AND INNER TUBES
by Ted Honderich
This paper arose out
of a couple of invitations. One was to take part in a BBC radio program
with the physicist Roger Penrose, author of The Emperor's New Mind, who
somehow identifies consciousness with microtubules. The other
invitation was to take part in a bookshop debate with the philosopher
science David Papineau. The debate was on his book Introducing
Consciousness. The paper is a long review of the Papineau
book, but aims to have a more general relevance -- to scientized
Philosophy of Mind. It was published
in the Journal of
Consciousness Studies, Vol. 7, No. 7, which is the definitive
repository of the content. A predecessor of the paper was called
'Consciouness and Microtubules'.
Philosophy of the analytic kind and
physical science are endeavours and traditions of accredited
intelligence, with great leaders and strong supporters. They have for
centuries remained independent, often sceptical of one another. They
must have different virtues.
As it seems to me, the virtue
of philosophy is that it is logically more hard-headed than science.
virtue of science is that it knows a lot more about the empirical
nitty-gritty of the world and the ways it works. That philosophy is
logically more hard-headed has nothing to do with Formal Logic.
Philosophy is somewhat better at keeping its eye on the ball. When it
is good, it also does not beg questions or
operate with circular or elusive notions. It is not subjective in an
sense, doesn't run things together, separates things from the relations
are in, is explicit, is intolerant of nonsense, attends closely to
all of its propositions consistent, and so on and so forth.
The most prominent part of the current
Philosophy of Mind has been a little invaded by science, some say
infected, notably Cognitive Science but also physics. So long as it
remains philosophy at all, it is not greatly more empirical than it
was. It is somewhat more empirical. It has also been computerized --
subjected to the paradigm of computation -- and made curiously
speculative. Whatever it has gained, does it have less of the virtue of
philosophy generally? We can do with
a test case. One is provided by Introducing Consciousness by
This short book in a successful series
is a good one. You can put up with the drawings on every page, even the
quizzically intelligent expressions on the face of the woman butting
your reading-life who looks like the feminist Germaine Greer. Buy the
It sums up most of the current thinking about consciousness, from a
distance. Despite Germaine, sometimes hanging out with Descartes, you
see the wood for the trees.
A lot of imaginative neuroscience by
retired physicists and the like is reported at the end of the book.
Could your thought at this moment or your hopeful feeling be microtubules
? Those are indeed little tubes in your head and elsewhere in you,
making up the cytoskeletons which give cells their shape. Could your
feeling instead be that funny stuff in Quantum Theory -- the stuff
as having the consequence that Schrodinger's cat is neither definitely
nor definitely dead until and because someone has a look to see which?
Still, most of the book is pretty
typical of the prominent part of the current Philosophy of Mind. To the
question then -- is a little less of the virtue of philosophy generally
had by this kind of work? For a start, is there a bit too much
inclination to predispose us in a certain direction by several means
other than argument and evidence?
We are told -- all the page
numbers in what follows refer to Introducing Consciousness --
our subject is 'the felt nature of consciousness'. (p. 8) This is said
be exemplified by the pain of having a tooth drilled without an
anaesthetic and the look of a red rose (p. 3, p. 61). Our subject,
again, is the fact that 'conscious states feel a certain way',
'the feelings involved'. (p. 7, p. 21) We are concerned with
'something about experience' -- conceivably as distinct from experience
itself. (p. 14)
So is our subject an aspect or property
or side of consciousness generally? Better, a class of aspects,
one kind of ways in which conscious states are different from one
another? It can certainly sound as if this is the subject. It's feels
and looks. It's the side of consciousness directly or indirectly owed
to sensation and perception, including dreams. It's 'qualia' --
although that term so much heard in the recent Philosophy of Mind is
for some reason not used here.
