WHAT IS CONSCIOUSNESS? WHAT IS IT FOR YOU TO BE CONSCIOUS RIGHT NOW?
A talk by Ted Honderich from his book Actual Consciousness to the University College London department of philosophy undergraduate philosophy society, Feb 2015.
Some theories or analyses of consciousness in general, the physicalisms, say all being conscious is just physical states of your brain. They say or mean physical in the scientific or objective sense. Say Dennett’s or Papineau’s theories. Other theories, dualistic or spiritual, some of them held by scientists, including Chalmers, say all being conscious is non-physical. There is also a lot more particular disagreement than that general kind – disagreement about particular theories.
Almost all theories of consciousness, as you will expect, are internalisms or cranialisms. They make the fact itself of your being conscious internal to your head.
There is no agreement at all about the ruck of theories, from mentalisms to neutral monism to panpsychism. Far from it. And there is great pessimism about our ever getting a true theory, solving the mystery of consciousness. See Block, Chalmers, Chomsky, Fodor, Nagel. And McGinn began by saying in his mysterianism that we have no more chance of solving the mystery of consciousness than a chimp has of doing Quantum Theory.
NEED FOR AN ADEQUATE INITIAL CLARIFICATION OF CONSCIOUSNESS?
We have our holds on our consciousnesses. Say your recalling right now being conscious in this way or that a moment ago. Say when you took in the end of my last sentence. Your recalling that fact. Something suspect called introspection? No, not inner seeing or anything else out of the 19th Century pyschology laboratories. Also, we have commonsense definitions of consciousness, one from Searle – if definitions with problems.
But is the disagreement about consciousness and the pessimism mainly owed to a lack of an adequate initial clarification of the subject? Asking different questions? Talking past one another? In fact, at bottom, not disagreeing about any one thing?
DO FIVE LEADING IDEAS GIVE ADEQUATE INITIAL CLARIFICATION?
Qualia – cf 18th Century sense data, now forgotten about by the philosophical cognoscenti? Impressions? In pure thought too? Only a conflicted consensus here. And qualia only part of consciousness, since there are also what are called propositional attitudes. And in any case qualia are only qualities of consciousness. What’s it?
Nagel: Something it's like for a thing to be that thing, say a bat? Circularity. It has to come, doesn't it, to what it is to be conscious is there being what it’s like to be conscious? No reality to consciousness either. Remember consciousness sinks boats.
Subjectivity, traditional -- metaphysical self or subject, inner person, homuculus. Circularity, obscurity.
Intentionality or aboutness, word-likeness -- Brentano to Crane. Ambiguity etc re objects of aboutness. Again only part of consciousness.
Phenomenality. Ned Block. Miscellany, obscurity. Consciousness left a ‘mongrel concept’.
Bundle of above items. Chalmers. Saying they’re all synonymous. Think about that twice.
In short, in all above, no adequate initial clarification.
Also, these ideas of all consciousness are uniform or flattening ideas -- no large distinctions remembered or made, despite the history of psychology and indeed philosophy and ordinary life, between consciousness in seeing, consciousness that is just thinking, and consciousness that is just such kinds of wanting as loving and intending -- perceptual, cognitive and affective consciousness.
Still -- real thoughts, impulses etc en passant in all the five leading ideas despite no adequate initial clarification. And more to be found in all philosophical talk and impulse about consciousness.
Those thoughts, impulses, etc make up a pile of linguistic and conceptual data. A database. Cf. the lesser significance of each of the five ideas. A database isn't just an apercu or a hand-me-down from history or a part in place of the whole.
Your being conscious now in the primary ordinary or core sense is:
the having of something, something being had,
hence something being held, possessed or owned,
your seeing, thinking, wanting in the ordinary active sense of the verbs,
the experience in the sense of the experiencing of something,
something being in contact, met with, encountered, undergone,
awareness of something, unattentive
something being directly or immediately in touch,
something being apparent,
something not deduced, inferred, posited, constructed, or got from something else,
something somehow existing,,
something being for something,
something being to something,
something being in view, on view, in a point of view,
something being open, provided, supplied,
something to which there is some privileged access,
in the case of perception, there being the world as it is for something,
what involves or is an object or content,
an object or content's coming to us straight-off,
something being given,
hence something existing and known,
something being present,
something being presented,
something being shown, revealed or manifest,
here and now,
something transparent in the sense of being unconveyed by anything else,
something clear straight-off,
something being open,
something being close,
an occurrent or event, not a disposition to such events,
something being vividly naked,
something being right there,
in the case of perception, the openness of a world,
CONSCIOUSNESS AS SOMETHING BEING ACTUAL
A figurative encapsulation, a kind of summary or anyway name of the above database, is that consciousness is something's being actual.
‘Actual consciousness’ can be the name of the consciousness so clarified.
The right subject for this evening? Certainly there are other possibilities -- say mentalism, what other people than the mentalists and probably you call both conscious and unconscious mentality.
Wait and see about the right subject.
BOTH DATABASE AND ENCAPSULATION METAPHORICAL OR AT LEAST FIGURATIVE
With consciousness something is had, but not in the sense that you have ankles.
Something is given, but not in the sense that a drink or a kiss is given. Figurative -- and so with much of the rest of the stuff.
But there has been well-known and well-studied progress in science itself, and intelligent inquiry generally, from figurative to wholly literal theory or analysis. Part of scientific method. Philosophy can take a lesson. It needs one.
SO FIRST TWO CRITERIA FOR GOOD THEORY/ANALYSIS OF CONSCIOUSNESS
Literal etc answer to What is actual?
