Actual Consciousness: Database, Physicalities, Theory, Criteria, No Unique Mystery                                                                                                   22 Jan 2015

Ted Honderich                                                                             


(i) Is disagreement about consciousness largely owed to no adequate initial clarification of the subject, to people in fact answering different questions – despite five leading ideas of consciousness? (ii) Your being conscious in the primary ordinary sense, to sum up a wide figurative database, is initially clarified as something’s being actual – clarified as actual consciousness. (iii) Philosophical method like the scientific method includes transition from figurativeness to literal theory or analysis. (iv) A new theory will also satisfy various criteria not satisfied by many existing theories. (v) The objective physical world has specifiable general characteristics including spatiality, lawfulness, being in science, connections with perception, and so on. (vi) Actualism, the new literal theory or analysis of actual consciousness, deriving mainly from the figurative database, is that actual consciousness has counterpart but partly different general characteristics. Actual consciousness is thus subjectively physical. So physicality in general consists in objective and also subjective physicality. (vii) Consciousness in the case of perception is only the dependent existence of a subjective external physical world out there, often a room. (viii) But cognitive and affective consciousness, various kinds of thinking and wanting, differently subjectively physical, is internal -- subjectively physical representations-with-attitude, representations that also are actual. They differ from the representations that are lines of type, sounds etc. by being actual. (ix) Thus they involve a subjectivity or individuality that is a lawful unity. (x) Actualism, both an externalism  and an internalism, does not impose on consciousness a flat uniformity, and it uniquely satisfies the various criteria for an adequate theory, including naturalism. (xi) Actual consciousness is a right subject and is a necessary part of any inquiry whatever into consciousness. (xii) All of it is a subject for more science, a workplace. (xiii) There is no unique barrier or impediment whatever to science, as often said, no want of understanding of the mind-consciousness connection (Nagel), no known unique hard problem of consciousness (Chalmers), no insuperable difficulty having to do with physicality and the history of science (Chomsky), no arguable ground at all for mysterianism (McGinn).