Our real subject of course is not
an aspect or the like -- but the nature of consciousness, the
fundamental fact of it, as the title of the book rightly announces and
the author definitely says in other sentences. Still, the ambiguity
it does, with innocent persons who haven't sorted it out, is to
predispose them in the direction of a pile of materialistic doctrines
said to be about consciousness but which seem to almost all of us to
leave it out. The innocent persons, maybe including an author or two,
half-suppose it's not so bad if the doctrines just leave out an aspect
of consciousness -- this leaves it possible for the doctrines to be OK
about what really matters, OK about the nature of consciousness.
They need to see clearly that what the
pile seems to leave out is the real subject-matter, indeed the
only subject-matter on the agenda. Feels and looks is a
side-issue of course, because they aren't all of any conscious state,
and because there are perfectly good conscious states that don't
include any feels or looks at all, anyway any distinctive ones. There
aren't any of them discernible by me when I think that something called
Neural Functionalism is a mistake. Thinking in general, pure thinking
taken by itself, doesn't have feels and looks worth mentioning. Its
reality for us is something else.
Before coming on to a second piece of
predisposing, let us glance at a matter related to this first one. We
are often reminded in Introducing Consciousness of Thomas
Nagel's famous line (1979), anticipated by Timothy Sprigge (1971), that
something it is like to be a bat. There is something it is like to be
around by means of echo-location.
Are we also supposed to take it, more
generally, that all the states with feels and looks are ones such that
there exists what it is like to be in them? That we get a first
understanding of this particular side of consciousness in this way?
That the words do not just gesture at it, but are a start on analysing
Or, is talk of 'what-it's-likeness' (p. 15) to be taken as something
than gesturing at not just the side of consciousness, but the whole
nature of conscious states -- a first understanding or analysis of
Whether a side of consciousness or its
nature is in question, it can seem that in this talk there is little
advance in understanding, and much circularity instead. Saying that
there is something it's like to be a bat just comes to saying, doesn't
it, until more is said, that there is some kind of consciousness
have? But that is no analysis of their consciousness or anybody else's.
the words 'there is something it's like to be a bat' are being used in
extraordinary and more enlightening way, what is it?
As for saying about conscious states in
general that 'there is something it is like to be in them' -- doesn't
that come to saying, at best, that there is what it is like to be
conscious in them? That is no help as a definition of
consciousness. Again the term to be defined turns up in the definition.
Does the further mouthful that conscious
states are '"like something"', that there's something it's like to be
conscious, actually have to do with a comparison with something other
than conscious states in general? (p. 15) What could that thing
conceivably be? Presumably not the microtubules? They're not at all
like the conscious states in general. Presumably not, either, the
collapsing wave functions that
did in the cat because somebody had a look? The only sort of thing that
to mind as like, you can think, is conscious states additional
the conscious states in general. That is another circularity, as well
So the shepherd's flock needs protection
first from the idea that certain doctrines just leave out an aspect of
consciousness, a side-issue, and then from the idea that certain
mouthfuls are a start on an analysis of consciousness. They also need
protection from something else.
It is that the subject actually
in hand, the nature of consciousness, is in a certain way unimportant.
could fall into thinking it is something of which the best you can have
a 'subjective' view. (pp. 10-14) It's what's left over after you spend
on the important business of getting an 'objective' view of
consciousness. It's what escapes 'objective definition' because it's
'something ineffable'. (p. 8) So you'd better stick to thinking about
the objective side of things, starting with the brain itself. The
microtubules again. (p. 10, pp. 12-13, p. 127)
Well, so far as the given reason having
to do with this subjectivity is concerned, there's no need to
give up thinking about consciousness. It's not true, for example, that
to find the real nature of consciousness is trying to convey to
what nobody else can have, at least not yet, which is your own private
Whatever (probably temporary) obstacle there is in the way of that,
this particular fact of subjectivity comes to, the job in hand is
that of being objective about consciousness.
It is noticeable that no definition of
objectivity is supplied to us in Introducing Consciousness .
Could objective propositions be ones whose subject-matter can be seen
and touched by all of us, or at any rate more than one of us? That
have the intolerable upshot of making propositions about atoms
Could objective propositions just be the scientific ones of the age?
