This dissertation defends the reliability of first-person methods for studying consciousness, and applies first-person experiments to two philosophical problems: the experience of size and of the self. In chapter 1, I discuss the motivations for taking a first-person approach to consciousness, the background assumptions of the dissertation and some methodological preliminaries. In chapter 2, I address the claim that phenomenal judgements are far less reliable than perceptual judgements (Schwitzgebel, 2011). I argue that the main errors and limitations in making phenomenal (...) judgements are due to domain-general factors, which are shared in the formation of perceptual judgements. Phenomenal judgements may still be statistically less reliable than perceptual judgements, though I provide reasons for thinking that Schwitzgebel (2011) overstates the case for statistical unreliability. I also provide criteria for distinguishing between reliable and unreliable phenomenal judgements, hence defending phenomenal judgements against general introspective scepticism. Having identified the main errors in making phenomenal judgements, in chapter 3, I discuss how first-person experiments can be used to control for these errors. I provide examples, and discuss how they overcome attentional and conceptual errors, minimise biases, and exhibit high intersubjective reliability. In chapter 4, I investigate size experience. I use first-person experiments and empirical findings to argue that distant things looking smaller cannot be explained as an awareness of instantiated objective properties (visual angle or retinal image size). I also discuss how an awareness of uninstantiated objective properties cannot adequately account for the phenomenal character of size experience. This provides support for a subjectivist account of variance in size experience. In chapter 5, I investigate the sense of self. I distinguish between a weak sense of self (for-me-ness) and a strong sense of self in which there is a polarity between subject and object. I use first-person experiments from Douglas Harding to demonstrate an explicit strong sense of self, specifically when I point at where others see my face. I also argue that this sense of self is not explained by inference, thoughts, feelings, imagination nor the viewpoint. Rather, it is part of the structure of experience that I seem to be looking from here. Even if there is a sense of self, there may be no self. The question of chapter 6 is whether there can be a direct experience of the self. I argue that to function as a bearer of experience the subject must be single and lack sensory qualities in itself. I use Harding’s first-person experiments to investigate the visual gap where I cannot see my head. I argue that it conforms to the above criteria, and hence is a candidate for being the subject. This finding, in conjunction with the fact that I seem to be looking from the same location, provides prima facie evidence for the reality of the subject. I hold then that contrary to Hume and most philosophers since, that there can be a direct self-experience, if one knows which direction to attend. (shrink)
Why does it matter whether and how individuals consciously control their behavior? It matters for many reasons. Here I focus on concerns about social influences of which agents are typically unaware on aggressive behavior.
Setting aside the problems of recognising consciousness in a machine, this article considers what would be needed for a machine to have human-like conscious- ness. Human-like consciousness is an illusion; that is, it exists but is not what it appears to be. The illusion that we are a conscious self having a stream of experi- ences is constructed when memes compete for replication by human hosts. Some memes survive by being promoted as personal beliefs, desires, opinions and pos- (...) sessions, leading to the formation of a memeplex (or selfplex). Any machine capa- ble of imitation would acquire this type of illusion and think it was conscious. Robots that imitated humans would acquire an illusion of self and consciousness just as we do. Robots that imitated each other would develop their own separate languages, cultures and illusions of self. Distributed seflplexes in large networks of machines are also possible. Unanswered questions include what remains of consciousness without memes, and whether artificial meme machines can ever transcend the illusion of self consciousness. (shrink)
The empirical exploration of the neural mechanisms of consciousness is undoubtedly going to be one of the most central lines of research in the scientific study of consciousness. Therefore, it is important for the researchers involved in these studies to have a clear idea of the phenomenon they are searching for and of the capabilities of the methods they are using to accomplish the task. The main point of my paper ‘Can functional brain imaging discover consciousness in the brain?’ was (...) to explicate and clarify these issues that, although central metatheoretical problems for cognitive neuroscience, have not received much attention from either the experimental neuroscientists or the philosophers involved in the study of consciousness. (shrink)
Revonsuo makes a provocative and interesting claim: that currently available neurophysiological recording techniques will be unable to discover the neural basis of consciousness in the brain. Although the title refers exclusively to functional brain imaging, Revonsuo considers MEG, EEG, ERP and measurements of firing rate in single cell electrophysiology all in principle incapable of discovering consciousness in the brain. This conclusion is reached by assuming that only one particular type of physical entity constitutes awareness.