       You are conscious just in seeing this room you are in, conscious in an ordinary sense. That is not to say what is different and more, that you are seeing or perceiving the room, with all that can be taken to involve, including facts about your retinas and visual cortex. To say you are conscious just in seeing this room is not itself to say, either, what is often enough true, that you are also attending to the room or something in it, fixing your attention on it.
       You are now conscious, secondly, in having certain thoughts, about what you are reading.
       Likely you are conscious, thirdly, in having certain feelings, maybe the hope that everything is going to be clear as a bell in the next half-hour, maybe in intending to say so if it isn't.
       What are those three states, events, facts or things? What is their nature? What is the best analysis or theory of them? What is what we can call perceptual consciousness, cognitive consciousness, and affective consciousness?
       There is also another question, as pressing. What is common to the three states, events or whatever? What is this consciousness in general? What is the kind of state, event or whatever of which perceptual, cognitive, and affective consciousness are three parts, sides, or groups of elements? As I shall be remarking later in glancing at existing theories of consciousness, the known main ones try to answer only the general question. But can you really get a good general answer without getting a particular answer or two?
       These are the questions of a line of inquiry and argument in a large book which sure asks for a very dogged reader (Honderich, 2014), a book of which this lecture is the short story. We can ask the three particular questions and the general question, as we shall, in mainstream philosophy. That in my view is certainly not ownership of, but a greater concentration than that of science on, the logic of ordinary intelligence: (i) clarity, usually analysis, (ii) consistency and validity, (iii) completeness, (iv) generalness. Is it safe enough to say, then, that philosophy is thinking about facts as distinct from getting them?
       Another preliminary. There are ordinary and there are other related concepts of things, ordinary and other senses of words -- say stipulated or technical ones. Let us ask, as you may have taken me to have been implying already, what it is to be conscious generally speaking in the primary ordinary sense, in what a good dictionary also calls the core meaning of the word -- and what it is to be conscious in each of the three ways in the primary ordinary sense. Do you ask if that is the right question? Assume it is and wait for an answer in the end.
       We have what John Searle rightly calls a common sense definition (1992, 83-4; 2002, 7, 21), something he calls unanalytic, of what seems to be this ordinary consciousness -- presumably must be of ordinary consciousness since it is common sense. This consciousness in the definition is states of awareness that we are in except in dreamless sleep. That has the virtue of including dreaming in consciousness, which surprisingly is not a virtue of all definitions, notably an eccentric Wittgensteinian one (Malcolm, 1962). But how much more virtue does Searle’s common sense definition have? Awareness obviously needs defining as much as consciousness. Certainly there seems to be uninformative circularity there.
       Each of us also has something better than a common sense definition. Each of us has a hold on her or his individual consciousness. That is, each of us can recall now the nature of something a moment ago, perceptual consciousness of the room, or a thought, or a feeling. I guess that is or is part of what has been called introspection, and doubted because it was taken as a kind of inner seeing, and people or subjects in psychology laboratories being asked to do more with it than they could. Forget all that. We can be confident right now that each of us can recall that event or state of consciousness a moment ago, say the look of a thing or a passing thought or an urge, say of psychology laboratories.
       There are lesser and greater pessimisms about our answering the general question of consciousness. Greater pessimists have included Noam Chomsky (1975, 1980, otherwise unpublished material in Lycan 2003b), Thomas Nagel (1974, 1998, 2015), David Chalmers (1995a, 1995b, 1996) -- and Colin McGinn (1989b, 1991b, 1999a, 2002, 2004a, 2012), who began by saying we have no more chance of getting straight about consciousness than chimps have of doing physics, but ended up by seeming to say a lot less.
       Here is a first question for you, a first piece of this lecture. Are those pessimisms and also, more importantly, the great seeming disagreement about what consciousness is, a pile of conflicting theories in philosophy, neuroscience, cognitive science and psychology, owed at least significantly to one fact? Are they owed to the fact that there has not been agreement on what is being talked about, no adequate initial clarification of the subject matter, but people talking past one another, not asking the same question? In a sense, of course, that is not disagreement at all, but a kind of confusion.
       So far and still more hereafter, by the way, indeed as before now, this lecture is a sketch of a sketch – a bird’s-eye view with the bird flying high and fast. I worry that someone once said to Professor Quine of Karl Popper that Popper lectured with a broad brush, to which Quine mused in reply that maybe he thought with one too.
       I say there are five leading ideas of consciousness. They are about qualia, something it's like to be a thing, subjectivity, intentionality, and phenomenality. Fly over them with me.
       Qualia  Dan Dennett (1992) says qualia are the ways things seem to us, the particular personal, subjective qualities of experience at the moment. Nagel (1974) says qualia are features of mental states. Very unlike Dennett, he says it seems impossible to analyse them in objective physical terms, make sense of them as objectively physical. Ned Block (1995a, 380-1, 408) has it that they include not only experiential properties of sensations, feelings, perceptions, wants, and emotions. They are also such properties of thoughts, anyway our thoughts that are different from the sort of thing taken to be the functioning of unconscious computers -- computation or bare computation (1995a, 380-1, 408). Others disagree in several ways with all that.
       Do we get an adequate initial clarification of the subject of consciousness here? No. There is only what you can call a conflicted consensus about what qualia are to be taken to be. In this consensus, worse, one thing that is very widely assumed or agreed. Qualia are qualities of consciousness, not what has the qualities, consciousness itself, maybe its basic or a more basic quality. Another thing mostly agreed is by itself fatal to the idea of an adequate initial clarification -- that qualia are only part of consciousness. There's the other part, which is propositional attitudes  - related or primarily related to my cognitive consciousness.
       Something it's like to be a thing  That idea of Nagel in his paper 'What It's Like To Be a Bat' (1974), however stimulating an idea, as indeed it has been, is surely circular. Searle in effect points to the fact when he says we are to understand the words in such a way that there is nothing it is like to be a shingle on a roof (1992, 132; 1999, 42). What we are being told, surely, is that what it is for something to be conscious is for there is something it is like for that thing to be conscious. What else could we being told? Also, you can worry, no reality is assigned to consciousness here. Can there conceivably be reality without what Nagel declined to provide in his paper, an assurance of physicality?
       Traditional or familiar subjectivity   Here, whatever better might be done about subjectivity, and really has to be done, and as we can try to do, there is circularity. Consciousness is what is of a subject, which thing is understood as a bearer or possessor of consciousness. There is also obscurity. Further, a subject of this kind is a metaphysical self. Hume famously saw off such a thing, didn't he, when he reported that he peered into himself and could not espy his? (1888, 252)
       Intentionality. The idea was brought into circulation by the German psychologist Brentano in the 19th Century and has as its contemporary defender and developer Tim Crane. It is sometimes better spoken of as aboutness, where that is explained somehow as also being the puzzling character of lines of type, spoken words and images. There is the great problem that when intentionality is made clear enough by way of likeness to such things, it is evident that it is only part of consciousness. As is often remarked, it leaves out aches and objectless depression. Crane argues otherwise, valiantly but to me unpersuasively (1998a; 2001, 4-6; 2003, 33).
       Phenomenality. Block himself speaks of the concept of consciousness as being hybrid or mongrel, and leaves it open whether he himself is speaking of consciousness partly in an ordinary sense (2007h, 159, 180-1). He does concern himself, certainly, with what he calls phenomenal consciousness, as does David Chalmers (1996). This is said by Block, not wonderfully usefully, to be 'just experience', just 'awareness'. Circularity. I add in passing that he takes there to be another kind of consciousness, access consciousness, which most of the rest of us recognise as an old and known subject, what we still call unconscious mentality, only dispositions, maybe related brain-workings. Here, I remark in passing, is a first and striking instance of philosophers or scientists definitely not meaning the same thing in speaking of consciousness as other philosophers or scientists. Nagel sure wasn’t on about access consciousness -- or what has it as a proper part. How many more instances do we need in support of that idea about what disagreement about consciousness is largely owed to?
       A last remark or two about the five ideas. It is notable that Chalmers (1996, 4-6, 9-11) takes them all to come to the much the same thing, one thing, to pick out approximately the same class of phenomena. He is not alone in that inclination. But evidently the ideas are different. Certainly the essential terms aren't what he calls synonyms. And is it not only the case that none of the five ideas provides an adequate initial clarification of consciousness, but also that a comparison of them in their striking variety indicates immediately the absence and lack of a common subject? 


       Is confession good for a philosopher's soul? Well, it might help out with your getting an early idea of a lecture.
       I sat at in a room in London's Hampstead some years ago and said to myself stop reading all this madly conflicting stuff about consciousness. You're conscious. This isn't Quantum Theory, let alone the bafflement of moral and political truth. Just answer the question of what your being conscious right now is, or for a good start, more particularly, just say what your being conscious of the room is, conscious just in seeing the room. Not thinking about just seeing, or attending to something in it. Not liking it or whatever. You know the answer in some sense, don't you? You've got the hold.

        The answer in my case, lucky or unlucky, was that my being conscious was the fact of the room being there, just the room being out there. Later on, as you will be hearing, I preferred to say that a room was being there.
       You will be more reassured, I'm sure, to hear that that I do not just discard all that philosophy and science of mind just glanced at -- the five leading ideas, and a lot more. On the contrary, it must be that there is something in it all. It's hard to have a view about the value of consensus in philosophy, or in science, about what you can call democracy about truth. But who can say there isn't any value at all? If you go through the philosophy on qualia, what it's like, subjectivity, intentionality, and phenomenality, you can get to what is the first of the main things in this lecture.
       You find all those philosophers and scientists using certain terms and locutions -- certain conceptions. Suppose, as you very reasonably can, that they or almost all of them are talking about consciousness in the primary ordinary sense. They think about it in a certain way, have certain concepts, use certain language for it.  Further, and of course very importantly, this is shared with philosophers and scientists otherwise concerned with consciousness and with what they call the mind. I am pretty confident that it is shared with you.
       If you put together the terms and locutions you get what we can certainly call data. You get a database. It is that in the primary ordinary sense, in any of the three ways, your being conscious now is the following:
the having of something, something being had -- if not in a general sense, the general sense in which you also have ankles,
hence something being held, possessed or owned,
your seeing, thinking, wanting in the ordinary active sense of the verbs,
hence the experience in the sense of the experiencing of something,
something being in contact, met with, encountered, or undergone,
awareness of something in a primary sense,
something being directly or immediately in touch,
something being apparent,
something not deduced, inferred, posited, constructed or otherwise got from something else,
something somehow existing,
something being for something else,
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 at least involves 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, which is different,
something being shown, revealed or manifest, 
something being transparent in the sense of being unconveyed by anything else,
something clear straight-off,
something being open,
something being close,
an occurrent or event, certainly not only a disposition to later events,
something real,
something being vividly naked,
something being right there,
in the case of perception, the openness of a world.
       That, I say to you, is data, and I sure bet you it exists in other languages than English. We can await reassurance from the Germans and no doubt even the French. Probably Latvians. It is a database. To glance back at and compare it to the five leading ideas, it's not a mediaeval technical term in much dispute, or a philosopher's excellent apercu but still an apercu, or a familiar or traditional idea or kind of common talk, or an uncertain truth based on a few words and images, or an uncertainty about a consciousness that seems to slide into unconsciousness.
       Without stopping to say more about the database, except that in character it has to do with both existence and a relationship, is both ontic and epistemic, we can of course note that certainly it is figurative or even metaphorical. To say consciousness is given is not to say it's just like money being given.

