Consciousness and the Brain: A Scientific and Philosophical Inquiry


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Introspective Reports as Data for the Science and Philosophy of Consciousness

Third, as we saw earlier 3b. On the one side, we are dealing with scientific third-person concepts and, on the other, we are employing phenomenal concepts. We are, perhaps, simply currently not in a position to understand completely such a necessary connection. Despite the apparent simplicity of materialism, say, in terms of the identity between mental states and neural states, the fact is that there are many different forms of materialism.

The idea is simply that it seems perfectly possible for there to be other conscious beings e. It seems that commitment to type-type identity theory led to the undesirable result that only organisms with brains like ours can have conscious states.

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But for more recent defenses of type-type identity theory see Hill and McLaughlin , Papineau , , , Polger This view simply holds that each particular conscious mental event in some organism is identical with some particular brain process or event in that organism. This seems to preserve much of what the materialist wants but yet allows for the multiple realizability of conscious states, because both the human and the alien can still have a conscious desire for something to drink while each mental event is identical with a different physical state in each organism. Taking the notion of multiple realizability very seriously has also led many to embrace functionalism, which is the view that conscious mental states should really only be identified with the functional role they play within an organism.

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For example, conscious pains are defined more in terms of input and output, such as causing bodily damage and avoidance behavior, as well as in terms of their relationship to other mental states. It is normally viewed as a form of materialism since virtually all functionalists also believe, like the token-token theorist, that something physical ultimately realizes that functional state in the organism, but functionalism does not, by itself, entail that materialism is true.

Some materialists even deny the very existence of mind and mental states altogether, at least in the sense that the very concept of consciousness is muddled Wilkes , or that the mentalistic notions found in folk psychology, such as desires and beliefs, will eventually be eliminated and replaced by physicalistic terms as neurophysiology matures into the future Churchland Materialism is true as an ontological or metaphysical doctrine, but facts about the mind cannot be deduced from facts about the physical world Boyd , Van Gulick In some ways, this might be viewed as a relatively harmless variation on materialist themes, but others object to the very coherence of this form of materialism Kim , Most specific theories of consciousness tend to be reductionist in some sense.

The classic notion at work is that consciousness or individual conscious mental states can be explained in terms of something else or in some other terms. This section will focus on several prominent contemporary reductionist theories. We should, however, distinguish between those who attempt such a reduction directly in physicalistic, such as neurophysiological, terms and those who do so in mentalistic terms, such as by using unconscious mental states or other cognitive notions. The more direct reductionist approach can be seen in various, more specific, neural theories of consciousness.

The basic idea is that mental states become conscious when large numbers of neurons fire in synchrony and all have oscillations within the hertz range that is, cycles per second. However, many philosophers and scientists have put forth other candidates for what, specifically, to identify in the brain with consciousness.

The overall idea is to show how one or more specific kinds of neuro-chemical activity can underlie and explain conscious mental activity Metzinger Even Crick and Koch have acknowledged that they, at best, provide a necessary condition for consciousness, and that such firing patters are not automatically sufficient for having conscious experience.

Many current theories attempt to reduce consciousness in mentalistic terms. Much of what goes on in the brain, however, might also be understood in a representational way; for example, as mental events representing outer objects partly because they are caused by such objects in, say, cases of veridical visual perception.

Although intentional states are sometimes contrasted with phenomenal states, such as pains and color experiences, it is clear that many conscious states have both phenomenal and intentional properties, such as visual perceptions. It should be noted that the relation between intentionalilty and consciousness is itself a major ongoing area of dispute with some arguing that genuine intentionality actually presupposes consciousness in some way Searle , Siewart , Horgan and Tienson while most representationalists insist that intentionality is prior to consciousness Gennaro , chapter two.

Problems with 'consciousness' - Miira Tuominen

The other related motivation for representational theories of consciousness is that many believe that an account of representation or intentionality can more easily be given in naturalistic terms, such as causal theories whereby mental states are understood as representing outer objects in virtue of some reliable causal connection. The idea, then, is that if consciousness can be explained in representational terms and representation can be understood in purely physical terms, then there is the promise of a reductionist and naturalistic theory of consciousness.

Alternatively, conscious mental states have no mental properties other than their representational properties. Two conscious states with all the same representational properties will not differ phenomenally. A First-order representational FOR theory of consciousness is a theory that attempts to explain conscious experience primarily in terms of world-directed or first-order intentional states. Probably the two most cited FOR theories of consciousness are those of Fred Dretske and Michael Tye , , though there are many others as well e.

