Velmans, M. (ed.) (1996) The Science of Consciousness: Psychological, Neuropsychological and Clinical Reviews, London: Routledge. (UK, USA)
A set of invited chapters by leading experts, reviewing consciousness studies in mainstream areas of science (suitable for undergraduates as well as postgraduates and researchers). Part 1 provides an introductory overview and covers investigations of consciousness in perception, learning, memory, information integration and information dissemination. Part 2 reviews clinical dissociations of consciousness and the neural conditions required for consciousness in the brain. Part 3 examines mind/body interactions consequent on the use of imagery, hypnosis, biofeedback, meditation and the placebo effect. The final chapter returns to fundamental issues: "what and where are conscious experiences?"
Some academic papers and chapters
Velmans, M. (1990a) Consciousness, brain, and the physical world. Philosophical Psychology, 3, 77-99. An introduction to the "reflexive model" of perception with supporting evidence (e.g. for perceptual projection). Initial discussion of the implications of the model for the dualist versus reductionist debate, idealism versus realism, extended representationalism, and the relation of psychology to physics.
Velmans, M. (1990b) Is the mind conscious, functional, or both? Behavioral and Brain Sciences 13:629-630. Critique of Searle's "connection principle" and introduction to the need for complementary first- and third-person perspectives for a complete psychology.
Velmans, M. (1991a) Is human information processing conscious? Behavioral and Brain Sciences 14(4):651-701 (target article, accompanied by 36 commentaries). A review of conscious versus nonconscious processing, a case for associating consciousness with the late-arising products of focal attention (information integration and dissemination), different senses in which processes are "conscious", discussion of complementary, mutually irreducible first- and third-person perspectives.
Velmans, M. (1991b) Consciousness from a first-person perspective. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 14(4):702-726. Reply to commentaries, development of the psychological complementarity principle, discussion of mixed-perspective explanations, introduction to ontological monism combined with epistemological dualism (or pluralism) in terms of identical information being formatted differently depending on how it is viewed.
Velmans, M. (1992a) Reply to Gillett. Philosophical Psychology, 5(2), 181-182.
Velmans, M. (1992b) The world as-perceived, the world as-described by physics, and the thing-itself: a reply to Rentoul and Wetherick. Philosophical Psychology, 5(2), 167-172.
Velmans, M. (1992c) Synopsis of "Consciousness, brain, and the physical World." Philosophical Psychology, 5(2), 155-157.
Velmans 1992c summarises the "reflexive model" in a Philosophical Psychology symposium on Velmans (1990) "Consciousness, brain and the physical world." Velmans 1992a and 1992b are replies to commentaries by Gillett, Rentoul, and Wetherick, pointing out ways in which commentators have misconstrued the model.
Velmans, M. (1992d) Is consciousness integrated? Behavioral and Brain Sciences 15(2):229-230. Critique of Dennett and Kinsbourne's "Cartesian Theatre," on the basis that their analysis conflates information integration with information localisation.
Velmans, M. (1993a) A Reflexive Science of consciousness. In Experimental and Theoretical Studies of Consciousness. CIBA Foundation Symposium 174. Wiley, Chichester, pp 81-99. Outline of some of the implications of the Reflexive Model of perception for psychology in particular and science in general, including subjectivity vs. intersubjectivity and "objectivity", private versus public knowledge, and repeatability in science (accompanied by discussions with symposium participants including Searle, Nagel, Dennett, Gray, Marcel, Humphries, Libet and others).
Velmans, M. (1993b) Consciousness, causality and complementarity. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 16(2), 404-416. Reply to continuing commentaries on Velmans (1991a) (BBS) with a more detailed account of how psychological complementarity differs from complementarity in physics, and how first- versus third-person accounts of consciousness enter into causal explanations.
Velmans, M. (1993c) A view of consciousness from the fringe. Consciousness and Cognition, 2(2), 137-141. Commentary on Mangan's view that fringe consciousness plays an important role in information processing. Argues that the processing referred to is actually accomplished by unconscious processing associated with fringe conscious experiences.
