscientists and other professionals concerned (...) with mind/body relationships, and all who care deeply about this subject. (shrink)
This paper replies to the first 36 commentaries on my target article on “Is human information processing conscious?” (Behavioral and Brain Sciences,1991, pp.651-669). The target article focused largely on experimental studies of how consciousness relates to human information processing, tracing their relation from input through to output, while discussion of the implications of the findings both for cognitive psychology and philosophy of mind was relatively brief. The commentaries reversed this emphasis, and so, correspondingly, did the reply. The sequence of topics (...) in the reply roughly follows that of the target article. The discussion begins with a reconsideration of the details of the empirical findings, whether they can be extrapolated to non-laboratory settings, and the extent to which one can rely on their use of subjective reports. This is followed by an in-depth discussion of what is meant by “conscious processing” and of how phenomenal consciousness relates to attentional processing. We then turn to broader philosophical and theoretical issues. I point out some of the reasons why I do not support epiphenomenalism, dualist-interactionism, or reductionism, and elaborate on how first- and third-person views of the mind can be regarded as complementary and mutually irreducible. I suggest how the relation of conscious experiences to their neural correlates can be understood in terms of a dual-aspect theory of information,and how this might be used to resolve some of the paradoxes surrounding the causal interactions of consciousness and brain. I also suggest that, viewed from a first-person perspective, consciousness gives purpose to existence, which allows a different way of viewing its role in evolution. (shrink)
Dualist and Reductionist theories of mind disagree about whether or not consciousness can be reduced to a state of or function of the brain. They assume, however, that the contents of consciousness are separate from the external physical world as-perceived. According to the present paper this assumption has no foundation either in everyday experience or in science. Drawing on evidence for perceptual projection in both interoceptive and exteroceptive sense modalities, the case is made that the physical world as-perceived is a (...) construct of perceptual processing and, therefore, part of the contents of consciousness. A finding which requires a Reflexive rather than a Dualist or Reductionist model of how consciousness relates to the brain and the physical world. The physical world as-perceived may, in turn be thought of as a biologically useful model of the world as described by physics. Redrawing the boundaries of consciousness to include the physical world as-perceived undermines the conventional separation of the 'mental' from the physical', and with it the very foundation of the Dualist-Reductionist debate. The alternative Reflexive model departs radically from current conventions, with consequences for many aspects of consciousness theory and research. Some of the consequences which bear on the internal consistency and intuitive plausibility of the model are explored, e.g. the causal sequence in perception, representationalism, a suggested resolution of the Realism versus Idealism debate, and the way manifest differences between physical events as-perceived and other conscious events are to be construed. In the present paper I wish to challenge some of our most deeply-rooted assumptions about what consciousness is, by re-examining how consciousness, the human brain, and the surrounding physical world relate to each other. (shrink)
What, in essence, characterizes the mind? According to Searle, the potential to be conscious provides the only definitive criterion. Thus, conscious states are unquestionably "mental"; "shallow unconscious" states are also "mental" by virtue of their capacity to be conscious (at least in principle); but there are no "deep unconscious mental states" - i.e. those rules and procedures without access to consciousness, inferred by cognitive science to characterize the operations of the unconscious mind are not mental at all. Indeed, according to (...) Searle, they have no ontological status - they are simply ways of describing some interesting facets of purely physiological phenomena. (shrink)
Of all the problems facing science none are more challenging yet fascinating than those posed by consciousness. In The Science of Consciousness leading researchers examine how consciousness is being investigated in the key areas of cognitive psychology, neuropsychology and clinical psychology. Within cognitive psychology, special focus is given to the function of consciousness, and to the relation of conscious processing to nonconscious processing in perception, learning, memory and information dissemination. Neuropsychology includes examination of the neural conditions for consciousness and the (...) effects of brain damage. Finally, mind/body interactions in clinical and experimental settings are considered, including the somatic effects of imagery, biofeedback and placebo effects. Every chapter is written by an expert in the field. They each provide a clear overview of existing research along with an exciting new synthesis of consciousness studies. The The Science of Consciousness will be invaluable for students, researchers and clinicians interested in the developments and directions of this rapidly growing field. (shrink)
(From the book cover in 2007) The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness is the most thorough and comprehensive survey of contemporary scientific research and philosophical thought on consciousness currently available. Its 55 newly commissioned, peer-reviewed chapters combine state-of-the-art surveys with cutting edge research. Taken as a whole, these essays by leading lights in the philosophy and science of consciousness create an engaging dialog and unparalleled source of information regarding this most fascinating and mysterious subject.