Literal etc answer to Being actual is what?
MORE CRITERIA FROM STRENGTHS AND FAILINGS OF VARIOUS PARTICULAR THEORIES
By way of quick main examples, take another theory, abstract functionalism, the basis of cognitive science. Happens, by the way, to be = traditional dualism of mind and brain.
But it makes consciousness different, which it sure is.
And objective physicalism.
Makes consciousness real, first in the sense of being causal and so on – causal of what is physical, say arm movements and the boats going down. Doesn't make it different.
ALL CRITERIA OF AN ADEQUATE THEORY OR ANALYSIS OF CONSCIOUSNESS:
answer to What is actual?
answer to Being actual is what?
respects the difference in kind of consciousness from all else
respects the reality of this consciousness
includes some or other true subjectivity, including a credible or persuasive unity
attends to three parts, sides or kinds of elements of consciousness – as uniform, flattening theories don’t
naturalism - consciousness being a natural fact, in and of science
its relations to behaviour and to a brain or other basis and also other relations
OBJECTIVE PHYSICALITY – AND SUBJECTIVE PHYSICALITY – OR RATHER PHYSICALITIES
Both the figurative data and the criteria from other theories raise a question. What is it for something to be objectively or scientifically physical – in the objective physical world?
We need better and fuller and I think more pedestrian and less theoretical and general answers than in several good general books on physicality.
The table below is of a genus -- physicality in general, For the specie objective physicality see the left-hand column. A specie subjective physicality is on the right.
And then two sub-species of subjective physicality – subjective physical worlds and subjective physical representations – of which sub-species very different things are to be said.
Notice the columns are in two halves – one half above about physicality, one below about objectivity or subjectivity.
And notice line 5 in particular. Subjective physical worlds, one per perceiver, are lawfully dependent on both the objective physical world and on the conscious thing – on it neurally or the like.
/ / \
/ / \
ACTUALISM THEORY OF CONSCIOUSNESS: SATISFYING THE CRITERIA, ETC.
So, having had a look at the table, here are some thoughts you may have towards another theory of consciousness. Call it Actualism.
Criterion 1: What is actual with respect to your perceptual consciousness now, nothing else, is only a room – a subjective physical world, or more exactly a part or stage of one. As defined in the second column. Nothing else is actual, as may be taken to be falsely propounded or suggested by all past theories.
Not representations, ideas, sense data, a self, aboutness or intentionality, direction, inner structure, a higher order about a lower, or any other damned stuff in the contemporary philosophy of mind – indeed stuff that pretty well makes up that philosophy of mind.
So your perceptual consciousness is fundamentally an external fact, something external to you, out there – that is what it is, not what it is about or whatever. Never what you used to be tempted to philosophize about, a room in your mind. That's exactly what we're not on about.
Criterion 2: What it is for a room to be actual is for it to be subjectively physical – as explained in the middle column of the table.
Also Criterion 2: What it is for the representations of cognitive and affective consciousness including mental images to be actual is exactly also for them to be subjectively physical – if differently subjectively physical from subjective physical worlds. See the third column. Nothing more, nothing less.
So cognitive and affective consciousness, unlike perceptual consciousness, are internal or cranial.
In sum, what we have are the concordant likenesses and differences of two subjective physicalities v. objective physicality in the left hand column.
The theory, good or bad, is novel. Philosophical news isn’t always bad. Certainly it’s not what is called naive realism – as Freddie Ayer named that natural impulse in this very room before some sod cut it in half. I.e. our Actualism is definitely not the theory of unexplained direct access to objective physical things. I take it that that’s what Mike Martin of this department continues to be at work on.
Actualism includes an adequate fact of subjectivity – in fact an individuality, a living of a life. Not a metaphysical self, subject, homunculus or other such inner entity. A lawful unity of a subjective physical world and representations of cognitive and affective consciousness.
And no problem at all about relations, ‘e.g. the ‘mind-brain’ relation. All ordinary and clear lawful relations – what I try to explain in terms of whatever-else conditional statements in a book on determinism.
Pessimisms, e.g. Chomsky’s, about there no longer being a real idea of the physical in science, just escaped. No ‘hard problem’ at all, e.g. Dave Chalmers’s. No mystery at all. McGinn. We do an awful lot better than chimps at Quantum Theory.
Zombie objection to the Actualism Theory? Something could have all that stuff in columns 2 and 3 true of it without being conscious? Actualism, like some other theories, in fact just leaves out consciousness? A zombie could have the theory true of it? No, that is an illusion. Cf diabetes illusion. There can be shared illusions. Remember social illusions. Say conservatism.
Actualism is a reassurance and invitation to consciousness science.
The theory is unfinished, a work-place, for both science and philosophy. A fertile or pregnant theory.
Myriad physical worlds, one per perceiver, just too much? Science is chockful of myriads. Nothing suspicious about them.
Free Will problem spin-off via those subjective physical worlds. Free-willers want standing. We do have the standing of being necessary conditions of subjective physical worlds. Very little part-creators.
Consensus question in philosophy and science. Democracy of truth. Needs thinking about.
Actual consciousness the right subject? Well, the most right. Necessary to any subject of consciousness. Including any that includes unconscious mentality.
Theory proved? No. Philosophy is too hard for proof, harder than science. But Hume’s inescapability of conclusions given prior acceptance of at least reasonable premises?
Is the relocation of the fact of perceptual consciousness to out there too much for you? Is this the grandiosity of a would-be little-Copernicus? Cocky? No, say I.
The theory does follow necessarily or anyway OK-enough from reasonable premises.
Good evening and good luck with philosophy.