14) Well, if it really were true, surprisingly, that consciousness
could not now be investigated scientifically, would it follow that we
to give up the subject? Pretend that it doesn't exist, that we're real
Why should we do that, shepherd?
In fact, to cut this story short, a
useable definition of objectivity is one tied to common tests for
truth, and it makes the philosophical endeavour of trying to get to the
nature of consciousness exactly an objective business.
Something else lies behind this third
way and also the first way in which a shepherd can be careless with his
flock. Again it is something like an ambiguity. In fact our subject is
not four things. It is not consciousness + the purely neural or brain
that go with consciousness + the causes of consciousness + the effects
consciousness. But there is certainly a tendency in Introducing
Consciousness , as in so much current Philosophy of Mind, to think
that this large bundle is our subject. (p. 10, p. 13) There is a
tendency to regard consciousness itself as just an 'ingredient' in the
subject. (p. 7) There's 'the conscious pain' and the 'conscious visual
experience', so presumably there are also the other ones -- the neural
pain and the neural visual experience. (p.
1) There's the 'subjective' side of consciousness and there are the
Well, anybody can think of anything they
want, but if they are thinking about what we take to be consciousness
itself, they aren't thinking about the three other things. What
happens on my retinas, for a start, or in the world before it gets to
my retinas, is not part of my consciousness itself. We don't usually
run the four things together, although it's unkindly said without
we do, and certainly we don't have to. (p. 14)
The important point here is again not a
matter of argument strictly speaking. It is that people can drift into
thinking that a pile of materialistic doctrines is pretty good on
three-quarters of a subject -- and therefore that its not doing well
with the last bit, even missing it out, is tolerable. Just one
'ingredient' missing. But that's not the situation at all. If the
subject is supposed to
be and is said to be consciousness, and the pile leaves all of that
out, every last scintilla, the pile is a disaster, isn't it?. Even if
it's the cat's pajamas with respect to the three other quarters of a
When you get started on thinking that
you're clearing things up in the scientized Philosophy of Mind, it's
hard to stop. So let me tell you that when we stop being distracted by
the side of consciousness that is feels and looks, and give up the
mouthfuls about 'what-it's-likeness', and escape the stuff about mere
subjectivity, and also the four-part bundle, and are reading on
clear-headedly through Introducing Consciousness, something
else happens. When we are getting on fine, concentrating on the nature
of consciousness itself, Germaine butts in with some of her many
She lets us know, about this question of
what consciousness is, that in particular it is the question of 'how it
relates to scientific goings-on in the brain'. (p. 15) It's the
question of 'where the feelings come from'. (p. 21) It seems Germaine
wrote the jacket of the book too, which says it's all about 'the source
of conscious feelings', the 'relation between mind and matter'.
But if you go by the title, and if the
subject is consciousness, it's not necessarily about that
brain-consciousness relation at all. Suppose you believe, as all of us
do except in weak philosophical moments, that consciousness isn't the
cells of our bodies, neurons in particular. Then you've got to try to
say what it is. And this isn't at all the question of how it is related
to the cells, of its general source in them or dependency on them. I
couldn't get Sir Roger Penrose of the microtubules (1989, 1994), or his
ally Lord Bragg, to grant the difference in a radio programme. But it's
really there. It really is.
Of course you do answer the question of
how consciousness is related to the brain if you say it just is
the brain -- has only neural properties. But if you don't say that
about the nature of consciousness, Germaine's question isn't even on
the agenda. That's some other meeting.
When in Introducing Consciousness
we do attend to the question of the nature of consciousness, we hear
words in the different answers that are contemplated. Consciousness,
to one answer, is 'genuinely distinct' from brain activity. (p. 16)
is 'separate from' brain activity. (p. 25) They're not a 'unity', not
not 'the same thing'. (p. 17, p. 112, p. 56) All this raises a
What is the 'genuine distinctness' in question? What is the 'unity' in
opposite answer? Evidently 'dualism' asserts genuine distinctness and
like, and 'materialism' asserts unity and the like, but what are
distinctness and unity?