Velmans, M. (1993d) Common-sense, functional theories, and knowledge of the mind. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 16(1), 85-86. Commentary on target articles by Goldman and Gopnick relating to the child's "theory of mind". Suggests that a rapprochement is possible between having special access to one's own private experiences and basing one's theory of mind on public evidence.
Velmans, M. (1994) A thoroughly empirical first-person approach to consciousness. Psyche 1(6) (electronic). Commentary on Baars' global workspace model arguing that it fails to deal with consciousness "as such" which requires a first-person account.
Velmans, M. (1995a) The limits of neuropsychological models of consciousness. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 18(4), 702-703. Development of the position that third-person accounts of the mind cannot be complete (extending the arguments in BBS target article by Jeffrey Gray).
Velmans, M. (1995b) The relation of consciousness to the material world. The Journal of Consciousness Studies, 2(3), 255-265. Overview of how consciousness relates to information processing and information structure, including a nonreductive approach to scientific investigation of the mind (based on Velmans 1991a, b, 1993b). Close similarities and differences to proposals of Chalmers (1995); a "cortical implant for blindsight" experiment; the recovery of qualia in a reflexive science of consciousness.
Velmans, M. (1995c) Consciousness, Theories of. In M. Arbib (ed.) The Handbook of Brain Theory and Neural Networks, pp 247-250. MIT Press. An introduction to cognitive and neuropsychological research on consciousness.
Velmans, M. (1996) What and where are conscious experiences? In M. Velmans (ed.) The Science of Consciousness: Psychological, Neuropsychological and Clinical Reviews Routledge. Simple overview of the case for basing a science of consciousness on an accurate phenomenology, taking account of appearances (including apparent location and extension in space) as well as brain states and information processing. Critique of classical subjective vs. objective, private vs. public distinctions (based on Velmans, 1993a) leading to a unified, nonreductionist science.
Velmans, M. (1996) Consciousness and the causal paradox. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 19(3), 537-542. Reply to continuing commentary on Velmans (1991) "Is human information processing conscious?" This develops the position that a "psychological complementarity principle" is required to resolve the paradox that from a third-person perspective consciousness appears to play no role in information processing, whereas from a first-person perspective consciousness seems necessary for most forms of complex human activity.
Velmans, M. (1997) Defining Consciousness. WWW Dialogues on Consciousness course, May 19-June20, 1997. Centre for Consciousness Studies, University of Arizona, Tucson. Extracts from Velmans ed. (1996) The Science of Consciousness, with connecting comments which suggest a departure point for a definitions of consciousness that preserves its everyday phenomenology while allowing an understanding of what consciousness is to deepen as scientific investigation proceeds. Argues that current definitions are often theory-driven, consequently they are sometimes too broad, sometimes too narrow, and sometimes not definitions of phenomenal consciousness at all. An alternative, ecologically valid, reflexive approach to consciousness is suggested.
Velmans, M. (1997) Commentary on "What is consciousness?" by Mark Solms. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 45(3), 758-759. If reductionism cannot be made to work, the problem of how an "objective" brain can produce "subjective" experiences needs to be solved in another way. This paper suggests an alternative resolution, involving a nonreductionist analysis of first- and third-person access to mental life, and a dual-aspect theory in which brain states and experiences are treated as two complementary aspects of one unfolding mental life. These ideas are similar to ones that are suggested by Solms (1997) from a psychoanalytic perspective, in this special issue on consciousness in JAPA.
Velmans, M. (1997) Is my unconscious somebody else's consciousness?: A review of Chalmers, D.(1996) The Conscious Mind: in search of a fundamental theory, Oxford University Press. Network, 64, 57-60. Also in Perspectives, 6(1), Jan/March. An evaluation of the strengths, weaknesses, and originality of Chalmers' book.