        There is an equally figurative encapsulation of it all, which I will be using. It is that being conscious in the primary ordinary sense is something being actual – which certainly isn’t open to the objection of circularity. We can also say that what we have is an initial conception of primary ordinary consciousness as being actual consciousness. Can we follow in the history of so much science by starting from but getting beyond metaphor and the like?
       This start immediately raises two general questions. What is actual with this consciousness? And what is it for whatever it is to be actual? And, remembering that this consciousness has three parts, sides or groups of elements, there are the questions of what is actual and then what the actuality is with each of perceptual, cognitive and affective consciousness.
       So the first two criteria – of eight -- for an adequate theory or analysis of ordinary consciousness, for a literal account of its nature, is the theory's giving answers to those questions about (1) what is actual and (2) what its being actual comes to. Certainly we have to get to the absolutely literal.
       We will get to better answers, however, if we look at a few other things first.
       It is prudent, whether or not required by a respect for consensus, for democracy about truth, to consider existing dominant theories of anything. If you take the philosophy and science of consciousness together, certainly the current philosophy and science of mind, you must then consider abstract functionalism and its expression in cognitive science -- computerism about consciousness and mind, which of course might be or anyway might have been right.
       Could it be that abstract functionalism is usefully approached in a seemingly curious way, approached by way of what has always been taken as an absolute adversary, traditional dualism, including spiritualism, which goes back a long way, to before Descartes? This dualism, often taken as benighted, is the proposition that the mind is not the brain. That, in a sentence only slightly more careful, is to the effect that all consciousness is not physical. There are, of course, reputable and indeed leading philosophers and scientists of mind who are in some sense dualists. Chalmers is one (1996, 2009). There are other more metaphysically explicit dualists, including Howard Robinson (1993, 2003, 2012). Has Block been a fellow traveller? (1995a, 2007a, 2007b)
       You may excuse me saying of dualism, since I have a lot of my own fish to fry, that it has the great recommendation of making consciousness different in kind, which it sure is. And that it has the great failing of making it not a reality. It shares that fatal failing with abstract functionalism. The old metaphysics and the reigning general science of the mind fall together. But your being conscious, rather, for a start, is something with a history that began somewhere and will end somewhere. Who now has the nerve to say it is out of space? It is now real. It now exists. It's a fact. Evidently all this is bound up with the clearer and indeed dead clear truth that consciousness has physical effects, starting with lip and arm movements. This is only denied in Australia, where the sun is very hot. Elsewhere there is the axiom of the falsehood of epiphenomenalism. But, however, to go back to the first point, as the dictionary says mind is somehow different from matter -- or from some or much matter.
       There is no more puzzle about what, in general, abstract functionalism is, even if the elaboration of it in cognitive science has been rich. Abstract functionalism is owed to a main premise and a large inspiration.
       The large inspiration is that we do indeed identify and to an extent distinguish types of things and particular things in a certain way -- by their relations, most obviously their causes and effects. We do this with machines like carburettors, and with our kidneys, and so on, and should do it more with politicians and our hierarchic democracy. The premise, more important now, is the proposition that one and the same type of conscious state somehow goes together with or anyway turns up with different types of neural or other physical states. This is the premise of what is called multiple realizability. We and chimps and snakes and conceivably computers can be in exactly the very same pain that goes with quite different physical states. You can doubt that. I sure do, for several reasons.
But my own short story of abstract functionalism, my own objection, is that a conscious state or event is itself given no reality in this theory that allows it to be only a cause of actions etc. It does go together with traditional dualism in this respect, and is therefore to me as hopeless. There is a place within other and very different theorizing for what you can call physical functionalism, which is better, partly because it puts aside multiple realizability, which has been too popular by half. But that too is not a subject for right now.