Abstract. This introductory chapter was written in 1996, for a new book of review articles on the emerging science of consciousness, specifically aimed at undergraduate and postgraduate students by experts in the relevant fields. Following on a brief history, the chapter moves on to definitions of consciousness and background philosophical issues, and then introduces a unified, non-reductionist scientific approach. It then summarises major issues for studies of consciousness in cognitive psychology, including studies of attention, memory, the extent of preconscious analysis (...) and the relation of consciousness more generally to human information processing. It then turns to the neuropsychology of consciousness, starting with some apparent neural requirements for the transition from preconscious to conscious states, various clinical dissociations of consciousness, conditions for integration (or binding) and, finally, clinical applications, including different forms of mind/body interaction and evidence for the causal efficacy of mental states. The chapter concludes that while some of the ancient problems of consciousness remain unsolved, its study has become the subject of a rapidly developing science. (shrink)
This reply to five continuing commentaries on my 1991 target article on “Is human information processing conscious” focuses on six related issues: 1) whether focal attentive processing replaces consciousness as a causal agent in third-person viewable human information processing, 2)whether consciousness can be dissociated from human information processing, 3) continuing disputes about definitions of "consciousness" and about what constitutes a “conscious process” , 4) how observer-relativity in psychology relates (and does not relate) to relativity in physics, 5) whether the first-person (...) viewable causal efficacy of consciousness counts as ‘real’ causal efficacy and 6) a clarification of the sense in which first- and third-person causal accounts of mental processing are complementary and mutually irreducible. (shrink)
Following an on-line dialogue with Dennett (Velmans, 2001) this paper examines the similarities and differences between heterophenomenology (HP) and critical phenomenology (CP), two competing accounts of the way that conscious phenomenology should be, and normally is incorporated into psychology and related sciences. Dennett’s heterophenomenology includes subjective reports of conscious experiences, but according to Dennett, first person conscious phenomena in the form of “qualia” such as hardness, redness, itchiness etc. have no real existence. Consequently, subjective reports about such qualia should be (...) understood as prescientific attempts to make sense of brain functioning that can be entirely understood in third person terms. I trace the history of this position in behaviourism (Watson, Skinner and Ryle) and early forms of physicalism and functionalism (Armstrong), and summarise some of the difficulties of this view. Critical phenomenology also includes a conventional, third person, scientific investigation of brain and behaviour that includes subjects’ reports of what they experience. CP is also cautious about the accuracy or completeness of subjective reports. However, unlike HP, CP does not assume that subjects are necessarily deluded about their experiences or doubt that these experiences can have real qualities that can, in principle, be described. Such experienced qualities cannot be exhaustively reduced to third-person accounts of brain and behaviour. CP is also reflexive, in it assumes experimenters to have first-person experiences that they can describe much as their subjects do. And crucially, experimenter’s third-person reports of others are based, in the first instance, on their own first-person experiences. CP is commonplace in psychological science, and given that it conforms both to scientific practice and common sense, I argue that there is little to recommend HP other than an attempt to shore up a counterintuitive, reductive philosophy of mind. (shrink)
In everyday life we take it for granted that we have conscious control of some of our actions and that the part of us that exercises control is the conscious mind. Psychosomatic medicine also assumes that the conscious mind can affect body states, and this is supported by evidence that the use of imagery, hypnosis, biofeedback and other ‘mental interventions’ can be therapeutic in a variety of medical conditions. However, there is no accepted theory of mind/body interaction and this has (...) had a detrimental effect on the acceptance of mental causation in science, philosophy and in many areas of clinical practice. Biomedical accounts typically translate the effects of mind into the effects of brain functioning, for example, explaining mind/body interactions in terms of the interconnections and reciprocal control of cortical, neuroendocrine, autonomic and immune systems. While such accounts are instructive, they are implicitly reductionist, and beg the question of how conscious experiences could have bodily effects. On the other hand, non-reductionist accounts have to cope with three problems: 1) The physical world appears causally closed, which would seem to leave no room for conscious intervention. 2) One is not conscious of one’s own brain/body processing, so how could there be conscious control of such processing? 3) Conscious experiences appear to come too late to causally affect the processes to which they most obviously relate. This paper suggests a way of understanding mental causation that resolves these problems. It also suggests that “conscious mental control” needs to be partly understood in terms of the voluntary operations of the preconscious mind, and that this allows an account of biological determinism that is compatible with experienced free will. (shrink)
Reflexive monism is, in essence, an ancient view of how consciousness relates to the material world that has, in recent decades, been resurrected in modern form. In this paper I discuss how some of its basic features differ from both dualism and variants of physicalist and functionalist reductionism, focusing on those aspects of the theory that challenge deeply rooted presuppositions in current Western thought. I pay particular attention to the ontological status and seeming “out-thereness” of the phenomenal world and to (...) how the “phenomenal world” relates to the “physical world”, the “world itself”, and processing in the brain. In order to place the theory within the context of current thought and debate, I address questions that have been raised about reflexive monism in recent commentaries and also evaluate competing accounts of the same issues offered by “transparency theory” and by “biological naturalism”. I argue that, of the competing views on offer, reflexive monism most closely follows the contours of ordinary experience, the findings of science, and common sense. (shrink)
This is a prepublication version of the final chapter from the Blackwell Companion to Consciousness. In it I re-examine the basic conditions required for a study of conscious experiences in the light of progress made in recent years in the field of consciousness studies. I argue that neither dualist nor reductionist assumptions about subjectivity versus objectivity and the privacy of experience versus the public nature of scientific observations allow an adequate understanding of how studies of consciousness actually proceed. The chapter (...) examines the sense in which the experimenter is also a subject, the sense in which all experienced phenomena are private and subjective, the different senses in which a phenomenon can nevertheless be public and observations of it objective, and the conditions for intra-subjective and intersubjective repeatability. The chapter goes on to re-examine the empirical method and how methods used in psychology differ from those used in physics. I argue that a reflexive understanding of these relationships supports a form of “critical phenomenology” that fits consciousness studies smoothly into science. (shrink)
