Actual Consciousness publication party, Garrick Club, 18 July 2014, remarks by the author.
all believe in the objective physical
world, sometimes called the scientific world. That in brief is the world
that is there independently of any consciousness of it. We believe in an objective physical room, which will still
be there when we have all left. Philosophers and scientists of consciousness
have always thought about consciousness, sometimes called the mind, in some connection or relation or other with
this objective physicality. You can take time and enumerate characteristics of
it, starting with its taking up space.
philosophers and scientists, the persisting mind-body dualists, maintain that
consciousness is not physical -- they just tend to say not physical, without
any adjective. It's spiritual, or abstract, or mystifyingly subjective, or as in
the paralysing novels of Virginia Wolff or the allusions of some psychoanalysts.
other philosophers and scientists, the objective physicalists, say the very opposite,
that consciousness is objectively physical. In our human case it's just neural
states and events. The mind, they say, is
just the brain.
Smaller lots of thinkers about consciousness include the naive realists, given that name by Freddie Ayer, who once presided in this room with Isaiah Berlin. The naive realists, now on the rise, say something about the consciousness in perception in particular, consciousness in seeing and so on. The naive realists leave perceptual consciousness as a wholly mysterious relation between you or something internal to you and the objective room.
A whole industry of other philosophers and scientists, Freddie among them too, regard themselves as definitely not naive. They say that all consciousness, including consciousness in perception, is a matter of stuff of a certain character, that is something like ordinary words such as the ones you are hearing and which could be recorded, and ordinary images like photos. It consists, that is, only or purely in what they call representations, maybe better called aboutnesses. You, being of the sensible cognoscenti that frequents book launches, know that is absurd. Consider any one of the paintings on the walls of this Morning Room, say that portrait of Garrick. It sure is a representation, it's of something. But the room bloody isn't a representation. You can tell the difference between a picture, a kind of aboutness, and the room itself. The room doesn't stand for anything.
I brazenly say, skipping past a lot, is the truth instead about consciousness. Each
of us has a hold on his or her own
consciousness. As a result we think and say things about it, 31 of them on my
list. Being conscious is the having
of something, not in the way you ankles or money. It's something being given. It's something immediate, not deduced or anything like that.
And so on. That is data, a database. You can sum it up by saying
consciousness is something's being actual.
That is true of consciousness in perceiving and also consciousness in kinds of
thinking and of wanting -- perceptual, cognitive and affective consciousness.
Your consciousness right now in seeing this room is a room's being actual -- it's actual consciousness, one kind of it. That, and all of the data, is metaphorical or figurative, like so much in which the whole history of science has started. And a room's being actual turns out on analysis to be a room existing, its being subjectively physical, a room just as much out there in space as the objective physical room. Your perceptual consciousness is therefore primarily a fact external to you, outside you. It is an external fact dependent on two things -- on the objective physical world out there and on you neurally. Its being one of a myriad number of such transient things makes it no less real. Indeed, in senses of that shifty word, it is more real than the objective physical world.
I save you a very different line or two to which I was tempted -- on
Gaza, about the endings on a beach of four small subjective physical worlds
yesterday. I leave that different philosophy about humanity to Twitter, where
indeed you will find it, and persist with consciousness in general, or rather
two other kinds of it.
As against perceptual consciousness, there is consciousness of thinking and wanting, cognitive and affective consciousness. They are different. They are a matter of internal representations. But they aren't the boring representations of that whole industry of philosophers and scientists, like lines of type and silicon sequences in computers. Conscious representations are representations that are actual representations, uniquely subjectively physical.
enough philosophy, enough rearranging of reality, which pedantically I didn't
want to leave out even in this mixed company, so as to be true to the book.
Actual Consciousness is definitely philosophy. It has what I sometimes take to be my only virtue, which is diligence. It never stops doing mainstream philosophy, which is always just concentrating on the logic of ordinary intelligence. So it is ongoing argument, with checklists of characteristics of the objectively physical and other worlds, and sets of counterpart propositions, and passing references to a host of other philosophers, and comradely superiority, and worry about consensus, which after all, despite some scientists, is the unsettling thing that is democracy about truth.
God knows there is a living author in it. In conversation, not lecturing. And with some awareness of more than the imperatives of philosophy. There is attention to personal existences, including that of the guide. There is attention to dawns. By way of dear Will's perfect line about the morn, in russet mantle clad, walking o'er the dew of yon high eastward hill -- in my case the one with Ally Pally on it.
Is the literary pretence of a conversation, thinking along together, a little silly? Could be. But it may remind a reader or two that in reading a book by a philosopher they are not in touch with a higher being, but more likely a lower. I confess to early mornings in the sunrise of having aspired to be the Gibbon, the Bach, the Darwin, of consciousness. Midmorning always came, thank God. Poor Ted instead, just trying hard.
I thank lovely Ingrid Coggin Honderich, teacher, Secretary of the Royal Institute of Philosophy, botanist-gardener, mother, loyalist to an English culture, ideal mother and wife, for all that tolerance of me learned in Dartington Hall. I thank all of OUP, starting with Peter Momtchiloff and Ellie Collins, who are on hand. They and their predecessors have waited 24 years for this book. All of them served an author's needs to the extent that that is compatible with the high purposes of the greatest of academic publishers.
Thank you too for listening along.