Consciousness and emotion feature prominently in our personal lives, yet remain enigmatic. Recent advances prompt further distinctions that should provide more experimental traction: we argue that emotion consists of an emotion state (functional aspects, including emo- tional response) as well as feelings (the conscious experience of the emotion), and that consciousness consists of level (e.g. coma, vegetative state and wake- fulness) and content (what it is we are conscious of). Not only is consciousness important to aspects of emotion (...) but structures that are important for emotion, such as brainstem nuclei and midline cortices, overlap with structures that regulate the level of consciousness. The intersection of consciousness and emotion is ripe for experimental investigation, and we outline possible examples for future studies. (shrink)
Though merely an essay, I challenge you, gentle reader, by attempting to demonstrate that my own words are not fundamentally different from the conscious thoughts in your own mind: I thus claim to have consciousness and qualia.
To reduce the likelihood that psychology will develop in a deeply flawed manner, the present article seeks to provide an introduction to Freud?s conception of consciousness because, for among other reasons, his general theory is highly influential in our science and culture and among the best understood by clinicians and experimentalists. The theory is complex and all of its major parts have a bearing on one another; indeed, consciousness has a central place in the total conceptual structure ? as is (...) argued, in effect, throughout the present article. The discussion focuses mainly on how conscious psychical processes differ from processes of the psychical apparatus that do not instantiate the Freudian attribute of consciousness. This intrinsic attribute that belongs to every conscious psychical process is seen as including, along with qualitative content, an unmediated, witting awareness of the psychical process that is directed upon itself. (shrink)
Modern ethico-philosophical literature treats spirituality as a value characteristic of moral consciousness, although spirituality is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon. Therefore, this one-sided approach is wrong. In considering this problem, two approaches were identified: theological and purely philosophical. In philosophical thought, the understanding of spirituality as a qualitative characteristic of consciousness, actions and actions of a person, its ability to do good for the benefit of society, its people, and the state, was affirmed. And if so, any person, regardless of (...) his or her outlook, is spiritual. (shrink)
The commentators' responses to The Illusion of Conscious Will reveal a healthy range of opinions – pro, con, and occasionally stray. Common concerns and issues are summarized here in terms of 11 “frequently asked questions,” which often center on the theme of how the experience of conscious will supports the creation of the self as author of action.
A "machine" is any causal physical system, hence we are machines, hence machines can be conscious. The question is: which kinds of machines can be conscious? Chances are that robots that can pass the Turing Test -- completely indistinguishable from us in their behavioral capacities -- can be conscious (i.e. feel), but we can never be sure (because of the "other-minds" problem). And we can never know HOW they have minds, because of the "mind/body" problem. We can (...) only know how they pass the Turing Test, but not how, why or whether that makes them feel. (shrink)
Contrary to James's emphasis on the sensible continuity of each personal consciousness, our purported "stream," as it presents itself to us, is not accurately described as having a flowing temporal structure; thus Strawson has argued based on how he finds his own consciousness to be. Accordingly, qua object of inner awareness, our consciousness is best characterized as constituted successively by pulses of consciousness separated in time, one from the next, by a momentary state of complete unconsciousness. It seems at times (...) that one's consciousness is flowing along, but this is an illusion that is owed to taking continuities of content, across pulses, for continuity in the process itself of consciousness, and that can be overcome by the proper mode of reflection upon one's consciousness as it is taking place. With reference to James's original account and to commentaries from Dainton and from Tye on Strawson's claims, the present article examines the latter claims, and proposes that Strawson errs in how he gives expression to what he observes firsthand with respect to his consciousness. His own introspective reports indicate that what he describes to be states of complete unconsciousness that directly precede and follow each of his conscious thoughts, are actually totally qualified states of consciousness and so they are not stoppages in the flow of his consciousness. Also, Strawson's special mode of reflection - which he labels "attentive" and speaks of as one's "reflecting very hard" - likely works not to reveal his consciousness to him but, rather, to prevent his apprehending that "phenomenal background," which is there, perhaps always, while he is in the general state that we call "awakeness" and of which each of his states of consciousness partially consists, including the purported states of complete unconsciousness he truly apprehends but misdescribes. (shrink)