In daily life we take it for granted that our minds have conscious control of our actions, at least for most of the time. But many scientists and philosophers deny that this is really the case, because there is no generally accepted theory of how the mind interacts with the body. Max Velmans presents a non-reductive solution to the problem, in which ‘conscious mental control’ includes ‘voluntary’ operations of the preconscious mind. On this account, biological determinism is compatible with experienced (...) free will. Velmans’ theory is put to the test by nine critics: Ron Chrisley, Todd Feinberg, Jeffrey Gray, John Kihlstrom, Sam Rakover, Ramakrishna Rao, Aaron Sloman, Steve Torrance andRobert Van Gulick, followed by Velmans' reply. (shrink)
This paper provides an initial, multidimensional map of the complex relationships among consciousness, mind, brain, and the external world in a way that both follows the contours of everyday experience and the findings of science. It then demonstrates how this reflexive monist map can be used to evaluate the utility and resolve some of the oppositions of the many other 'isms' that currently populate consciousness studies. While no conventional, one-dimensional 'ism' such as physicalism can do justice to this web of (...) relationships, physicalism, functionalism, dualism, neutral monism, and dual-aspect monism can all be seen to provide useful ways of understanding different aspects of the relationships among consciousness, mind, brain, and the external world when these are viewed in either a first- or a third-person way from within this web of relationships by sentient creatures such as ourselves. For example, physicalism and functionalism provide a useful understanding of consciousness, mind, brain, and the external world when viewed from a third-person perspective, while neutral monism provides a useful way of understanding first- versus third-person views of external phenomena. On the other hand, dual-aspect monism provides a useful way of understanding first- versus third-person views of mind, including eastern versus western views of mind. Dual-aspect monism also provides a useful understanding of the 'unconscious ground of being' that gives rise to, supports, and embeds all these observable phenomena. For an integrated understanding one needs to understand how these phenomena and relationships combine into an integrated whole. (shrink)
ABSTRACT. The following is an email interchange that took place between Dan Dennett and myself in the period 14th to 28th June, 2001. The discussion tries to clarify some essential features of the "heterophenomenology" developed in his book Consciousness Explained (1996), and how this differs from a form of "critical phenomenology" implicit in my own book Understanding Consciousness (2000), and developed in my edited Investigating Phenomenal Consciousness: new methodologies and maps (2000). The departure point for the discussion is a paper (...) posted on Dan's website that summarises a related debate between Dan, David Chalmers and Alvin Goldman (Dennett, 2001). To make the discussion easier to follow, the multiple embeddings have been removed (restoring the sequence in which the comments were written). I have also corrected a few typos and grammatical errors. However, the text of the emails remains exactly the same. In Round 1, I suggest that scientific investigations of consciousness are better described as a form of "critical phenomenology" that accepts conscious experiences to be real rather than as a "heterophenomenology" which remains neutral about or denies their existence. Dan replies that I have misunderstood his position - he doesn't deny that conscious experiences exist. Conscious experiences just don't have the first-person phenomenal properties that they are commonly thought to have and, in his view, science remains neutral about the nature of such properties. In Round 2, I agree with Dan that science initially remains neutral about how to understand the nature of conscious experiences. Nevertheless, the phenomenology of consciousness provides the data that scientists are trying to understand. A better understanding of data does not, in general, make the data disappear. I also ask, "if you remove the phenomena from phenomenal consciousness, in what sense is whatever remains "consciousness"? And, if one removes all the phenomenal content from what one takes consciousness to be, doesn't this amount to a denial of the existence of "consciousness" in any ordinary sense of this term? Dan's reply likens beliefs in phenomenal properties to the belief in evil spirits causing disease. He has no doubts that diseases such as whooping cough and tuberculosis are real, but this doesn't require him to believe in evil spirits. And, what's left, once one removes phenomenal properties, is what a zombie and a so-called conscious person have in common: a given set of functional properties that enable them to carry out the tasks we normally think of as conscious. In Round 3, I summarise our similarities and differences. We agree that first-person reports are not incorrigible and that third-person information may throw light on how to interpret them. We also agree that first-person reports are reports of "something", although we disagree about the nature of that something. I suggest that Dan is sceptical about first-person reports rather than heterophenomenologically "neutral" (e.g. when he likens belief in phenomenal properties to belief in evil spirits). While we agree that science is likely to deepen our understanding of consciousness, I repeat that, unlike the replacement of old theories by better theories, a deeper understanding of phenomena does not in general replace the phenomena themselves. Rather than third-person data replacing first-person reports, the former are required to make sense of the latter, making their relationship complementary and mutually irreducible. In fact, there are many cases where science takes the reality of first-person phenomenology seriously, for example in the extensive literature on pain and its alleviation. If this can't be squeezed into an exclusively third-person view of science, then we will just have to adjust our view of science - something that a "critical phenomenology" achieves at little cost. At the time of this editing, Dan has not replied. . Reference. Dennett, D. (2001) The fantasy of first-person science. http://ase.tufts.edu/cogstud/pubpage.htm. (shrink)
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)