       There are more existing theories and sorts of theories of consciousness than dualism and abstract functionalism. Note that like dualism and abstract functionalism, they make the nature of consciousness uniform or at least principally or essentially or primarily uniform as, incidentally, do the five leading ideas -- despite our own initial division of consciousness into the perceptual, cognitive and affective kinds, sides, or groups of elements.
       My own list of existing theories and sorts of theories has on it Non-Physical Intentionality and Supervenience, notably the work of Jaegwon Kim (2005), Donald Davidson's Anomalous Monism (1980), the mentalism of much psychology and science as well as philosophy that runs together conscious and unconscious mentality, Block's mentalism in particular, naturalism, the dominant representational naturalism of which there are various forms, such aspectual theories as Galen Strawson's panpsychism and double aspect theory, Bertrand Russell's Neutral Monism, the different physicalisms of  Searle, Dennett, and of neuroscience generally, the Higher Order Theory of Locke and David Rosenthal, the audacity of the Churchlands seemingly to the effect that it will turn out in a future neuroscience that there aren't any beliefs or desires (1986, 1988), the wonderful elusiveness of quantum theory consciousness, which is certainly a case of the explanation of the obscure by the more obscure, and the previous externalisms -- Hilary Putnam (1975c), Tyler Burge (2007, 2010), Alva Noe (2006, 2009a), and Andy Clark (2013).
       I save you consideration of and incidental objections to these existing theories of consciousness, and say only a few things.
       One is that while all of these theories are crucially or at least centrally concerned one way or another with the physical, physical reality, they do not slow down to think about it. They do not come close to really considering what it is, going over the ground. Was that reasonable? Is it reasonable? Shouldn't we get onto the ground, walk around there for a while? Be pedestrian?
       And just in passing, for the last time, do these theories concern themselves with the same question? For a start, was Non-Physical Supervenience about the same question of consciousness that representational naturalism or neuroscientific physcalism was about? Surely not.
       A third thing is important, indeed crucial, for anyone who believes, as I do, despite such original tries as Frank Jackson's (1986), there are no proofs of large things in philosophy, which is instead a matter of comparative judgement between alternatives. The thing is that a good look through those various theories gives us more criteria for a decent theory or analysis of consciousness -- additional to answers to the questions you’ve heard of (1) what is actual and (2) what the actuality comes to. Also criteria additional to two others already announced to you, that a decent theory of consciousness will indeed have to recognize and explain (3) the difference of consciousness from all else and (4) the reality of consciousness and the connected fact of its being causally efficacious -- maybe several-sided difference and several-sided reality.
      A further condition of adequacy is (5) something just flown by so far in this talk -- subjectivity, some credible or persuasive unity with respect to consciousness, something quite other than a metaphysical self or homunculus. Another condition is (6) the three parts, sides or kinds of elements of consciousness. It is surprising indeed that the existing general theories of consciousness do not include in their generality the distinctness of perceptual, cognitive and affective consciousness, as psychology did in the past and still does in practice -- and indeed as philosophy itself does when it is not focussed on the general question, but, say, thinking about perception. Another requirement  (7) is that of naturalism, essentially a relation to science. A last one (8) is of course the relation or relations of consciousness to a brain or other basis and to behaviour and also other relations.
       Something else I should provide here, since I know where this lecture is going, is a scandalously speedy reminder of the theories that are the externalisms. Putnam said meanings ain't in the head but depend on science. Burge cogently explained by way of arthritis in the thigh that mental states are individuated by or depend on external facts, notably those of language. Clark argued that representation with respect to consciousness is a matter of both internal and external facts – minds are extended out of our heads. Noe theorizes that consciousness partly consists in acting.
       There is a very different externalism.

       To make a good start on or towards the theory we will call Actualism, think for just a few minutes, whether or not you now suppose this is a good idea, about the usual subject of the physical, the objective physical world. The existing theories of consciousness, from dualism and abstract functionalism to the externalisms, do one way or another include presumptions about or verdicts on consciousness having to do with physicality -- by which they always mean and usually say objective physicality. I ask again whether they are to be judged for their still passing by the subject. I hope so.
       Anyway, having spent some time on that database, and flown over a lot of existing uniform theories of consciousness, and put together the criteria for an adequate theory or analysis of consciousness, let us now spend even less time on the objective physical world, on what it is for something to be objectively physical. If there are a few excellent books on the subject, notably those of Herbert Feigl (1967) and Barbara Montero (1999, 2001, 2009), it is indeed hardly considered at all by the known philosophers and scientists of consciousness. Or they take a bird’s-eye view, far above a pedestrian one. I’m for walking around, going over the ground. Not that it will be done here and now.
       Here let me just report convictions or attitudes of mine owed to a respect for both science and philosophy. I abbreviate what is a substantial inquiry in itself into the objectively physical, the objectively physical world. I boil it down into a fast checklist of characteristics. They are properties that can be divided into those that can be taken as having to do with physicality, the first nine, and those having to do with objectivity, the other seven.
       1. Objective physical properties are the properties that are accepted in science, or hard or harder science.
       2. They are properties knowledge of which is owed or will be owed to the scientific method, which method is open to clarification.
       3. They are properties that are spatial and temporal in extent, certainly not outside of space and time.
       4. Particular physical properties stand in lawful connections, most notably causal connections, with other such properties. Two things are in lawful connection if, given all of a first one, a second would exist whatever else were happening. Think about that truth dear to me some other time (Honderich, 1988).
       5. Categories of such properties are also lawfully connected.
       6. The physical macroworld and the physical microworld are in relations to perception, diffent relations -- the second including deduction.
       7. Macroworld properties are open to different points of view.
       8. They are different from different points of view.
       9. They include, given a defensible view of primary and secondary properties, both kinds of properties.
       And, to consider objectivity rather than physicality, the properties of the objective physical world have the following characteristics.
       10. They are in a sense or senses separate from consciousness.
       11. They are public -- not in the consciousness of only one individual.
       12. Access to them, whether or not by one individual, is not a matter of special or privileged access.
       13. They are more subject to truth and logic than certain other properties.
       14. To make use of the idea of scientific method for a second time, their objectivity, like their physicality, is a matter of that method.
       15. They include no self or inner fact or indeed unity or other such fact of subjectivity that is inconsistent with the above properties of the objective physical world.
       16. There is hesitation about whether objective physicality includes consciousness.
       So very much more could be said about all that. You will be hearing about two counterparts to this checklist. It will guide us in two other locales.

       Here and elsewhere it comes to mind to remark that philosophy is as alive and good and with as much future as science -- since I do conjecture it is thinking more about facts as distinct from getting them. A good idea not get out of sight of facts, needless to say.  We won't.