Velmans, M. (1998) Goodbye to reductionism. In S. Hameroff, A. Kaszniak, and A. Scott (eds) Toward a Science of Consciousness: The Second Tucson Discussions and Debates. MIT Press, pp 45-52. Argues that dualist vs. reductionist debates adopt an implicit description of consciousness that does not resemble ordinary experience. Given an accurate description, and an understanding of the differences between correlation, causation and ontological identity, reductionism has not succeeded in consciousness studies or in philosophy of mind because it cannot succeed. The alternative is a nonreductionist science of consciousness.
Velmans, M. (1998) Physical, Psychological And Virtual Realities, in Wood, J., Eds. The Virtual Embodied, pages pp. 45-60. London: Routledge. Examines the similarities and differences between physical, psychological and virtual realities, and challenges some conventional, implicitly dualist assumptions about how these relate to each other. Virtual realities are not easily understood in either dualist or materialist reductive terms, as they exemplify the reflexive nature of perception. The chapter summarises some of the evidence for this "reflexive model", and examines some of its consequences for the "hard" problem of consciousness. Although this chapter was published in 1998 and develops work published in 1990, it presents a form of "radical externalism" that anticipates many themes in current internalism versus externalism debates about the nature of mind. It is also relevant to an understanding of virtual reality "presence."
Velmans, M. (2001) A natural account of phenomenal consciousness. Communication and Cognition, 34(1&2), 39-59. Physicalists commonly argue that conscious experiences are nothing more than states of the brain, and that conscious qualia are observer-independent, physical properties of the external world. Although this assumes the mantle of science, it routinely ignores the findings of science, for example in sensory physiology, perception, psychophysics, neuropsychology and comparative psychology. Consequently, although physicalism aims to naturalise consciousness, it gives an unnatural account of it. It is possible, however, to develop a natural, nonreductive, reflexive model of how consciousness relates to the brain and the physical world. This paper introduces such a model and how it construes the nature of conscious experience.
Velmans, M. (2001) Heterophenomenogy versus critical phenomenology: a dialogue with Dan Dennett. An email dialogue/debate between Dan Dennett and myself over the period 14th to 28th June, 2001, focussing on the relative merits of the "heterophenomenology" developed in his book Consciousness Explained (1996), and the "critical phenomenology" implicit in my own Understanding Consciousness (2000). The departure point for the dialogue is a related debate between Dan, David Chalmers and Alvin Goldman. Dan likens belief in the existence of phenomenal properties to prescientific beliefs such as evil spirits causing disease. I argue that phenomenal properties are assumed to be real not just in everyday life but also in science.
Velmans, M. (2002a) How could conscious experiences affect brains? Journal of Consciousness Studies 9(11):3-29. This is a target article for special issue of the Journal of Consciousness Studies and is an in-depth examination of the problems posed by the causal interaction of consciousness and brains. The paper summarises the strengths and weaknesses of existing attempts within philosophy and science to cope with these problems (particularly physicalism) and suggests dual-aspect monism, a new approach that is consistent with science and common sense. The paper also provides a case for the existence of preconscious free will.
Velmans, M (2002b) Making sense of causal interactions between consciousness and brain. Journal of Consciousness Studies 9(11):69-95. This is a reply to eight commentaries on the Velmans (2002a) target article in JCS. It focuses on how dual aspect monism relates to nonreductionist physicalism, on the scientific status of this new theoretical approach, on the relation of psychological theories to physical ones, and on the broader implications of dual-aspect reflexive monism and how this relates to theories of consciousness developed in the East.
Velmans, M (2003) Is the world in the brain, or the brain in the world? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 26(4): 427-429. A commentary on Lehar’s target article in BBS. Lehar provides useful insights into spatially extended phenomenology that may have major consequences for neuroscience. However, Lehar's biological naturalism leads to counterintuitive conclusions and he does not give an accurate account of preceding and competing work. This commentary compares Lehar's analysis my own, which addresses similar issues but draws opposite conclusions. Lehar argues that the phenomenal world is in the brain, and concludes that the physical skull is beyond the phenomenal world. I argue that the brain is in the phenomenal world and conclude that the physical skull is roughly where it seems to be.