This paper responds to continuing commentary on Velmans (2002a) “How could conscious experiences affect brains,” a target article for a special issue of JCS. I focus on the final question dealt with by the target article: how free will relates to preconscious and conscious mental processing, and I develop the case for preconscious free will. Although “preconscious free will” might appear to be a contradiction in terms, it is consistent with the scientific evidence and provides a parsimonious way to reconcile (...) the commonsense view that voluntary acts are freely chosen with the evidence that conscious wishes and decisions are determined by preconscious processing in the mind/brain. I consider alternative interpretations of how “conscious free will” might operate by Libet and by Mangan and respond to doubts about the extent to which the operations of mind are revealed in consciousness, raised by Claxton and Bouratinos. In reconciling commonsense attributions of freedom and responsibility with the findings of science, preconscious free will can be shown to have practical consequences for adjudications in law. (shrink)
How can one investigate phenomenal consciousness? As in other areas of science, the investigation of consciousness aims for a more precise knowledge of its phenomena, and the discovery of general truths about their nature. This requires the development of appropriate first-person, second-person and third-person methods. This book introduces some of the creative ways in which these methods can be applied to different purposes, e.g. to understanding the relation of consciousness to brain, to examining or changing consciousness as such, and to (...) understanding the way consciousness is influenced by social, clinical and therapeutic contexts. To clarify the strengths and weaknesses of different methods and to demonstrate the interplay of methodology and epistemology, the book also suggests a number of “maps” of the consciousness studies terrain that place different approaches to the study of consciousness into a broader, interdisciplinary context. (shrink)
The study of consciousness in modern science is hampered by deeply ingrained, dualist presuppositions about the nature of consciousness. In particular, conscious experiences are thought to be private and subjective, contrasting with physical phenomena which are public and objective. In the present article, I argue that all observed phenomena are, in a sense, private to a given observer, although there are some events to which there is public access. Phenomena can be objective in the sense of intersubjective, investigators can be (...) objective in the sense of truthful or dispassionate, and procedures can be objective in being well-specified, but observed phenomena cannot be objective in the sense of being observer-free. Phenomena are only repeatable in the sense that they are judged by a community of observers to be tokens of the same type. Stripped of its dualist trappings the empirical method becomes if you carry out these procedures you will observe or experience these results -- which applies as much to a science of consciousness as it does to physics. (shrink)
Dualists believe that experiences have neither location nor extension, while reductive and ‘non-reductive’ physicalists (biological naturalists) believe that experiences are really in the brain, producing an apparent impasse in current theories of mind. Enactive and reflexive models of perception try to resolve this impasse with a form of “externalism” that challenges the assumption that experiences must either be nowhere or in the brain. However, they are externalist in very different ways. Insofar as they locate experiences anywhere, enactive models locate conscious (...) phenomenology in the dynamic interaction of organisms with the external world, and in some versions, they reduce conscious phenomenology to such interactions, in the hope that this will resolve the hard problem of consciousness. The reflexive model accepts that experiences of the world result from dynamic organism–environment interactions, but argues that such interactions are preconscious. While the resulting phenomenal world is a consequence of such interactions, it cannot be reduced to them. The reflexive model is externalist in its claim that this external phenomenal world, which we normally think of as the “physical world,” is literally outside the brain. Furthermore, there are no added conscious experiences of the external world inside the brain. In the present paper I present the case for the enactive and reflexive alternatives to more classical views and evaluate their consequences. I argue that, in closing the gap between the phenomenal world and what we normally think of as the physical world, the reflexive model resolves one facet of the hard problem of consciousness. Conversely, while enactive models have useful things to say about percept formation and representation, they fail to address the hard problem of consciousness. (shrink)
Within psychology and the brain sciences, the study of consciousness and its relation to human information processing is once more a focus for productive research. However, some ancient puzzles about the nature of consciousness appear to be resistant to current empirical investigations, suggesting the need for a fundamentally different approach. In Velmans I have argued that functional accounts of the mind do not `contain' consciousness within their workings. Investigations of information processing are not investigations of consciousness as such. Given this, (...) first-person investigations of experience need to be related nonreductively to third-person investigations of processing. For example, conscious contents may be related to neural/physical representations via a dual-aspect theory of information. Chalmers arrives at similar conclusions. But there are also theoretical differences. Unlike Chalmers I argue for the use of neutral information processing language for functional accounts rather than the term `awareness'. I do not agree that functionalctional equivalence cannot be extricated from phenomenal equivalence, and suggest a hypothetical experiment for doing so - using a cortical implant for blindsight. I argue that not all information has phenomenal accompaniments, and introduce a different form of dual-aspect theory involving `psychological complementarity'. I also suggest that the hard problem posed by `qualia' has its origin in a misdescription of everyday experience implicit in dualism. (shrink)
Viewed from a first-person perspective consciousness appears to be necessary for complex, novel human activity - but viewed from a third-person perspective consciousness appears to play no role in the activity of brains, producing a "causal paradox". To resolve this paradox one needs to distinguish consciousness of processing from consciousness accompanying processing or causing processing. Accounts of consciousness/brain causal interactions switch between first- and third-person perspectives. However, epistemically, the differences between first- and third-person access are fundamental. First- and third-person accounts (...) are complementary and mutually irreducible. (shrink)
Classical ways of viewing the relation of consciousness to the brain and physical world make it difficult to see how consciousness can be a subject of scientific study. In contrast to physical events, it seems to be private, subjective, and viewable only from a subject's first-person perspective. But much of psychology does investigate human experience, which suggests that classical ways of viewing these relations must be wrong. An alternative, Reflexive model is outlined along with it's consequences for methodology. Within this (...) model the external phenomenal world is viewed as part-of consciousness, rather than apart-from it. Observed events are only "public" in the sense of "private experience shared." Scientific observations are only "objective" in the sense of "intersubjective." Observed phenomena are only "repeatable" in the sense that they are sufficiently similar to be taken for "tokens" of the same event "type." This closes the gap between physical and psychological phenomena. Indeed, events out-there in the world can often be regarded as either physical or psychological depending on the network of relationships under consideration. (shrink)