The Status and Future of Consciousness Research

Like other FOR theorists, Tye holds that the representational content of my conscious experience that is, what my experience is about or directed at is identical with the phenomenal properties of experience. Whatever the merits and exact nature of the argument from transparency see Kind , it is clear, of course, that not all mental representations are conscious, so the key question eventually becomes: What exactly distinguishes conscious from unconscious mental states or representations?

What makes a mental state a conscious mental state? Without probing into every aspect of PANIC theory, Tye holds that at least some of the representational content in question is non-conceptual N , which is to say that the subject can lack the concept for the properties represented by the experience in question, such as an experience of a certain shade of red that one has never seen before. Actually, the exact nature or even existence of non-conceptual content of experience is itself a highly debated and difficult issue in philosophy of mind Gunther Gennaro , for example, defends conceptualism and connects it in various ways to the higher-order thought theory of consciousness see section 4b.

This condition is needed to handle cases of hallucinations, where there are no concrete objects at all or cases where different objects look phenomenally alike. For example…feeling hungry… has an immediate cognitive effect, namely, the desire to eat…. If so, then conscious experience cannot generally be explained in terms of representational properties Block Tye responds that pains, itches, and the like do represent, in the sense that they represent parts of the body.

And after-images, hallucinations, and the like either misrepresent which is still a kind of representation or the conscious subject still takes them to have representational properties from the first-person point of view. Indeed, Tye admirably goes to great lengths and argues convincingly in response to a whole host of alleged counter-examples to representationalism. Historically among them are various hypothetical cases of inverted qualia see Shoemaker , the mere possibility of which is sometimes taken as devastating to representationalism.

These are cases where behaviorally indistinguishable individuals have inverted color perceptions of objects, such as person A visually experiences a lemon the way that person B experience a ripe tomato with respect to their color, and so on for all yellow and red objects. For more on the importance of color in philosophy, see Hardin On Inverted Earth every object has the complementary color to the one it has here, but we are asked to imagine that a person is equipped with color-inverting lenses and then sent to Inverted Earth completely ignorant of those facts.


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Since the color inversions cancel out, the phenomenal experiences remain the same, yet there certainly seem to be different representational properties of objects involved. The strategy on the part of critics, in short, is to think of counter-examples either actual or hypothetical whereby there is a difference between the phenomenal properties in experience and the relevant representational properties in the world. Such objections can, perhaps, be answered by Tye and others in various ways, but significant debate continues Macpherson Intuitions also dramatically differ as to the very plausibility and value of such thought experiments.

For more, see Seager , chapters 6 and 7.


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See also Chalmers for an excellent discussion of the dizzying array of possible representationalist positions. As we have seen, one question that should be answered by any theory of consciousness is: What makes a mental state a conscious mental state? There is a long tradition that has attempted to understand consciousness in terms of some kind of higher-order awareness. In general, the idea is that what makes a mental state conscious is that it is the object of some kind of higher-order representation HOR.

This is sometimes referred to as the Transitivity Principle. Any theory which attempts to explain consciousness in terms of higher-order states is known as a higher-order HO theory of consciousness. HO theorists are united in the belief that their approach can better explain consciousness than any purely FOR theory, which has significant difficulty in explaining the difference between unconscious and conscious mental states.

HOT theorists, such as David M. Rosenthal, think it is better to understand the HOR as a thought of some kind. HOTs are treated as cognitive states involving some kind of conceptual component. HOP theorists urge that the HOR is a perceptual or experiential state of some kind Lycan which does not require the kind of conceptual content invoked by HOT theorists. A common initial objection to HOR theories is that they are circular and lead to an infinite regress. It also might seem that an infinite regress results because a conscious mental state must be accompanied by a HOT, which, in turn, must be accompanied by another HOT ad infinitum.

However, the standard reply is that when a conscious mental state is a first-order world-directed state the higher-order thought HOT is not itself conscious; otherwise, circularity and an infinite regress would follow. When the HOT is itself conscious, there is a yet higher-order or third-order thought directed at the second-order state. In this case, we have introspection which involves a conscious HOT directed at an inner mental state.

When one introspects, one's attention is directed back into one's mind. For example, what makes my desire to write a good entry a conscious first-order desire is that there is a non-conscious HOT directed at the desire. In this case, my conscious focus is directed at the entry and my computer screen, so I am not consciously aware of having the HOT from the first-person point of view.

