Note on “consciousness”

“Consciousness” is an abstract term, like “faithfulness” or “completeness”. The -ness suffix is a tool to make an adjective into a noun: X-ness is what makes X beings X; or what X beings have. So consciousness is what makes conscious beings conscious; or at least what conscious beings have. Very well. But is there any doubt that hamsters and kittens are conscious? If so, our debates about “consciousness” are debates about something we have in common with hamsters. Isn’t this the sort of thing we should make clear from the get go, if we are going to assume it?

Come to think of it, every philosopher has been a physicalist about consciousness, except for a now forgotten tribe of Platonists who thought that all animals had immortal souls. St. Thomas was certainly a physicalist about consciousness. But if this is the case, are we dealing with the problem we want to deal with, or are we more avoiding it or defining it out of existence?

1 Comment

  1. John said,

    March 4, 2010 at 2:31 am

    Observation or conscious experience are accessible to inquiry but “consciousness” is too vague and has too many fragmented meanings.

    I would define the problem of conscious experience as:

    “What physical arrangement of energy could replicate the arrangement of energy in our personal experience?”.

    Here I am using “energy” in the physical sense of matter, em fields etc..

    The first step in this investigation is to suspend any belief in pre-existing theories. The most obstructive and widespread theory is Alexandrian Cosmology in which only the present instant is believed to exist. This leads to the regress and homunculus arguments – if only the present instant exists and this instant has no duration then things can only be known in the next instant, but the next instant has no duration so things can only be known in the next instant and so on ad infinitum.

    Without Alexandrian Cosmology we are free to consider how energy arranged in space and time could be like our experience. See my website for further discussion.


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