Theories about the evolution of consciousness relate in an intimate way to theories about the distribution of consciousness, which range from the view that only human beings are conscious to the view that all matter is in some sense conscious. Broadly speaking, such theories can be classified into discontinuity theories and continuity theories. Discontinuity theories propose that consciousness emerged only when material forms reached a given stage of evolution, but propose different criteria for the stage at which this occurred. Continuity (...) theories argue that in some primal form, consciousness always accompanies matter and as matter evolved in form and complexity consciousness co-evolved, for example into the forms that we now recognise in human beings. Given our limited knowledge of the necessary and sufficient conditions for the presence of human consciousness in human brains, all options remain open. On balance however continuity theory appears to be more elegant than discontinuity theory. (shrink)
My target article (henceforth referred to as TA) presents evidence for causal interactions between consciousness and brain and some standard ways of accounting for this evidence in clinical practice and neuropsychological theory. I also point out some of the problems of understanding such causal interactions that are not addressed by standard explanations. Most of the residual problems have to do with how to cross the “explanatory gap” from consciousness to brain. I then list some of the reasons why the route (...) across this gap suggested by physicalism won't work, in spite of its current popularity in consciousness studies. My own suggested route across the explanatory gap is more subterranean, where consciousness and brain can be seen to be dual aspects of a unifying, psychophysical mind. Some of the steps on this deeper route still have to be filled in by empirical research. But (as far as I can judge) there are no gaps that cannot be filled—just a different way of understanding consciousness, mind, brain and their causal interaction, with some interesting consequences for our understanding of free will. The commentaries on TA examined many aspects of my thesis viewed from both Western and Eastern perspectives. This reply focuses on how dual-aspect monism compares with currently popular alternatives such as “nonreductive physicalism”, clarifies my own approach, and reconsiders how well this addresses the “hard” problems of consciousness. We re-examine how conscious experiences relate to their physical/functional correlates and whether useful analogies can be drawn with other, physical relationships that appear to have dual-aspects. We also examine some fundamental differences between Western and Eastern thought about whether the existence of the physical world or the existence of consciousness can be taken for granted (with consequential differences about which of these is “hard” to understand). I then suggest a form of dual-aspect Reflexive Monism that might provide a path between these ancient intellectual traditions that is consistent with science and with common sense. (shrink)
(added for 2013 upload): This chapter compares classical dualist and reductionist views of phenomenal consciousness with an alternative, reflexive way of viewing the relations amongst consciousness, brain and the external physical world. It argues that dualism splits the universe in two fundamental ways: in viewing phenomenal consciousness as having neither location nor extension it splits consciousness from the material world, and subject from object. Materialist reductionism views consciousness as a brain state or function (located and extended in the brain) which (...) eliminates the consciousness/material world split, but retains the split of subject from object. The chapter argues that neither dualism nor reductionism accurately describes the phenomenal world; consequently they each provide a misleading understanding of phenomenal consciousness. Reflexive monism follows the contours of everyday experience, thereby allowing a more unified understanding of how phenomenal consciousness relates to the brain and external physical world that is consistent both with the findings of science and with common sense. The chapter goes on to consider how phenomenal objects relate to real objects, perceptual projection, how phenomenal space relates to physical space, whether the brain is in the world or the world in the brain, and why this matters for science. (shrink)
This paper summarised the main arguments presented in "Consciousness, brain and the physical world" Philosophical Psychology (1990) to introduce a symposium on that paper. This was the first symposium on Velmans' Reflexive Model of Perception (the departure point for Reflexive Monism). This summary of the 1990 paper was followed by three critiques (by Robert Rentoul, Norman Wetherick, and Grant Gillett) followed by two replies. At the time of this upload (25 years later) many of the points in the 1991 paper (...) have become common currency, however some of the confusions about the implications of the reflexive model persist, so the discussion continues to have contemporary relevance. See academia.edu link for the entire symposium. (shrink)
This overview of Consciousness Studies examines the conditions that one has to satisfy to establish a scientific investigation of phenomenal consciousness. Written from the perspective experimental psychology, it follows a two-pronged approach in which traditional third-person methods for investigating the brain and physical world are complementary to first-person methods for investigating subjective experience allowing the possibility of finding “bridging laws” that relate such first- and third-person data to each other. Mindful of the relative sophistication of third-person methods the chapter focuses (...) on the problems of developing similarly sophisticated first-person methods. The problems are of three kinds: (1) Epistemological problems: How can one obtain public, objective knowledge about private, subjective experiences? (2) Methodological problems: Given that one cannot attach measuring instruments directly up to experiences, what psychological “instruments” and procedures are appropriate to their study? (3) The relation of the observer to the observed: The more closely coupled an observer is with an observed, the greater the potential influence of the act of observation on the nature of the observed (“observer effects”). Given this, how can one develop introspective and phenomenological methods where the observer is the observed? The chapter argues that the epistemological problems are more apparent than real, although this requires one to construe what is private versus public, and what is subjective or intersubjective versus what is objective in a slightly different way—with some enabling consequences for a science of consciousness. Methodological problems are real, but not fundamentally different to the problems traditionally faced in experimental psychological investigations of mental phenomena. The close-coupling of observer with the observed in first-person investigations can also be a problem, producing “observer effects” that are more acute than in most third-person investigations. The chapter suggests that one can either try to minimise such effects or to harness them, depending on the purpose of the investigation. (shrink)