Typically in the current Philosophy of
Mind we aren't told. This makes for trouble. To mention one thing, the
possibility is sometimes left in play that the unity is just
psychoneural lawlike connection -- mind and brain going together as a
matter of scientific law. But then the so-called materialism can in
fact be what has always been regarded as a dualism. Consciousness can
be connected with the brain in the given lawlike way but itself be
entirely non-neural. The same is true if conscious
thought and neural process are said to be a unity in the sense that
are parts of the same whole. If our author does not add to the
here, might he have done more to reduce it?
Might he also, by the way, have given
even less attention than he does to what is first presented as a third
option on a level with dualism and materialism? (McGinn, 1991) That is
the elfin notion that the problem of consciousness, or maybe of the
brain-consciousness relation, is insoluble and will remain a mystery.
The arguments here seem not much more forceful than the general premise
that you can't see how grey stuff can cause coloured stuff. (p. 18, p.
110) It's going to be a considerable surprise for the elf when his
first grey matchhead bursts into flame. (Cf. Garvey 1997)
In fact materialism so-called, or
physicalism or mind-body identity theory or monism so-called, properly
divides up into two kinds. One kind says that in your seeing or
there is just one internal event, and it is both neural and conscious.
has those two different characters or properties. Donald Davidson's
ingenious Anomalous Monism comes here. (1980) Views of this kind,
plainly, are really property-dualisms. They involve two of something,
indeed two realms. That is not what is wrong with them. Science itself,
like everything else, is
full of dualisms. What is wrong is that these nominal materialisms do
explain the consciousness they take to exist. They do not give us its
This question gets lost or downgraded.
The other materialisms, with a true
claim to the name, say something very different. It is that with
respect to your thinking or seeing something a moment ago, that event
had only neural properties.
The leading doctrine in the current
Philosophy of Mind comes here, although the doctrine denies it. Neural
Functionalism supposes itself to add something significant to earlier
real materialist accounts of our human consciousness and the
consciousness of other biological creatures. It adds that your bit of
thinking or seeing, or your wanting a glass of wine, had certain causes
and had certain effects, and that these were its essence.
These effect-and-cause properties
of the event, 'structural properties' as Professor Papineau names them,
it a conscious event. (pp. 45-49, p. 58, p. 86) What makes something a
of yours is not what it's in, the neurons, but what gave rise
and what in turn it gives rise to. A desire, very roughly speaking, is
comes from perception and results in behaviour.
It seems to me that this thought about
realization of the essential event of your desire in neural stuff,
rather than in the silicon of computers or whatever, is not more than a
distraction, like the general proposition of what is called the
variable realization of conscious events. If you say my consciously
registering Germaine's quizzical expression again was a wholly neural
event in my head with certain causes and effects, it seems to me you do
not add a whit more to your account of it, of what it
is, by saying that it could have been a
silicon event and it would still have been the conscious event it was
it had the same causes and effects. You don't find out more about your
by finding out you could have got to Brighton in it if it was made of
Introducing Consciousness is
tolerant of Neural Functionalism initially, and tries to give it a hand
with a certain difficulty. It's the difficulty of whether Neural
Functionalism is in fact a version of Epiphenomenalism. The latter is
of course the desperate theory of 19th Century neurophysiologists, and
two or three equally desperate successors, that our conscious lives do
not cause our actions at all --
our conscious desires are no part at all of the explanation of why our
actions happen. Is Neural Functionalism an Epiphenomenalism -- since
for the Neural Functionalist it's what Professor Papineau named 'the
structural properties' that are your conscious desire but it's probably
the neural facts that cause your arm movements and the rest?
Professor Papineau wonders at this point
(p. 78) if the Neural Functionalist could insist instead that it is
'the structural properties' of the desire that cause the arm movement.