The basic idea is that the conscious status of an experience is due to its availability to higher-order thought. Thus, no actual HOT occurs. Daniel Dennett is sometimes credited with an earlier version of a dispositional account see Carruthers , chapter ten. It is worth briefly noting a few typical objections to HO theories many of which can be found in Byrne : First, and perhaps most common, is that various animals and even infants are not likely to have to the conceptual sophistication required for HOTs, and so that would render animal and infant consciousness very unlikely Dretske , Seager Although most who bring forth this objection are not HO theorists, Peter Carruthers is one HO theorist who actually embraces the conclusion that most animals do not have phenomenal consciousness.

Gennaro , has replied to Carruthers on this point; for example, it is argued that the HOTs need not be as sophisticated as it might initially appear and there is ample comparative neurophysiological evidence supporting the conclusion that animals have conscious mental states. Most HO theorists do not wish to accept the absence of animal or infant consciousness as a consequence of holding the theory. The debate continues, however, in Carruthers , , and Gennaro , , , chapters seven and eight.

Understanding Consciousness - Christof Koch

When I have a thought about a rock, it is certainly not true that the rock becomes conscious. So why should I suppose that a mental state becomes conscious when I think about it? This is puzzling to many and the objection forces HO theorists to explain just how adding the HO state changes an unconscious state into a conscious.

There have been, however, a number of responses to this kind of objection Rosenthal , Lycan, , Van Gulick , , Gennaro , , chapter four. A common theme is that there is a principled difference in the objects of the HO states in question. Rocks and the like are not mental states in the first place, and so HO theorists are first and foremost trying to explain how a mental state becomes conscious.

It might be asked just how exactly any HO theory really explains the subjective or phenomenal aspect of conscious experience. Some argue that this objection misconstrues the main and more modest purpose of at least, their HO theories. The claim is that HO theories are theories of consciousness only in the sense that they are attempting to explain what differentiates conscious from unconscious states, i.


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  4. Thus, a full explanation of phenomenal consciousness does require more than a HO theory, but that is no objection to HO theories as such. Another response is that proponents of the hard problem unjustly raise the bar as to what would count as a viable explanation of consciousness so that any such reductivist attempt would inevitably fall short Carruthers , Gennaro Part of the problem, then, is a lack of clarity about what would even count as an explanation of consciousness Van Gulick ; see also section 3b. Once this is clarified, however, the hard problem can indeed be solved.

    Moreover, anyone familiar with the literature knows that there are significant terminological difficulties in the use of various crucial terms which sometimes inhibits genuine progress but see Byrne for some helpful clarification. A fourth important objection to HO approaches is the question of how such theories can explain cases where the HO state might misrepresent the lower-order LO mental state Byrne , Neander , Levine , Block After all, if we have a representational relation between two states, it seems possible for misrepresentation or malfunction to occur.

    If it does, then what explanation can be offered by the HO theorist? If my LO state registers a red percept and my HO state registers a thought about something green due, say, to some neural misfiring, then what happens? For example, if the HO theorist takes the option that the resulting conscious experience is reddish, then it seems that the HO state plays no role in determining the qualitative character of the experience.

    On the other hand, if the resulting experience is greenish, then the LO state seems irrelevant. Rosenthal and Weisberg hold that the HO state determines the qualitative properties even in cases when there is no LO state at all Rosenthal , , Weisberg , a, b. Gennaro argues that no conscious experience results in such cases and wonders, for example, how a sole unconscious HOT can result in a conscious state at all.

    He argues that there must be a match, complete or partial, between the LO and HO state in order for a conscious state to exist in the first place. This important objection forces HO theorists to be clearer about just how to view the relationship between the LO and HO states.

    Consciousness and the Brain: A Scientific and Philosophical Inquiry Consciousness and the Brain: A Scientific and Philosophical Inquiry
    Consciousness and the Brain: A Scientific and Philosophical Inquiry Consciousness and the Brain: A Scientific and Philosophical Inquiry
    Consciousness and the Brain: A Scientific and Philosophical Inquiry Consciousness and the Brain: A Scientific and Philosophical Inquiry
    Consciousness and the Brain: A Scientific and Philosophical Inquiry Consciousness and the Brain: A Scientific and Philosophical Inquiry
    Consciousness and the Brain: A Scientific and Philosophical Inquiry Consciousness and the Brain: A Scientific and Philosophical Inquiry
    Consciousness and the Brain: A Scientific and Philosophical Inquiry Consciousness and the Brain: A Scientific and Philosophical Inquiry
    Consciousness and the Brain: A Scientific and Philosophical Inquiry Consciousness and the Brain: A Scientific and Philosophical Inquiry
    Consciousness and the Brain: A Scientific and Philosophical Inquiry Consciousness and the Brain: A Scientific and Philosophical Inquiry

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