Velmans, M (2003) Preconscious free will. Journal of Consciousness Studies 10(12), 42-61. This paper focuses on the apparently self contradictory notion of "preconscious free will," while incorporating replies to further commentaries on Velmans (2002) “How could conscious experiences affect brains?” (JCS) by Libet, Mangan, Claxton, and Bouratinos. I present evidence that decisions may be generated preconsciously as well as wishes, and argue that free will and responsibility are preserved by recognising that "I" am my preconscious processing as well as my consequent experience.
Velmans, M (2004) Why conscious free will both is and isn’t an illusion. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 27(5), 677. This commentary on Wegner's (2002) book The Illusion of Conscious Will points out the strong convergence between his work and my own, while contrasting our different approaches to escaping epiphenomenalism.
Velmans, M. (2007) Dualism, reductionism and reflexive monism. In M. Velmans and S. Schneider (eds.) The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness. Malden, MA: Blackwell, pp 346-358. Summarises the main ways in which dualism and reductionism differ from reflexive monism. Focuses in particular on how phenomenal objects and phenomenal space relate to real objects and space, and on current debates about whether or not experiences are “in the brain”, along with their serious consequences for conventional reductionist theories.
Velmans, M. (2007) Velmans, M. (2007) An epistemology for the study of consciousness. In M. Velmans and S. Schneider (eds.) The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness. Malden, MA: Blackwell, pp 711-725. Develops an epistemological basis for consciousness studies. Examines common, unfounded assumptions about how physical phenomena relate to psychological phenomena focusing on subjectivity, intersubjectivity and objectivity, the sense in which observations are private or public, and the conditions for repeatability in a science of consciousness. It also re-examines ways in which empirical method in consciousness studies resembles and differs from that used in physics, and the grounding of empirical method in a critical (indirect) realist science.
Velmans, M (2007) Heterophenomenology versus Critical Phenomenology. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 6, 221-230. Following an on-line dialogue with Dennett (Velmans, 2001) this paper examines the similarities and differences between heterophenomenology (HP) and critical phenomenology (CP), two competing accounts of the way that conscious phenomenology should be, and normally is incorporated into psychology and related sciences. Unlike HP, CP does not assume that subjects are necessarily deluded about their experiences or doubt that these experiences can have real qualities that can, in principle, be described. CP is commonplace in psychological science, and given that it conforms both to scientific practice and common sense, I argue that there is little to recommend HP other than an attempt to shore up a counterintuitive, reductive philosophy of mind.
Velmans, M (2007) How experienced phenomena relate to things themselves: Kant, Husserl, Hoche, and Reflexive Monism. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 6, 411-423. What we normally think of as the "physical world" is also a world of appearances. According to Kant, the thing itself that brings about and supports these appearances is unknowable and we can never gain any understanding of how it brings such appearances about. Reflexive monism argues the opposite: the thing itself is knowable, as are the processes that construct conscious appearances. Conscious appearances provide empirical evidence and the theories derived from these can represent what the world is really like, even though such empirical knowledge is partial, approximate and uncertain, and conscious appearances are species-specific constructions of the human mind.
Velmans, M (2007) Where experiences are: dualist, physicalist, enactive and reflexive accounts of phenomenal consciousness. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 6(4), 547-563. Dualists believe that experiences have neither location nor extension, while reductive and ‘non-reductive’ physicalists (biological naturalists) believe that experiences are really in the brain, producing an apparent impasse in current theories of mind. Enactive and reflexive models of perception try to resolve this impasse with a form of "externalism" that challenges the assumption that experiences must either be nowhere or in the brain. In the present paper I present the case for the enactive and reflexive alternatives to more classical views and evaluate their consequences. I argue that, in closing the gap between the phenomenal world and what we normally think of as the physical world, the reflexive model resolves one facet of the hard problem of consciousness. Conversely, while enactive models have useful things to say about percept formation and representation, they fail to address the hard problem of consciousness.