This chapter examines the similarities and differences between physical, psychological and virtual realities, and challenges some conventional, implicitly dualist assumptions about how these relate to each other. Virtual realities are not easily understood in either dualist or materialist reductive terms, as they exemplify the reflexive nature of perception. The chapter summarises some of the evidence for this “reflexive model”—and examines some of its consequences for the “hard” problem of consciousness. The chapter then goes on to consider how these realities might (...) relate to some grounding reality or thing-itself, and considers some of the personal and social consequences of becoming increasingly immersed in virtual realities. Although this chapter was published in 1998 and develops work published in 1990, it presents a form of “radical externalism” that anticipates many themes in current (2006) internalism versus externalism debates about the nature of mind. It is also relevant to an understanding of virtual reality “presence.”. (shrink)
The study of preconscious versus conscious processing has an extensive history in cognitive psychology, dating back to the writings of William James. Much of the experimental work on this issue has focused on perception, conceived of as input analysis, and on the relation of consciousness to attentional processing. The present paper examines when input analysis becomes conscious from the perspectives of cognitive modelling, methodology, and a more detailed understanding of what is meant by "conscious processing." Current evidence suggests that perception (...) becomes conscious at a late-arising stage of focal-attentive processing concerned with information integration and dissemination. Reliable criteria for determining when perception becomes conscious combine the evidence of "first-person," phenomenological reports with "third-person" functional dissociations between preconscious and conscious processing. There are three, distinct senses in which a process may be said to be "conscious." It might be "conscious" (a) in the sense that one is conscious of the process, (b) in the sense that the operation of the process is accompanied by consciousness (of its results) and (c) in the sense that consciousness enters into or causally influences the process. Consciousness of familiar stimuli, rather than entering into input analysis, appears to follow it, in human information processing. Processes closely associated with the appearance of consciousness such as information integration and dissemination appear to operate unconsciously. Consequently, perception appears to be "conscious" only in sense (b). (shrink)
Wegner’s analysis of the illusion of conscious will is close to my own account of how conscious experiences relate to brain processes. But our analyses differ somewhat on how conscious will is not an illusion. Wegner argues that once conscious will arises it enters causally into subsequent mental processing. I argue that while his causal story is accurate, it remains a first-person story. Conscious free will is not an illusion in the sense that this first-person story is compatible with and (...) complementary to a third-person account of voluntary processing in the mind/brain. (shrink)
This commentary elaborates on Gray's conclusion that his neurophysiological model of consciousness might explain how consciousness arises from the brain, but does not address how consciousness evolved, affects behaviour or confers survival value. The commentary argues that such limitations apply to all neurophysiological or other third-person perspective models. To approach such questions the first-person nature of consciousness needs to be taken seriously in combination with third-person models of the brain.
Physicalists commonly argue that conscious experiences are nothing more than states of the brain, and that conscious qualia are observer-independent, physical properties of the external world. Although this assumes the 'mantle of science,' it routinely ignores the findings of science, for example in sensory physiology, perception, psychophysics, neuropsychology and comparative psychology. Consequently, although physicalism aims to naturalise consciousness, it gives an unnatural account of it. It is possible, however, to develop a natural, nonreductive, reflexive model of how consciousness relates to (...) the brain and the physical world. This paper introduces such a model and how it construes the nature of conscious experience. Within this model the physical world as perceived is viewed as part of conscious experience not apart from it. While in everyday life we treat this phenomenal world as if it is the "physical world", it is really just one biologically useful representation of what the world is like that may differ in many respects from the world described by physics. How the world as perceived relates to the world as described by physics can be investigated by normal science . This model of consciousness appears to be consistent with both third-person evidence of how the brain works and with first-person evidence of what it is like to have a given experience. According to the reflexive model, conscious experiences are really how they seem. (shrink)
Lehar provides useful insights into spatially extended phenomenology that may have major consequences for neuroscience. However, Lehar's biological naturalism leads to counterintuitive conclusions, and he does not give an accurate account of preceding and competing work. This commentary compares Lehar's analysis with that of Velmans, which addresses similar issues but draws opposite conclusions. Lehar argues that the phenomenal world is in the brain and concludes that the physical skull is beyond the phenomenal world. Velmans argues that the brain is in (...) the phenomenal world and concludes that the physical skull is where it seems to be. (shrink)
According to Nagel, bat consciousness is "what it is like to be a bat.'' According to Baars , we will never know what it is like to be bat, so this approach to consciousness does not allow the science of consciousness to progress. Rather, the nature of consciousness as such should be determined empirically, by contrasting processes which are conscious with processes that are not conscious. The present commentary argues that contrastive analysis is appropriate for finding the processes most closely (...) associated with consciousness; but it will not illuminate the nature of consciousness as such. Unlike bat consciousness, human consciousness is accessible to humans introspectively . Consequently, a complete science of consciousness needs to relate introspective, first-person accounts of consciousness to third-person processing models of the brain. (shrink)
In the visual system, the represented features of individual objects (shape, colour, movement, and so on) are distributed both in space and time within the brain. Representations of inner and outer event sequences arrive through different sense organs at different times, and are likewise distributed. Objects are nevertheless perceived as integrated wholes - and event sequences are experienced to form a coherent "consciousness stream." In their thoughtful article, Dennett & Kinsbourne ask how this is achieved.