That may be adventurous scientific thinking, but wouldn't it make
still worse for Neural Functionalism? What was it to to be a
property'? Well, it was just to be a certain effect-cause. It was to be
cause of the arm movement among other things. In which case Neural
in even thinking about escaping Epiphenomenalism in the given way, is
danger of uttering quite a sentence, too much for me. The sentence will
in it as one part that 'the arm movement was caused by something's
the arm movement'. Not good?
Whatever is to be said about
its Epiphenomenalist tendencies, the clear fate of Neural Functionalism
that it runs up against something. That thing is The Wholly Resilient
About Consciousness. It is simple. It is that the properties of
events aren't neural ones. Consciousness isn't cells.
The proposition recovered its strength
and defeated the corpuscular materialism of Thomas Hobbes in the 17th
Century. It also did in early neurophysiological materialism in the
19th Century. It eventually left Behaviourism dead as a doornail in the
It will, as it seems to me, do in Neural Functionalism early in the
But no doubt you would like to hear an argument for it, since it just is
what materialism tries to deny. Professor Papineau mentions
two familiar ones.
The first, owed to Frank Jackson, is
that Mary in a black-and-white environment from birth, where she
learns all the neuroscience of colour-vision, would discover something
when she got out and saw red. (1982) What the argument depends on, you
think, is the Resilient Proposition, and more particularly that some
consciousness is other than purely neural activity. The Mary argument
if you deny that, as some characters have in defence of theory. Nothing
is added to the Resilient Proposition by dragging in knowledge
the brain activity and of the consciousness. Take your proof or
conviction that this bun has no currants in it. You don't add to your
proof or conviction by preceding or following it with the thought that
someone could know that this bun has no currants in it.
Another argument against Neural
Functionalism, given by Saul Kripke (1972), is that there could be a
thing with all our standard neural equipment, fully functioning, and
yet not conscious -- the zombie. This is a logical possibility, as
distinct from a nomic possibility or a possibility in terms of law. The
argument has its own considerable obscurity, having to do with what
follows from a logical possibility. It seems to me to add little to the
To my mind, the Mary Argument and the
Zombie Argument are reassurances or heuristic devices rather than
arguments or proofs. Still, attempts have been made to undercut these
reassurances, one in particular. Stripped down, and applied to the Mary
argument, it is that when she gets out and sees red, Mary doesn't
really discover anything new. What happens is not that the world comes
to have a new property in
it for her, but she gets a new concept for an old one -- for some
called an 'imaginative' concept. (pp. 100-103) Seeing red still is
just those boring old cells, which now fall under the concept seeing
red. Professor Papineau, at least for a while, seems impressed by
It is more or less identical to a line
taken by Identity Theorists a few decades back, for example Edgar
Wilson (1980), based on Gottlob Frege's hallowed distinction between
and the referent of an expression. Frege said 'the Morning Star' has a
different from the sense of 'the Evening Star', but they stand for the
heavenly body. The Identity Theorists said 'seeing red' does have a
sense from 'that neural activity', but it has as referent the same one
Here is another thought. We are told
there's this subject-matter and we can conceive of it or describe it
either as 'seeing red' or as 'that neural activity'. Both conceptions
descriptions are true of it, of course, as has to be granted and is.
Each one does indeed designate a property of the thing. It's not as if
'seeing red' is true of nothing, obviously. But the expressions say and
mean quite different things. In which case there are two
properties in question, not one. So the Mary story remains as good as
it ever was in reassuring people that consciousness is other than
dopamine and electrical potentials, not
to mention the inner tubes.
So is it possible to prove or confirm
the Resilient Proposition? You may well not feel the need of a
confirmation or proof. Indeed scepticism about the existence of
consciousness -- something other than neurons -- seems to call for even
less of one's philosophical attention than scepticism about the
external world, something existing outside my head. You may say, too,
that it's pointless to try to provide a proof of
the existence of consciousness. A proof requires a premise -- a
proposition firmer than the one that is the conclusion. Can
be one of those with respect to the putative conclusion we know so
that consciousness isn't cells?