Velmans, M. (2007). The co-evolution of matter and consciousness. Synthesis Philosophica, 44 (2), 273-282. Theories about the evolution of consciousness relate intimately to theories about the distribution of consciousness, ranging from the view that only human beings are conscious to the view that all matter is in some sense conscious. Broadly speaking, such theories can be classified into discontinuity theories and continuity theories. Discontinuity theories propose that consciousness emerged only when material forms reached a given stage of evolution, but propose different criteria for the stage at which this occurred. Continuity theories argue that in some primal form, consciousness always accompanies matter and as matter evolved in form and complexity consciousness co-evolved, for example into the forms that we now recognise in human beings. Given our limited knowledge of the necessary and sufficient conditions for the presence of human consciousness in human brains, all options remain open. On balance however continuity theory appears to be more elegant than discontinuity theory.
Velmans, M. (2008) Reflexive monism. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 15 (2), 5-50. Reflexive monism is, in essence, an ancient view of how consciousness relates to the material world that has, in recent decades, been resurrected in modern form. In this paper I discuss how some of its basic features differ from both dualism and variants of physicalist and functionalist reductionism, focusing on those aspects of the theory that challenge deeply rooted presuppositions in current Western thought. I pay particular attention to the ontological status and seeming “out-thereness” of the phenomenal world and to how the “phenomenal world” relates to the “physical world”, the “world itself”, and processing in the brain. In order to place the theory within the context of current thought and debate, I address questions that have been raised about reflexive monism in recent commentaries and also evaluate competing accounts of the same issues offered by “transparency theory” and by “biological naturalism”. I argue that, of the competing views on offer, reflexive monism most closely follows the contours of ordinary experience, the findings of science, and common sense.
Velmans, M. (2008). Psychophysical nature. In H.Atmanspacher and H.Primas (eds.) Wolfgang Pauli's Philosophical Ideas and Contemporary Science. Springer, pp 115-134. There are two distinct ways in which events that we normally think of as “physical” relate to events that we normally think of as “psychological”. One intimate relation occurs in exteroception at the point where events in the world become events as-perceived. The other intimate relationship occurs at the interface of conscious experience with its neural correlates in the brain. This chapter examines each of these relationships and positions them within a dual-aspect, reflexive model of how consciousness relates to the brain and external world. The chapter goes on to provide grounds for viewing mind and nature as fundamentally psychophysical, and examines similar views as well as differences in previously unpublished writings of Wolfgang Pauli, one of the founders of quantum mechanics.
Velmans, M. (2008) How to separate conceptual issues from empirical ones in the study of consciousness. In R. Banerjee and B.K. Chakrabarti (eds) Models of Brain and Mind: Physical, Computational and Psychological Approaches. Progress in Brain Research, Vol. 168, Elsevier, Amsterdam, pp 1-9. Problems of consciousness may be grouped into those that require empirical advance, those that require theoretical advance, and those that require a re-examination of some of our pre-theoretical assumptions. I give examples of these, and focus on two—what consciousness is, and what consciousness does—that require all three. In this, careful attention to conscious phenomenology and finding an appropriate way to relate first-person evidence to third-person evidence appears to be central to progress. But we may also need to re-examine what we take to be “natural facts” about the world, and how we can know them. The same appears to be true for a trans-cultural understanding of consciousness that combines classical Indian phenomenological methods with the third-person methods of Western science.
Velmans, M. (2009) How to define consciousness—and how not to define consciousness. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 16(5), 139-156.This paper suggests a way to define “phenomenal consciousness” and how to define “conscious processing” that provides a secure basis for their scientific investigation. It also discusses common ways in which confused definitions of these terms obscure the way that conscious phenomenology actually relates to its neural correlates and antecedent causes in the brain, body and external world.