       On we go now from that database, the encapsulation of it, the pile of theories of consciousness, the criteria, and objective physicality. It seems to me and maybe others that if we learn from the existing pile of theories of consciousness and the resulting criteria, and to my mind the plain thinking about physicality, we need to make an escape from the customary in the science and philosophy of consciousness. There is a fair bit of agreement about that. McGinn is one who really declares the need for something new (1989, 2002, 2004a, 2012).
      We need to pay our very own attention to consciousness, some untutored attention. We do not need to turn ourselves into what psychologists used to call naive subjects or to demote ourselves to membership of the folk -- of whom I am inclined to believe that they are distinguished by knowing quite a few large truths about consciousness. We do need to concentrate, for a good start, on those two general and main questions at which we have arrived and respond to them directly out of our holds on being perceptually conscious. Here is an anticipation, in awful brevity, of what seems to me the right response.
       What is actual for me now with respect to my perceptual consciousness, my perceptual consciousness as distinct from my cognitive and affective consciousness, is only the room, what it will indeed turn out to be sensible to call a room, but a room out there in space, a room as definitely out there in space as anything at all is out there in space. God knows it’s not a room in my head. Anyway I know.
       Yes, what is actual with you and me now, so far as perceptual consciousness is concerned, is a room, most certainly not a representation of a room or any such thing whatever, called content or whatever else -- no matter what part representations play in unconscious mentality. We can all very well indeed tell the difference between a sign of any sort and a thing that isn't one. Perceptual consciousness is not just or even at all about that room, but in short is that room. 

       No metaphysical self is actual either, or direction or aboutness, or any other philosophical or funny stuff. What is actual is a subjective physical world in the usual sense of a part of the thing. Saying so is comparable to familiar talk of being in touch with the world as ordinarily thought of, or the objective physical world, in virtue of being in touch with a part of it. There is reason for the rhetoric, perfectly literal sense to be given to it.
       Is a subjective physical world, since not a world inside your head, just a phantom world? Is it insubstantial, imaginary, imagined, dreamed up? If you are caught in a good tradition of philosophical scepticism, maybe scepticism gone off the deep end, and feel like saying yes, making me feel sorry for you, hang on for a while. Hold your horses. This is philosophy in English, not deep, not literary, not evocative, not deep.
       What about question 2? What is a room's being actual
       It is indeed its existing in a way not at all metaphorical or otherwise figurative, but a way to be very literally specified -- ways guided by what was said of the objective physical world. This existence of a room is partly but not only a matter of a room's occupying that space out there and lasting through some time, and of its being in lawful connections including causal ones within itself, and of two great lawful dependencies that mainly distinguish this way of existing in particular.
       The first dependency is the lawful categorial dependency of what is actual on what we have just inquired into or anyway glanced at, the objective physical world, or rather on parts or pieces or stages of the objective physical world we ordinary speak of perceiving, whatever that perceiving really comes to. The second dependency with my world is a dependency on my objective properties as a perceiver, neural properties and location for a start. Note in passing that this clarifies something mentioned before, the both epistemic and ontic character of our database.
       So my being perceptually conscious now is the existence of a part or piece or stage of a sequence that is one subjective physical world, one among very many, as many as there are sets of perceivings of single perceivers. These myriad worlds are no less real for there being myriads of them and for their parts being more transitory than parts of the objective physical world. Myriad and momentary things in the objective physical world do not fail to exist on account of being myriad and momentary. I speak of a room, of course, not at all to diminish it or to allow that it is flaky, but mainly just to distinguish it from that other thing.
      Subjective physical worlds and their parts or whatever are plain enough states of affairs or circumstances, ways things or objects are, sets of things and properties. These subjective worlds are a vast subset, the objective physical world being a one-member subset, of course of many parts, of the single all-inclusive world that there is, the physical world, that totality of the things that there are. Here is a summary table of these and other facts. It also covers what we will be coming to, cognitive and affective consciousness.

                    A TABLE OF PHYSICALITIES


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  SUBJECTIVE PHYSICALITY                    

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SUBJECTIVE  PHYSICAL WORLDS: Perceptual Consciousness


SUBJECTIVE  PHYSICAL  REPRESENTATIONS: Cognitive and Affective Consciousness












in the inventory of science

in the inventory of science


in the inventory of science


open to the scientific method

open to the scientific method


open to the scientific method


in space and time

in space and time


in space and time


in particular lawful connections

in particular lawful connections


in particular lawful connections


in categorial lawful connections

in categorial lawful connections, including those with the objective physical world and the conscious thing


in categorial lawful connections, including those with the objective physical world and the conscious thing


macroworld perception, microworld deduction

constitutive of macroworld perception


not perceived, but dependent on macroworld perception


more than one point of view with macroworld

more than one point of view with with perception


no point of view


different from different points of view

different from different points of view


no differences from points of view


primary and secondary properties

primary and secondary properties


no primary and secondary properties












separate from consciousness

not separate from consciousness


not separate from consciousness







common access

privileged access


privileged access


truth and logic, more subject to

truth and logic, less subject to?


truth and logic, less subject to


open to the scientific method

open to the scientific method despite doubt


open to the scientific method despite doubt


includes no self or unity or other such inner fact of subjectivity inconsistent with the above properties of the  objective physical world

each subjective physical world is an element in an individuality that is a unique and large unity of lawful and conceptual dependencies including much else


each representation is an element in an individuality that is a unique and large unity of lawful and meaningful dependencies including much else


hesitation about whether objective physicality includes consciousness

no significant hesitation about taking the above subjective physicality as being that of actual perceptual consciousness


no significant hesitation about taking this subjective physicality as being the nature of actual cognitive and affective consciousness