Let us not delay, but let me say that
the Resilient Proposition got its first piece of support for each
of us when we first distinguished between milk and our idea of milk.
we put our bodies in the category with the milk, and then a lot later
bodily cells, and remained as confident about distinguishing between
all and any consciousness. You could say, a little pompously, that
something like the Resilient Proposition is a foundational or
structuring fact of
our thinking lives.
Of course the proposition that
consciousness isn't cells leaves us with big problems, of which the
is is saying what it is. What is it to be conscious if it's not
having some cells? David Papineau looks at traditional dualism. It
in two kinds, not sharply distinguished by him, the first being that
consists in stuff in our heads that is non-physical -- 'mind-stuff'.
50) Those who hold to this particular dualism, if they still live and
suppose at least that the stuff is not in space.
Professor Papineau is remarkably
tolerant about this nonsense. For a start, how can something not be
in space but be in a head? And what is it for anything whatever
to exist if it is not in space? Certainly we need
know. There is also the question of how the mind-stuff can be an effect
cause of ordinary physical events -- first of a wine bottle on the
and then later of its being empty. This problem, the curse of dualism,
back to Descartes.
You can do yourself a little good, if
you feel driven to stuff in the head as the nature of consciousness, as
once I was myself (1995), by doing some of that more hard-headed
thinking that characterises philosophy as against science. The problem
is that of
how there can be interaction between stuff in the head and the physical
realm. You can ask a useful question. What are physical things?
What is the physical realm?
Let us say that the physical realm has
in it chairs etc. and atoms etc. -- a category of space-occupiers
perceived by people generally and a category of space-occupiers that
cause perceived space-occupiers. But then, to come to the nub, why
shouldn't the stuff in the head be physical -- go into the
second category? It can be physical but non-neural. This is the second
version of traditional dualism. Consciousness is physical but
non-neural stuff in heads. The doctrine is
not nonsensical, but it certainly has a real problem.
The real problem is not the interaction
problem, of course, but something else. What the doctrine contemplates
is that consciousness is not neurons as we know them, but other
physical stuff that will be discovered by some future neuroscientist.
The problem is that we can already be certain, right now, about what
will be heard
just after the Nobel Prize ceremony. It will be from some Bolshie
philosopher speaking on behalf of everyone. The proposition will be
about this new stuff in the head, which of course is something like
the present stuff of neuroscience. The proposition will be that consciousness
isn't that stuff . The proposition will be a slightly enlarged
version of the Resilient Proposition.
The Bolshie philosopher may add, for
good reason, that it doesn't seem to us, on reflection, that
consciousness is anything that is in a head. My being
conscious right now, if I think about it, isn't any such thing. Somehow
that idea is not right at all. This is a point of large importance,
separate from the previous
one about a particular stuff or particular kind of stuff. So it seems
very different idea of consciousness is needed, neither the materialism
But let us linger for a moment to
reflect on another point having to do with philosophy and science.
Professor Papineau, as remarked already, is remarkably tolerant of
nonsensical dualism, the first sort. It helps that he has an odd idea
of the curse of dualism, taken as the problem of how non-physical
events could interract with
the ordinary world. This has long been known as the Mind-Body Problem.
you have heard, it has been the problem of how such physical items as
bottles and images on retinas and neural activity can cause desires and
and the like, and how the latter non-physical things can cause arm
and bottles being empty.
Professor Papineau sees the problem as
one posed by a certain proposition. It is that physical events have
only physical causes, called by him the causal completeness of physics.
(p. 65, p. 67) This view of the Mind-Body Problem, the curse of
is offered by Professor Papineau to an up-to-date 'mind-stuff' dualist
a great help. All the dualist has to do is put up with the
of becoming an Epiphenomenalist as well, and he can thereby escape the
curse of dualism. If the non-physical stuff of consciousness is just
side-effects, with no causal power, then it can remain true for the
dualist that all physical events have only physical causes.