Velmans, M. (2011) Can evolutionary theory explain the existence of consciousness? A review of N. Humphrey Soul Dust: The Magic of Consciousness, 2010 London: Quercus. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 18 (11-12), 243-254. This review gives a general introduction to the ways in which the existence and functions of consciousness pose problems for conventional Darwinian theory. It gives a detailed review of Humphrey's attempts to overcome these problems and concludes that his analysis does not succeed.
Velmans, M. (2011) A brief note on how phenomenal objects relate to objects themselves. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 8, (11-12), pp. 199-202. This brief paper deals with how projected phenomenal objects relate to objects themselves within the reflexive model of perception, a relationship that has often been misunderstood and misrepresented in the literature by those wishing to defend alternative theories.
Velmans, M. (2012) Violence, the fragile ego, and the peaceful self. GITAM Journal of Gandhian Studies, 1(1), pp. 111-121. This paper gives a brief introduction to various categories of violence along with some of their biological, socio-cultural, psychological and existential causes, for example violent responses to frustrated needs or desires of the kind specified by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The paper goes on to examine some of the basic principles for ameliorating violence. It then considers a special case of violence associated with fundamentalist beliefs, arguing that these can be understood as a form of destructive self-transcendence, that can ultimately only be remedied by the genuine self-actualization and self-transcendence required for a peaceful self.
Velmans, M. (2012) The evolution of consciousness. Contemporary Social Science, 7(2), pp117-138.
This paper evaluates whether Darwinian Theory can explain human consciousness. To inform the discussion, the paper reviews what is known about the conditions for consciousness within the human mind/brain, understood in both structural and functional terms and concludes that “random variations in the genome” provide no explanatory mechanism for why some neural activities (but not others) are accompanied by consciousness. The paper then evaluates the many functional advantages that have been proposed for various forms of phenomenal consciousness once they emerge, and concludes that, on close examination, phenomenal experiences themselves do not carry out the information processing functions attributed to them, which challenges the Darwinian requirement that they could only have persisted (once emergent) it they enhanced reproductive fitness. There are nevertheless good reasons to believe that as material forms evolve, their associated experiences co-evolve, suggesting an indirect mechanism by which the emergence of species-specific forms of consciousness can be influenced by Darwinian evolution.
Velmans, M. (2012) Reflexive Monism: psychophysical relations among mind, matter and consciousness. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 19 (9-10), 143-165.
This paper summarises ways the central assumptions underlying the development of Reflexive Monism and demonstrates how it can be used as a global system that both integrates and clarifies the relations among many other seemingly opposed philosophical positions that currently populate Consciousness Studies, including physicalism, functionalism, neutral monism, and dual-aspect monism. It also provides a potential bridge between aspects of Eastern and Western philosophy of mind. Some of the ideas presented in this paper move beyond my previously published work.
Velmans, M. and Nagasawa, Y. (2012) An introduction to monist alternatives to physicalism. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 19 (9-10), 7-18. This is an introduction to M.Velmans and Y. Nagasawa (eds.) Monist Alternatives to Physicalism: Special Issue of the Journal of Consciousness Studies 19(9-10). Exeter: Imprint Academic. The introduction reviews some of the enduring problems with physicalism and then introduces six monist alternatives to physicalism, which form the contributions to this Special Issue. Although conventional physicalism is thought to be inadequate, all of the alternatives are concerned to give a natural account of the relations among mind, matter and consciousness and assume that, for a unified understanding, mind, matter and consciousness must have a common base. The aim of the Special Issue is to foster creative thinking about what the nature of that base may be.
