Tag Archives: consciousness

David Chalmers

When I was in graduate school, I recall hearing “One starts as a materialist, then one becomes a dualist, then a panpsychist, and one ends up as an idealist”. I don’t know where this comes from, but I think the idea was something like this. First, one is impressed by the successes of science, endorsing materialism about everything and so about the mind. Second, one is moved by problem of consciousness to see a gap between physics and consciousness, thereby endorsing dualism, where both matter and consciousness are fundamental. Third, one is moved by the inscrutability of matter to realize that science reveals at most the structure of matter and not its underlying nature, and to speculate that this nature may involve consciousness, thereby endorsing panpsychism. Fourth, one comes to think that there is little reason to believe in anything beyond consciousness and that the physical world is wholly constituted by consciousness, thereby endorsing idealism.

David Chalmers, ‘Idealism and the Mind-Body Problem’, in William Seager (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Panpsychism, New York, 2018

William James

[O]ur normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different.

William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature, London, 1902, p. 388

Thomas Nagel

The existence of consciousness is both one of the most familiar and one of the most astounding things about the world. No conception of the natural order that does not reveal it as something to be expected can aspire even to the outline of completeness. And if physical science, whatever it may have to say about the origin of life, leaves us necessarily in the dark about consciousness, that shows that it cannot provide the basic form of intelligibility for this world. There must be a very different way in which things as they are make sense, and that includes the way the physical world is, since the problem cannot be quarantined in the mind.

Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False, Oxford, 2012, p. 51

Ole Martin Moen

If we take for granted that consciousness evolved, consciousness would somehow have to promote survival and reproduction in order to be selected for. If consciousness did not promote survival and preproduction, it would not be selected for, and to the extent that it were biologically costly, it would be selected against. The only way consciousness could promote survival and reproduction, moreover, is by virtue of guiding an organism’s actions, prompting it to perform survival and reproduction enhancing actions – and the only way in which consciousness could prompt an organism towards survival and reproduction seems to be by imbuing experiences with a certain valence or a pro/con attitude. Without a valence or a pro/con attitude, it is unclear how an experience would be able to guide an organism’s actions. Evolution, moreover, cares for action, not for experiences as an end in itself. It therefore seems that if consciousness were to ever get going, valence would have to be present from the very start. Otherwise, consciousness would disappear as fast as it occurred. This suggests that hedonic valence phylogentically is as old as consciousness itself, which in turn lends support to the view that hedonic valence lies at the heart of consciousness. This supports dimensionalism, moreover, since according to dimensionalism, pleasure and pain—rather than being two things out of the many things we can experience—imbues all […] our experiences. Indeed, one might, from a dimensionalist approach to consciousness, argue that the first experience any organism ever had was an experience of either pleasure or pain, and that consciousness of the kind our species has today is a more fine-grained version of something that is most fundamentally a pleasure/pain mechanism.

Ole Martin Moen, ‘The Unity and Commensurability of Pleasures and Pains’, Philosophia, vol. 41, no. 2 (June, 2013), pp. 540-541

David Chalmers

When we observe external objects, we observe their structure and function; that’s all. Such observations give no reason to postulate any new class of properties, except insofar as they explain structure and function; so there can be no analogue of a ‘hard problem’ here. Even if further properties of these objects existed, we could have no access to them, as our external access is physically mediated: such properties would lie on the other side of an unbridgeable epistemic divide. Consciousness uniquely escapes these arguments by lying at the centre of our epistemic universe, rather than at a distance. In this case alone, we can have access to something other than structure and function.

David Chalmers, ‘Moving forward on the Problem of Consciousness’, Journal of Consciousness Studies, vol. 4, no. 1 (1997), p. 6

Michael Lockwood

“[N]o-nonsense” materialism […] is characterized not so much by what it asserts, namely the identity of conscious states and processes with certain physiological states and processes, but by an accompanying failure to appreciate that there is anything philosophically problematic about such an identification.

Michael Lockwood, Mind, Brain, and the Quantum: The Compound ‘I’, Oxford, 1989, p. 2

John Searle

Future generations, I suspect, will wonder why it took us so long in the twentieth century to see the centrality of consciousness in the understanding of our very existence as human beings. Why, for so long, did we think that consciousness did not matter, that it was unimportant? The paradox is that consciousness is the condition that makes it possible for anything at all to matter to anybody. Only to conscious agents can there ever be a question of anything mattering or having any importance at all.

John Searle, The Mystery of Consciousness, New York, 1997, p. xiv

Gordon Gallup

I used to tell students that no one ever heard, say, tasted, or touched a mind. So while minds may exist, they fall outside the realm of science. But I have changed my mind.

Gordon Gallup, ‘Do Minds Exist in Species Other than Our Own’, Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, vol. 9 (1985), p. 633

Ray Carney

Identity does not emanate from consciousness but from structures of character that antedate and underpin our superficial, momentary thoughts, feelings, and volitions. Sylvia, Peter, Keith, Beverly, Aubrey, and Nicola will still be who they are no matter what they think or intend or attempt to do at any particular moment. When what one is is constituted by an entire body of lived experience, the relative importance of passing states of consciousness pales.

Ray Carney, The Films of Mike Leigh: Embracing the World, Cambridge, 2000, p. 18