But of course for the rest of us, not
informed about physics, this Epiphenomenalism seems to pose just
the very same problem as would be posed by the non-physical events
causing limb movements. Indeed this Epiphenomenalism poses the first
half of the Mind-Body Problem as traditionally and still stated, as it
was above: how can external and bodily events give rise to
consciousness conceived this way, and how can the non-physical
consciousness give rise to physical events? The first half is the
enormous difficulty, to say the least, of effects
that are nowhere.
The Epiphenomenalism plainly does pose
this hardest of problems. Evidently this fact is not owed to the
proposition of 'physical event, physical causes' -- physical events
having only physical causes. So in this case science has made no very
useful contribution to philosophy, but has only saved a crazy dualism
from a lesser problem. It has done so by way of a proposition,
incidentally, that could do with some examination itself, having to do
with its unspecified conception of the physical.
So what does make for the large
Mind-Body Problem? Well, obviously, you could say that you can't
have either a cause or an effect out of space -- or maybe one
of space and one in. We'll come back to that, briefly.
Let me sum up. It is clear that the
nominal materialisms like Davidson's don't really attempt an answer to
the question of the nature of consciousness. As for such real
materialisms as Neural Functionalism, they run up against the Resilient
Proposition that will always defeat them. Being conscious isn't being
in a neural state. It's not cells. And we can't have any hope for
dualist ideas of consciousness
being somehow actual stuff in our heads, either non-physical or
Is it necessary to remark at this point
that in my view the question of whether something has the general
virtue of philosophy arises more insistently about a certain amount of
dualistic and scientized as against materialistic and scientized
Philosophy of Mind? What still occurs to me first is The Self and
Its Brain (Eccles and Popper, 1977), and the idea that the
Self-Conscious Mind is not tied to the brain but is its proprietor,
somehow free-floating and magnificient -- and maybe in its infant stage
chooses which hemisphere of the brain to alight on. There is also the
research of Benjamin Libet et al, relied on by
Eccles and Popper, to my mind remarkable in not distinguishing things.
is to the effect that a conscious sensation occurs on its own, before
brain catches up with it. (Honderich, 1984, 1986)
As for Professor Papineau himself, he
makes it pretty clear he is not the kind of real materialist who
is a Neural Functionalist. He also seems to make it pretty
is some other and simpler kind of real materialist. (pp. 96-112) He
seems to be an Eliminative Materialist -- Thomas Hobbes of the 17th
Century reborn in time for our new Millennium.
He makes a meal of saying that if you
say consciousness is cells you don't eliminate it, but say it really
exists -- as cells. (p. 84) It seems to me you can have fairies at the
bottom of the garden that way, and rain-dances that really work. If you
say Elvis Presley is now just our memories, you can also say in this
you don't eliminate him, but make him really alive and well -- as
memories. That might be a way of being alive and well in Quantum
Mechanics. It's not so good, is it, in the rest of the world?
It is true that Professor Papineau is at
least a little uneasy, not an unreflective real materialist. He sees
the need for some improvement on real materialism, but leaves it too
late in his book to get into action. But there is another alarming
question. He seems to be a simple real materialist, but could
it be that he
is not a real materialist at all?
On one page he braces himself to tell us
what the doctrine he seems to favour actually is. It is that conscious
experience, say unpleasant feelings, 'are nothing different from the
relevant brain states. To be in pain is simply to be in a certain brain
state. That's what it is "like for you" if you are in that brain
state'. (p. 84)
Put aside entirely, reader, my sceptical
thoughts earlier on 'what-it's-likeness'. The quoted sentences are
still remarkable ones, maybe an indication of the instability of real
materialism in the lives of those who are drawn to it by science. From
the sentences we learn the proposition that to be in pain is simply to
be in a
brain state and nothing different from that. Is something added to this
when it's then said that being in the brain state is there being
it's like for you?