        Just attend, first, to the left hand column of the table. You will not need telling again that it summarizes what was said earlier of objective physicality.  Subjective physical worlds, our present concern, characterized in the middle column, are one of two subsets of subjective physicality. All of that subjective physicality, like objective physicality, as already remarked, is a subset of physicality in general. You will know that I pass by an awful lot of stuff in the table and in all of what I have to say here in my hour. Very broad brush.
       Subjective physical worlds are about as real, if differently real, I repeat, in pretty much the sum of decent senses of that wandering word, as the objective physical world, that other sequence. In one sense, subjective physical worlds are more real -- as in effect is often enough remarked, but pass that by. All this is so however and to what limited extent the objective physical world is related to subjective physical worlds. It is because of the dependencies on the objective physical world and also on perceivers, and for another specific and large reason to which we will come, about subjectivity or rather individuality, that these perceived worlds rightly have the name of being subjective.
       You can say, then, that my being perceptually conscious now just is and is only a particular existence of something like what most of the leading ideas of consciousness and the existing theories of consciousness half-seem to take or may take perceptual consciousness merely to be of or about, say a room. They also take perceptual consciousness to be a lot more than just the existence of a room. Evidently the characteristics of subjective physical worlds clarify and contribute content to what was said earlier of the epistemic and ontic character of our data as to ordinary consciousness.
       If you fancy aphorisms, you can also say about perceptual consciousness that  the philosopher Bishop Berkeley wasn't near to right in saying esse est percipi, that to be is to be perceived. The better aphorism is to be perceptually conscious is for something in a way to be.
       In talking of subjective physical worlds, we're not discovering a new thing, a new category. We're just noting  and not being distracted from and using an old thing, putting it into a theory of perceptual consciousness, making a theory of perceptual consciousness from it and necessarily leaving other stuff out. There has certainly been talk and theory of some or other physical world being there for us, in the ordinary sense of a part of it being there. There's been talk of the world as experienced. There's one for you right now, isn't there? You're immediately in touch with one of those right now, aren't you? If this familiar fact doesn't give you a proof of Actualism with respect to perceptual consciousness, it's a very helpful pull in the right direction.
       So much for an anticipation of the main body of the theory of Actualism with respect to just perceptual consciousness, whatever is to be said about cognitive consciousness and affective consciousness -- including whatever is to be said of the beliefs and also the desires in which perceptual consciousness does not consist at all, but by which it is often accompanied or to which it commonly gives rise.

            To turn yet more cursorily to these second and third parts or sides of consciousness, what is actual with your cognitive consciousness, say your just thinking of your mother or the proposition of there being different physicalities, or your attending to this room or to something in it?

           My answer is that what is actual, we need to say, and absolutely all that is actual, is a representation or a sequence of representations. And what it is for it to be actual is for it to be subjectively physical, differently subjectively physical than with a room. Cognitive consciousness, further, is related to truth.  With respect to affective consciousness as against cognitive, say your now wanting a glass of wine, what is actual is also representation, subjectively physical, but related to valuing rather than truth. To come to these propositions, of course, is to come away entirely from the figurative to the literal.

           For both cognitive and affective consciousness, as already anticipated, see the the right hand columns of that table. Note in passing, not that the point is simple and without qualification, that given the differences between (1) perceptual consciousness and (2) cognitive and affective consciousness, we certainly do not have the whole nature of consciousness as uniform or principally or essentially or primarily uniform. That in itself is a recommendation of Actualism, a theory's truth to your hold of your consciousness. You know, for a start, how different consciousness in seeing is from thinking and wanting.

           If there is a lot of existing philosophical and scientific theory with respect to perceptual consciousness, maybe there is still more with respect to cognitive and affective consciousness. Since I am getting near the end of this lecturing hour, and discussion is better, here is no more than just a list of good subjects in another pile that you might want to bring up, a list of ten good subjects having to do with representation -- a list with just a comment or two added.

             Universal, Pure, and Other Representationism. My representationism, as you know from what has been said of actual perceptual consciousness, where there is no representation at all, is not universal representationism. As you will be hearing in a minute or two, it definitely is not pure. The representation in cognitive and affective consciousness necessarily is with something else, one element of the fact.
             Our Knowledge of Thinking and Wanting, Our Holds -- and the essential comparison with Linguistic Representations.
             Linguistic Representations -- a Simple Classification from the excellent work of Austin, Searle and others. A large and worthy subject on which we depend .
             Languages of Thought. A lot more than Jerry Fodor's single one, mentalese (1975, 2008), intriguing though it is -- a lot more starting with English . 
             Evolutionary Causalism, also known by other names, for example as Biosemantics and Teleological Semantics (Millikan, 1993; Papineau, 1987). Hopeless in my perhaps insufficiently humble view.
             Relationism or Computerism, with some physical rather than abstract functionalism in it. Also hopeless with actual consciousness. Hard to believe, by the way, that it has ever been a clear-headed answer to a clear question about anything like actual consciousness. 
             Lingualism as I call it -- philosophy of language applied to philosophy of mind. Must be part of the truth..
            The Durable Truth of Some Representationism or Other in the philosophy of mind. As already said, it has to be there somehow.
             Dependency, Convention, Unicorns, how conventions come about and so on – Searle again (1969, 1979, 1983, 2002, 2002a, 2010).

             His perfect Chinese Room Thought Experiment (1980a, 1980b, 1984, 1992, 2009) -- and whether it’s in fact also an argument for precisely Actualism. I myself will be saying so in a couple of minutes.

             So much for the list of subjects having to do with representation that you might want to bring up. I again say one negative thing in passing. As with functionalism, dualism and the raft of other theories we glanced at, all of these important subjects make or at least tend to make consciousness uniform, flatten it. It isn't flat.  

       Put up with just a few words more on some of that pile of subjects, the representational theories of and related to cognitive and affective consciousness. They admittedly do begin from reflection on our spoken and written language, English and the rest, linguistic representations, and in effect move on from that reflection to an account of conscious representation.