Most theories and models of memory are based on two assumptions that contain theoretical problems. These problems are reflected in the memory-trace paradox, which consists in believing that the past is contained in the memory trace, and in the fallacy of the homunculus, which consists in assuming the existence of an unconscious intentional subject. We will discuss these and present an alternative hypothesis concerning the relationship between memory, consciousness and temporality. This holds that consciousness is not a unitary dimension, but (...) is the set of distinct and original modes to address the object. Among the modes of consciousness, a distinction is made between Knowing Consciousness (KC) and Temporal Consciousness (TC). KC describes the mode of addressing the object in order to know it. TC describes the mode of consciousness that temporalizes its object according the subordinate structures of temporality, the past, the present and the future. Finally it is shown how the hypothesis accounts for a variety of memory disorders and phenomena while avoiding the memory- trace paradox and the fallacy of the homunculus. (shrink)
Revonsuo argues that current brain imaging methods do not allow us to ‘discover’ consciousness. While all observational methods in science have limitations, consciousness is such a massive and pervasive phenomenon that we cannot fail to observe its effects at every level of brain organization: molecular, cellular, electrical, anatomical, metabolic, and even the ‘higher levels of electrophysiological organization that are crucial for the empirical discovery and theoretical explanation of consciousness’ . Indeed, the first major discovery in that respect was Hans Berger's (...) finding that scalp EEG is massively different between waking and deep sleep, already seven decades ago. We now have perhaps a dozen sophisticated methods for monitoring consciousness-related activity at multiple levels of brain observation. Theoretical progress has come quite rapidly. Recently, E.R. John and colleagues have made fundamental findings using Quantitative EEG, showing consistent brainwide changes as a result of several types of general anaesthetics . John has proposed a neuronal ‘field theory’ to account for those results. Another promising new method involves frequency-tagging of competing stimuli, allowing us to follow the activity of billions of neurons synchronized to particular conscious stimuli, always compared to very similar unconscious input . A fundamental theoretical account of such results has been provided by Tononi & Edelman . Such results and theory are in broad agreement with the cognitive theory proposed by Baars. (shrink)
Antti Revonsuo has given us an engaging and deliberately provocative paper discussing the value of brain imaging in the search for the neural basis of consciousness. In some places, however, his enthusiasm for the controversial nature of the topic has led him to overstate or misdirect his case.
The approach of Revonsuo is criticised as being based on a misplaced emphasis on coupled oscillatory dynamics, as well as on too limited an approach to recent advances in brain imaging. This results in the nature of attention as a basic component in consciousness being ignored, and prevents any attempt to attack the crucial problem for consciousness of inner experience: of ‘what it is like to be’.
The objectives of this article are twofold. First, by denying the dualism inherent in attempts to load metaphysical significance on the inner/outer distinction, it defends the view that scientific investigation can approach consciousness in itself, and is not somehow restricted in scope to the outward manifestations of a private and hidden realm. Second, it provisionally endorses the central tenets of global workspace theory, and recommends them as a possible basis for the sort of scientific understanding of consciousness thus legitimised. However, (...) the article goes on to argue that global workspace theory alone does not constitute a fully worked-out objective account of the conscious subject. This requires additional attention to be paid to the issue of embodiment, and to the possibility of indexicality that arises when an instantiation of the global workspace architecture inhabits a spatially localised body. (shrink)
The Latin conscius does not translate anything like mind or consciousness. Only in the mid-nineteenth century do we find the first attempts to study consciousness as its own discipline. Wundt, James, and Freud disagreed about how to approach the science of consciousness, although agreeing that psychology was a 'science of consciousness' that takes lived biological experience as its object. The behaviorists vetoed this idea. By the 1950s, for cognitive science, mind (conscious and unconscious) was considered analogous to computer software. (...) Recently, the science of consciousness has returned as Consciousness Studies, a new interdisciplinary synthesis of neuroscience, psychology, philosophy, and cultural anthropology. But what is new in this renaissance of the science of consciousness? New first, second and third person approaches all propose to take consciousness itself as a variable. This approach is as controversial as the nineteenth-century science of consciousness--controversy perhaps inherent to any science of consciousness. (shrink)
We often consciously will our own actions. This experience is so profound that it tempts us to believe that our actions are caused by consciousness. It could also be a trick, however – the mind’s way of estimating its own apparent authorship by drawing causal inferences about relationships between thoughts and actions. Cognitive, social, and neuropsychological studies of apparent mental causation suggest that experiences of conscious will frequently depart from actual causal processes and so might not reﬂect direct perceptions (...) of conscious thought causing action. (shrink)
In the town where Elvis' occurrent consciousness status is periodically asserted, the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness held another great conference. The King of rockabilly did not show, but many stars of consciousness- and related-gigs did, such as Ned Block, Walter Freeman, Bernie Baars, Alva Noë, Dan Dennett, Christof Koch, Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, Peter Carruthers and Petra Stoerig. Even though this was my fifth ASSC conference I had never heard the famous Freeman nor the devilish Dennett before. There were (...) 21 plenary/ symposium speakers plus 10 workshops, 36 concurrent sessions and 20 posters over four packed days. Great stuff! (shrink)