What we normally think of as the “physical world” is also the world as experienced, that is, a world of appearances. Given this, what is the reality behind the appearances, and what might its relation be to consciousness and to constructive processes in the mind? According to Kant, the thing itself that brings about and supports these appearances is unknowable and we can never gain any understanding of how it brings such appearances about. Reflexive monism argues the opposite: the thing (...) itself is knowable as are the processes that construct conscious appearances. Conscious appearances (empirical evidence) and the theories derived from them can represent what the world is really like, even though such empirical knowledge is partial, approximate and uncertain, and conscious appearances are species-specific constructions of the human mind. Drawing on the writings of Husserl, Hoche suggests that problems of knowledge, mind and consciousness are better understood in terms of a “pure noematic” phenomenology that avoids any reference to a “thing itself.” I argue that avoiding reference to a knowable reality (behind appearances) leads to more complex explanations with less explanatory value and counterintuitive conclusions—for example Hoche’s conclusion that consciousness is not part of nature. The critical realism adopted by reflexive monism appears to be more useful, as well as being consistent with science and common sense. (shrink)
There are two quite distinct ways in which events that we normally think of as “physical” relate in an intimate way to events that we normally think of as “psychological”. One intimate relation occurs in exteroception at the point where events in the world become events as-perceived. The other intimate relationship occurs at the interface of conscious experience with its neural correlates in the brain. The chapter examines each of these relationships and positions them within a dual-aspect, reflexive model of (...) how consciousness relates to the brain and external world. The chapter goes on to provide grounds for viewing mind and nature as fundamentally psychophysical, and examines similar views as well as differences in previously unpublished writings of Wolfgang Pauli, one of the founders of quantum mechanics. (shrink)
There have been various attempts to apply Darwinian evolutionary theory to an understanding of the human condition within psychology and the social sciences. This paper evaluates whether Darwinian Theory can explain human consciousness. Starting with a brief definition of phenomenal consciousness and the central features of evolutionary theory, the paper examines whether random variations in the genome that confer a selective, reproductive advantage can explain both the emergence of consciousness and its varied forms. To inform the discussion, the paper reviews (...) what is known about the conditions for consciousness within the human mind/brain, understood in both structural (neural) terms and functional terms (in terms of human information processing), and concludes that “random variations in the genome” provide no explanatory mechanism for why some neural activities (but not others) are accompanied by consciousness. The paper then evaluates the many functional advantages that have been proposed for various forms of phenomenal consciousness once they emerge, and concludes that, on close examination, phenomenal experiences themselves do not carry out the information processing functions attributed to them, which challenges the Darwinian requirement that they could only have persisted (once emergent) it they enhanced reproductive fitness. The paper turns finally to what can be said about wider distribution of consciousness in non-humans, contrasting discontinuity theories with continuity theories. Discontinuity theories argue for a critical functional transition that “switches on consciousness” while continuity theories argue for a gradual transition in consciousness from unrecognisable to recognisable. All theories accept that there is an intimate, natural relationship of conscious experiences with their associated material forms. Consequently, as the material forms evolve, their associated experiences co-evolve—suggesting an indirect mechanism by which the emergence of species-specific forms of consciousness can be influenced by Darwinian evolution. It also allows a non-reductive understanding of human consciousness within the social sciences. (shrink)
(for online upload) The readings in Investigating Phenomenal Consciousness (2000) were developed from an International Symposium on Methodologies for the Study of Consciousness: A new Synthesis,” that I organised in April, 1996, funded and hosted by the Fetzer Institute, Wisconsin, USA, with the aim of fostering the development of first-person methods that could be used in conjunction with already well-developed third-person methods for investigating phenomenal consciousness. In this Introduction, we briefly survey the state of the art at that time, the (...) reasons for a resurgence of interest in consciousness, the available methodologies, the reasons for increasing dissatisfaction with the adequacy of reductive third-person methods, various difficulties facing the development of rigorous first-person methods, and various creative approaches to solving these difficulties. Suggestions are also made about how to heal the fragmentation in consciousness studies, by placing different approaches to the study of consciousness into a broader context, establishing their domain of applicability and providing some bases for synthesis. (shrink)
Evidence for unconscious semantic representation suggests that a cognitive unconscious exists. Phenomenal consciousness cannot easily be shown to deal with complex cognitive operations such as those involved in language translation and creativity. A self-organising phenomenal consciousness that controls brain functions also runs into mind/body problems (well recognised in the consciousness studies literature) that Perruchet & Vinter must address.
A commentary on a target article by Alison Gopnik (1993) How we know our minds: the illusion of first-person knowledge of intentionality. Focusing on evidence of how children acquire a theory of mind, this commentary argues that there are internal inconsistencies in theories that both argue for the functional role of conscious experiences and the irreducibility of those experiences to third-person viewable information processing.
