Three essays on the nature of consciousness
You and I are conscious. So are most humans and higher mammals. However, things like tables, chairs, rocks, and other inanimate objects are not. Though there is something it is like to be me, there is nothing it is like to be a table. But what is it to be conscious? What is this property that we have but that inanimate objects lack? This is the question my dissertation seeks to answer.
I begin by noting an asymmetry in our epistemic access to qualia––roughly those qualities that we are immediately aware of in conscious experience. I argue that at least some of these qualities are spatial qualities and, moreover, spatial qualities that are not typically instantiated by subjects or the internal states of subjects. The moral is that, in general, being conscious must consist in being related to certain qualities that are not ‘in the heads’ of conscious subjects. Consciousness extends beyond the bounds of skin and skull.
My view is that only two theorists can adequately explain this: the intentionalist and the naïve realist. Roughly, the intentionalist thinks that to have a perceptual experience is to phenomenally represent the world as being some way, whereas the naïve realist thinks that to have a perceptual experience is, at least sometimes, to simply perceive the world. Though many hold that we must choose between these theories, I show that this is false. All positive naïve realist theses admit of intentionalist precisification. In this way, we may be both intentionalists and naïve realists.
Once we find our footing as intentionalists who embrace naïve realism, we face a further question: What is the place of consciousness in nature? Answering this question is harder than generally acknowledged since phenomenal representation has peculiar representational limits. Just as there are things that cannot be pictorially or diagrammatically represented, there are things that cannot be phenomenally represented. One cannot, for example, phenomenally represent color without phenomenally representing space. But extant theories that ‘reduce’ phenomenal representation to naturalistic ingredients fail to respect these limits. We must, therefore, embrace a non-reductive theory of consciousness.