Who knows? The mouthfuls aren't clear
enough to settle the matter. We do know what would be the
result of really adding something to what presumably is still
a brain state and nothing different -- self-contradiction.
Similarly, on another page at the end of
the book, we have it that consciousness, for materialism, 'isn't any
extra "mind-stuff", in humans or elsewhere. There are just physical
processes, some of which are "like something", for the creatures that
have them.' (p. 168)
Again put aside my earlier scepticism.
The second of the two quoted sentences says, doesn't it, that there are
processes that (a) are only physical ones in the brain and (b)
are 'like something' for the owner. Does (b) assert the same as (a)?
not. There presumably wouldn't have been any point in adding it if it
In which case doesn't (b) contradict (a)? Isn't the second quoted
You'll have to settle the problem of
Professor Papineau for yourself -- the problem of what he believes. As
for me, it's impossible to escape the feeling, on the basis of this
good book and others, that somehow we need to look at the problem of
consciousness wholly differently. In this new millennium we
need to start up the Philosophy of Mind again, start it up in some
radically different way. That much seems certain.
One very different idea can be called
Consciousness as Existence. It is about perceptual as against
reflective or affective consciousness, and it involves the hope that
they will one day be analysed in terms of it. Here is a quick sketch of
What is it for you now to
be perceptually conscious? What is it for you to be aware of the room
in? What does that come to? Isn't it for a world somehow to exist
things somehow to be in space and time? Isn't that about right?
being conscious of the place is not something in your head, but this
or state of affairs.
Is this answer just about 'a mental
world'? Is this another false hope, then, something that in fact is
just circular and non-analytic? To see, think again of the physical
world as defined earlier. It consists in chairs etc and atoms etc. --
the category of generally-perceived space-occupiers and the category of
space-occupiers causally connected to the things in the first category.
Compare just the generally-perceived
part of the physical world with the above world of you in your room.
generally-perceived part of the physical world is dependent on its
part (atoms etc.) and also on perceivers generally. As everyone since
has agreed, it is partly owed to our not being bats. The other world
existence is your now being perceptually aware is interestingly
it is dependent on the other part of the physical world and also on you
If the dependency on perceivers in
general of the perceived part of the physical world does not turn it
into a mental world, which it doesn't, why should a related dependency
on you turn into a mental world the world whose existence is your now
This idea of Consciousness as Existence
satisfies a number of criteria, one or two noticed already, for
a good answer to the question of the nature of perceptual
(1) The idea of Consciousness as
Existence is true to what is misleadingly called the 'phenomenology' of
consciousness -- what it seems like or seems to be. That is an
partly since really there isn't more to consciousness itself than there
to be. It itself has no part hidden from us.
(2) The idea makes perceptual
consciousness into a reality, which we are certain it is.
(3) The idea gives actual content to our
conviction that our being conscious is in some important sense
something subjective. On the idea in hand, it consists in something
different from the physical world, but not far off. As remarked
subjective world of this kind is something we can in another sense be
perfectly objective about.
(4) The idea of Consciousness as
Existence at least does not worsen the problem of mind-body
interaction, the curse of dualism. The curse of dualism in fact is its
putting your being conscious out of space. This idea doesn't.
It succeeds where real materialism
also succeeds, as well as where materialism doesn't.
(5) Finally, any idea with a chance of
lasting must be in accord with The Wholly Resilient Proposition.
Certainly Consciousness as Existence is.
(6) Is there a troublesome criterion of
a good idea of consciousness that has to do with the intentionality
or aboutness of consciousness? Philosophical accounts of
intentionality are pretty much a mess. Ideas of consciousness don't
have to satisfy
them . That little industry is best abandoned in the new start we
to make in the Philosophy of Mind. In so far as there are
considerations of aboutness that need to be satisfied by a good idea of
consciousness, it is arguable that Consciousness as Existence does
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