This paper evaluates Mangan’s (1993) analysis of the way feelings at the fringes of consciousness provide global evaluations of what is happening at the focus of attention in ways that allow the human mind to direct its activities in an effective, adaptive way—elaborating on a distinction between fringe consciousness and focal-attentive consciousness originally developed by William James. The paper argues that, while Mangan’s analysis is a plausible account of mental operations, viewed from a first-person perspective, it is inconsistent with a (...) detailed account of human information processing viewed from a third-person perspective, which largely operates in an unconscious fashion. It also ignores classical problems relating to consciousness-brain causal interaction in philosophy of mind, and the subtlety different ways in which information processing can be said to be “conscious”. The paper then offers an alternative interpretation of the evidence (following Velmans, 1991) in which first- and third-person accounts of mental processing are complementary and mutually irreducible. (shrink)
This paper is a commentary on Rupert Sheldrake’s analysis of theories of perception (in JCS, 2005, 2006). As Sheldrake points out in his fascinating review of ancient and modern thinking on this subject, theories of vision have ranged from “extramissive” theories that posit some active influence emanating from the eyes that both illuminates and influences the external world, “intramissive” theories that stress the influence of the external world on the (passive) brain, and theories in which intramissive and extramissive influences combine. (...) As Sheldrake notes, up to the 12th Century, extramissive theories were dominant, but with an increasing understanding of the way light reflected from an object is focused on the retina by the lens of the eye, intramissive theories have become dominant. Drawing on his research on staring experiments, Sheldrake defends an extramissive theory. In this commentary I argue for a model of perception that combines intramissive and extramissive influences, which accepts all third-person evidence for intramissive causal antecedents to visual perception while at the same time accepting the phenomenal evidence for the apparent external nature of the perceived world—an extramissive psychological effect that I refer to as “perceptual projection”. I also suggest some additions to the model that might begin to make sense of apparently extramissive causes of the type needed to explain staring experiments. Ultimately, I suggest, we may need to accept that we are in our minds, but might be partly out of our brains! -/- . (shrink)
(From the Publisher 2017) Featuring many important updates and revisions, the highly-anticipated second edition of The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness offers a collection of readings that together represent the most thorough and comprehensive survey of the nature of consciousness available today. Chapters delve deeply into the wide variety of scientific and philosophical problems that arise from the study of consciousness—as well as the philosophical, cognitive, neuroscientific, and phenomenological approaches to solving them. -/- Along with updates to existing scientific readings reflecting (...) the latest research data, this edition features 18 entirely new theoretical, empirical and methodological chapters covering such areas as integrated information theory, the resurgence in panpsychism, the renewed interest in more sophisticated first-person methodologies for the investigation of conscious phenomenology, and many others. Featuring contributions by leading experts in the study of consciousness, from across a variety of academic disciplines, the 54-chapter collection reasserts its role as the most thorough, authoritative, and up-to-date survey of the subject available today. Illuminating and thought-provoking, The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness, Second Edition is an indispensable resource for those wishing to gain insights into the latest contemporary thinking on consciousness. (shrink)
This brief note corrects some basic errors in Meijsing's JCS paper on 'The Whereabouts of Pictorial Space', concerning the status of phenomenal objects in the reflexive model of perception. In particular I clarify the precise sense in which a phenomenal object relates to the object itself in visual perception.
This is the first of four online Companions to Velmans, M. (ed.) (2018) Consciousness (Critical Concepts in Psychology), a 4-volume collection of Major Works on Consciousness commissioned by Routledge, London. Each of the Companions presents a pre-publication version of the introduction to one of the Volumes and, for Volume 1, it also sets the stage for the entire, printed collection. As the collection forms part of a Critical Concepts in Psychology series, this selection of major works focuses mainly on works (...) that have a direct psychological relevance. From the mid 19th Century onwards, psychology began to separate itself from philosophy, and the development of psychological thought about consciousness links intimately to the development of psychology itself. In order to trace this development, the four volumes of this collection follow a rough, historical sequence. Volume 1 deals with The Origins of Psychology and the Study of Consciousness. Volumes 2 and 3 deal with contemporary Cognitive and Neuropsychological Approaches to the Study of Consciousness. And Volume 4 focuses mainly on New Directions: Psychogenesis, Transformations of Consciousness and Non-reductive, Integrative Theories, which deal with issues likely to expand current, mainstream thought in potentially novel, and, sometimes, challenging directions. -/- The printed, 4-Volume collection presents 89 major readings (or salient extracts from major readings) drawn from the entire field of Consciousness Studies, along with these introductions and an extensive index. It also introduces 5 additional readings that were selected for inclusion, but could not be reprinted for the reason that reprint permissions were prohibitively expensive. Although these online Companions cannot substitute for the 2000 page hard copy, they do provide a wealth of additional resources in the form of online links to supplementary readings (marked in pink) and to the readings themselves (marked in blue). In many cases the online sources are freely available or available through institutional subscriptions. Links are also provided for some of the readings that require access to complex colour plates, thereby making the four Companions complementary to the collection itself. -/- This Companion to Volume 1 focuses on the selection criteria for the collection, the problems presented by consciousness and how to organize these into groups, the ancient history of thought about consciousness, mind and soul, the emergence of psychology as the empirical study of consciousness and mind, the emergence of behaviorism, cognitive psychology and the re-emergence of the study of mind, initial ideas about the role of consciousness in human information processing, the strengths of functionalist accounts of mind, the weaknesses of functionalist accounts of consciousness, competing psychological theories about the nature and function of consciousness, interdisciplinary influences, and the formation of Consciousness Studies. (shrink)