        I report that it seems to me that none of this by itself can work. Searle, admire him as I do, can't succeed in reducing any consciousness to only this. Representation is as true of a line of type as of your thought or want. That is just as true when nobody is thinking it. Absolutely plainly, there is a fundamental and large difference between (1) a line of print on a page or a sequence of sounds and (2) a conscious representation or a sequence of such things. The relation of a conscious representation to language is only part of the truth..
       Actualism saves the day.
The greatest of philosophers in our tradition, Hume, began or more likely continued a certain habit of inquiry when he was in a way frustrated in coming to an understanding of something, in his case cause and effect. 'We must...,' he said, 'proceed like those, who being in search of any thing, that lies concealed from them, and not finding it in the place they expected, beat about all the neighbouring fields, without any certain view or design, in hopes their good fortune will at last guide them to what they search for (1888, 77-8). Pity he didn't get to the right answer about cause and effect. But let me be hopeful in my own different endeavour. In fact I take it there is more than good reason for hope.
       Our maybe reassuring circumstance right now is that if we need to look in another field than the two-term relation of representation, we can in fact do that without going to a wholly new field. If we have to leave the field of thoughts and wants and of representation when it is understood as being somehow only a relation between the representation and what is represented, only a parallel to language, we can in fact do that, by way of another field that is not a new field.
       I mean we can stay right in and attend to the larger field that we've never been out of, always been in since before getting to cognitive and affective consciousness. In fact never been out of it since we began by settling our whole subject-matter of consciousness in general, since we settled on an initial clarification of consciousness in the primary ordinary sense -- consciousness as actual, actual consciousness. The smaller field is in the larger.
       Cognitive and affective consciousness, thoughts and wants, are not only representations as first conceived in relation to spoken and written language. They are not only such representations, most saliently propositional attitudes, attitudes to propositional contents, the latter being satisfied by certain states of affairs. Rather, thoughts and wants are such representations as have the further property of being actual. That is the burden of what I put to you. That is the fundamental difference between a line of print and conscious representations. Representational consciousness consists in more than a dyadic relation. It is not purely representational, not to be clarified by pure representationism.
       For the contents of that contention, you will rightly expect me to refer you again to that table -- to its list of the characteristics of subjective physical representations. The right-hand columns.
       Yes, questions and objections are raised by Actualism. One is prompted by the recent history of the philosophy of consciousness and some of the science of it. Supposedly sufficient conditions having to do with consciousness, it is claimed, fail to be such. Zombies could satisfy them, as Robert Kirk (2005, 2011) explained. Do you simply say about Actualism that exactly the conditions for consciousness now set out in Actualism -- say perceptual consciousness -- could be satisfied by something but the thing still wouldn't be conscious at all?
       There is a temptation to say a kind of replica of me or you that it could satisfy exactly the conditions specified and the replica wouldn't be conscious in the way we know about? That it would indeed be, in this different setting of reflection, just one of those things we’ve heard about in other contexts, a zombie ? Put aside the stuff in zombie theory about metaphysical possibility and all that, which I myself can do without pretty easily. Do you really say there could be something without consciousness despite it and the rest of the situation being exactly what actualism says is what being conscious consists in?
       Well, sometimes the best form of defence is counter-assertion because it is true.
       In the heatwave of the English summer of 2013, at a lunch table in a club, a medical man gave me a free opinion about diabetes. It led me, after reading up on the internet that the symptoms are thirst, tiredness, seeing less clearly and so on, to the seemingly true proposition about me that I had a lot of the symptoms. I fell into the illusion that I had diabetes -- the diabetes illusion.
      Think of my diabetes propositions about myself in relation to the 16 propositions on the checklist on the physicality of representations and hence on cognitive and affective consciousness, and the previous 16 counterparts with perceptual consciousness. Is it an illusion that our 16 propositions do not capture the nature of consciousness in its three sides? Is it an illusion that there is something else or more to consciousness? 

       If you fortitudinously do a lot of reading of what this lecture comes from, that labouring book with all the typos, will you share with me at least on most days the idea that a persisting elusiveness of perceptual consciousness really is itself an illusion? That it really is an illusion that there is more to consciousness than we have supposed, more that we have got hold of? I hope so. Keep in mind that there are more kinds of illusion than personal ones. There are illusions of peoples, cultures, politics, philosophy, and science. Hierarchic democracy for a start.

       Is it possible to say something more useful quickly about and against the more-to-consciousness illusion? Well, let me gesture at another piece of persuading. You need to keep in mind all of the characteristics of perceptual consciousness and the other two kinds of consciousness. But think right now just of our large fact of subjectivity. In Actualism, it is a unity that is individuality, akin to the living of a life. A long way from a ruddy homunculus. Think in particular of the large fact itself that your individuality includes and partly consists in nothing less than the reality now of a subjective physical world, certainly out there.

      Now add something pre-theoretical. It is pretty certain, and I'd say ordinary reflection proves it, if you need what you bravely and too hopefully call a proof, that there is at least strangeness about consciousness. Consciousness is more than just different. It is different in a particular and peculiar way. It is unique. When you really try to think of it, it pushes rather than just tempts you to a kind of rhetoric, in line with but beyond our database. Maybe you want to say consciousness somehow is a mesmerizing fact. 

     Actualism explains this, doesn’t it? Consciousness for Actualism is those things, is on the way to mesmerizing, because in its fundamental part it is no less than the existence of a world. Actualism has this special and I’d say great recommendation that goes against the temptation of the zombie objection. As noted in the table, you get a suitably whopping individuality with Actualism, which I have not slowed down to talk about. You get an individuality that brings in an individual world -- a real individual world not of rhetoric or poetry or Eastern mysticism but of plain propositions. It can be said, although the words aren't exact, that with Actualism you are a unity that includes the size of a world. That definitely isn't to leave something out.

       So Actualism rings true to me. It gets me somewhere with consciousness. I don't think that's because I'm too perceptually conscious, not cognitive enough.
       Do you now maybe entirely change your tune? I've known it to happen in seminars. Do you say that this externalism with perceptual consciousness isn't crazy, in need of exclamation marks, too rhetorical, circular, against good sense, strange, or in one of the other ways unsatisfactory? Those were more of Colin's McGinn's ideas (2007) about a premature predecessor of the present Actualism ( Do you say more or less the opposite -- that Actualism is old hat, or at least half or somehow old hat? That despite leaving uniformity behind what it comes to is philosophically some familiar idea -- the idea that perceptual consciousness has content, with the addition, no doubt already made by somebody else, maybe the acute Burge, that the content is external?
       Well, Actualism doesn't come to that, even with just perceptual consciousness before we get to the great difference of reflective and affective consciousness. What it comes to, in terms of a headline, is that the consciousness is the fact of an existence of the content -- a content properly and differently conceived and described. In place of perceptual consciousness as something internal in some relation to something external, no doubt some kind of representing relation, we have consciousness as something external in lawful connection with something else external as well as something internal. 

      And there's no more to the fact of being perceptually conscious than dependent external content. There's no vehicle or any other damned thing in a variety put up or glanced at by various philosophers, including a brain-connection, sense-data, aspects, funny self, direction or aboutness, a higher or second order of stuff, and so on and so forth. And none of that stuff except the existence of representation and attitude in cognitive or affective consciousness either.
       Do I have to try harder here? Will some tough philosophical character, maybe some lowlife psychologist, maybe even Ned Block or Dave Chalmers, say in their New York seminar that there is no news in all this verbiage? That Actualism is blunder from Bloomsbury? Will they say that it is a truism that we all accept already that the world, something close to the objective physical world as defined, is part of, maybe the main thing with, perceptual consciousness as somehow ordinarily understood -- with another main thing in the story of it being some kind of representation of it?
       Well, I don’t mind at all being in accord with some or other truism of this sort. But it would be strange to try to identify Actualism with it, try to reduce Actualism to it. Even crazy. Actualism is the contention that being perceptually conscious is itself precisely a defined existence of an external world, not the objective physical world. Actualism is absolutely not the proposition, say, that what the story of perceptual consciousness comes to is representation and also the objective physical world. It is not some proposition somehow to the effect that what perceptual consciousness comes to is some kind of represented world -- what by the way does indeed seem to be and deserves to be called exactly a kind of phantom world. 

      Actualism sure isn't Naive Realism either, which mainly has been just resistance to sense-data and all that, and to the effect that in perception we’re in some unexplained relation to the objective physical world. Actualism isn't any other externalism either -- Putnam or after. And of course we haven't just engaged in what is often called semantics -- just made a change to the standard use of a word for some purpose. We haven't just more or less arbitrarily transferred the noun 'consciousness' from a state in a perceiver or from a relation of that state to an outer thing -- arbitrarily transferred it to a kind of outer thing on the end of an explained relation. We began from a database, ploughed on with the logic of philosophy, and we have a different view of what is out there, its subjective physicality, and it has no unexplained relation or anything else unexplained to it.

    And to repeat once more just a word about cognitive and affective consciousness, not only is Actualism not a universal or monolithic representationism about consciousness generally, it isn't a pure representationism either where it is a representationism. As you've heard, cognitive and affective consciousness are not a matter just of representations. They are, to revert to the metaphor, a matter of actual representations.

       So we have seen something of the satisfying of two criteria for a decent theory or analysis of consciousness in the primary ordinary sense, which is to say that consciousness clarified as actual consciousness. That is, we have seen something of answers to the two questions of what is actual and what actuality is. There remain other criteria. I pass by or say no more about all that. I just put it to you that Actualism does very well with the criteria of reality and causation, difference in kind, subjectivity, the three sides of consciousness, naturalism, and the relations of consciousness.
      There is also the greater hope, as you know, that Actualism, despite not being Naive Realism, does make sense of Naive Realism -- which always seemed to have some sense in it despite uncertainty and the condescending labours on sense data of the Logical Positivist Freddie Ayer and those American allies. There is also the hope that Actualism liberates consciousness-science from a common hesitancy or tentativeness about consciousness. It does so partly by offering, in the brave way of philosophers and scientists who would be little Copernicuses, a whole different way of looking at things with perceptual consciousness. It does so, as much, by making all consciousness a matter of science's standard lawful connections (Honderich, 1988). There is no wisp of a ghost in this different machine, no fin de siecle lingering over what now needs to go into the past (cf. Nagel 2015 and Honderich 2015).

       It is my own attitude, then, that Actualism is a defeat of pessimism about understanding consciousness. More needs to be said about Chomsky in particular here, what he draws from the history of science – but that is for another day.

      There is no general mind-body problem at all, which is to say no unique general consciousness-brain problem. No unique hard problem in Chalmers’s well-known sense (1995a, 1995b, 1996). No mystery, no ground for McGinn’s mysterianism (McGinn various cited works; Flanagan 1991, Honderich 2014). Of course no reason at all for supposing that science can only deal with the ‘neural correlates’ of consciousness.

          All the connection with consciousness in question, and within consciousness, is the ordinary connection of natural law fundamental to all science. Whatever the lovely research challenges of the connections in actual consciousness, there is no more a general consciousness-brain problem than there is a mass-acceleration problem, or a general heater-etc-and-room-temperature problem, or a general problem of whether if everything goes OK from Muswell Hill onward a 24 bus ends up at London Bridge. 

     Of course Actualism is a fertile theory, indeed a workplace. It is a workplace for both science and philosophy -- it eschews both scientism and philosophism, the latter carried to an extreme by Wittgenstein, who should be better known than he is for the inane remark that 'no supposition seems more natural than that there is no process in the brain correlated with associating or thinking' (1967, 608). Neither science nor philosophy is merely John Locke's handmaiden of the other. Also, by the way, does Actualism make more than a contribution to an old chestnut, the subject that is determinism's consequences for our freedoms and responsibilities? Actualism gives us a standing, doesn't it, one that can save us from propounding uncausal free will or origination, gives us a standing first having to do with my being and your being a necessary condition of a subjective physical world?
       There remains a last matter for us now. Was ordinary consciousness in the primary ordinary sense, the core sense, the right consciousness to consider? My short answer can't be yes, since there is no possibility of showing that any consciousness is the right one.
       In the free world of philosophy, anyone can follow that crowd that considers the consciousness that in our terms consists in both (i) ordinary-consciousness mentality plus (ii) mentality that is not ordinary-consciousness mentality. People can be still freer and consider consciousness where it also includes such facts of perception as those having to do with retinas. They can, differently, just consider consciousness that consists in our perceptual consciousness plus the cognitive and affective consciousness that consists in the large fact of attention. They can consider, as many do, in my view fatally, consciousness in general without distinguishing our perceptual consciousness from our cognitive and affective consciousness.
       But one thing that can be said for our choice of ordinary consciousness is that no inquirer can leave out ordinary consciousness, of which we can have an adequate initial clarification. This consciousness must surely be, in fact it is, what serves to identify the other additions, most obviously the addition of the mentality that is not ordinary consciousness. This combined subject, and in particular the addition, needs to be distinguished from other explanations of behaviour, say gravity or mere musculature, and it cannot be distinguished without reliance on exactly ordinary consciousness. If Actualism is a defensible theory of ordinary consciousness, no general theory can leave it out. It is essential. I don’t think that is true of any other initial idea of consciousness.
       All these conclusions are the result not of proof, for which philosophy as against science is too hard (cf. Chalmers, 2015), but of a weight of argument and judgement. Actualism, I propose, is a case of satisfying Hume's hope for pieces of philosophy -- an inescapability of conclusions given prior acceptance of at least reasonable premises. 



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