Velmans, M. (2013) How to arrive at an Eastern place from a Western Direction: Convergences and divergences among Samkya Yoga, Advaita Vedanta, the Body-Mind-Consciousness (Trident) Model and Reflexive Monism. In B. S. Prasad (ed.) "Consciousness Gandhi and Yoga: Interdisciplinary, East-West Odyssey of K.Ramakrishna Rao"New Delhi: D.K.Printworld, pp. 107-139. Over the millennia, there have been irresolvable tensions between monist and dualist thought in both Eastern and Western analyses of the relations among body, mind and consciousness. This paper compares two approaches to resolving such tensions, Reflexive Monism (RM), a model of the self-observing universe that resolves many of the oppositions in Western thought, and K. Ramakrisna Rao’s Eastern, Body-Mind-Consciousness (BMC) “Trident” model, which focuses on the convergences between dualist Samkya Yoga and monist Advaita Vedanta.
Velmans, M. (2013) A review of Donald D. Price and James J. Barrell(2012) Inner Experience and Neuroscience: Merging both Perspectives. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 20 (5-6), pp. 208-214. This book sets out a well-structured programme for how to integrate conventional psychological science and neuroscience with a more detailed study of human experience. It starts out, as it must, with a definition of terms and a review of basic questions: Is it possible to construct a science of experience? Why do we need it? What went wrong with previous attempts? What methods already exist that we can use? After a brief review of existing methods, including classical introspection, European phenomenology, and the Descriptive Experience Sampling (DES) method developed by Russ Hurlburt and his collaborators, they then go on to focus on the methods that they have used themselves in an extensive programme of experimental work dating back to the mid 1970s—a form of phenomenological analysis that they call the “experiential method”, combined with classical psychophysics and modern neuroscience. No other research programme that I know of has gone as far towards integrating well formed first-person methods with well-formed third-person investigative methods of the kind that are already well understood in psychophysics and neuroscience—thereby forming the basis for a non-reductive, experiential neuroscience—and, potentially, a paradigm shift in psychological research.
Velmans, M. (2014) Conscious agency and the preconscious/unconscious self. In S. Menon, A. Sinha, B.V. Sreekantan (eds.) Consciousness and Self: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Springer, pp. 11-25. We habitually think of our Self as a conscious agent operating largely in terms of how we consciously experience those operations. However, psychological and neuroscientific findings suggest that mental operations that seem to be initiated by the conscious Self are largely preconscious or unconscious. In this paper I examine how these aspects of the Self and its operations combine in the exercise of free will—and suggest that the conscious wishes, choices and decisions that we normally associate with “conscious free will” result from preconscious processes that provide a form of “preconscious free will”. We also examine how consciousness enables real-ization: it is only when one experiences something for oneself that it becomes subjectively real. Together, these findings suggest that Self has a deeper architecture. Although the real-ized aspects of the Self are the consciously experienced aspects, these are just the visible “tip” of a far more complex, embedding preconscious/unconscious ground.
Velmans, M. (2014) What makes a conscious process conscious? The Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 37(1), pp43-44. An open-peer commentary onNewell, B.R. & Shanks, D.R. (2014) Unconscious influences on decision making, BBS, 37:1, pp. 1-61.) Newell and Shanks’ critical review considers only a very limited sense in which mental processes can be thought of as either conscious or unconscious and consequently gives a misleading analysis of the role of consciousness in human information processing. This commentary provides an expanded analysis of conscious processing that also reveals the various ways in which mental processes are unconscious.
Some main themes in these on-line papers and chapters
The best overviews of my work are in Understanding Consciousness, 2000, 2009 (these syntheses includes a lot of material not covered in the on-line papers). However, the papers range widely, often encapsulating a given issue in more depth and detail (as required by peer reviewed journals). So, for those with a more scholarly interest, a rough route map that groups some of the papers around major themes might be of use:
- What's wrong with reductionism? Given the dominance of reductionism in current science, it is important to assess its limitations in consciousness research. "A thoroughly empirical first-person approach to consciousness", Psyche 1(6), 1994, gives a critique of reductionism in Baars' "global workspace" theory of consciousness. "The limits of neuropsychological models of consciousness", BBS, 1995, develops the argument that third-person accounts of the mind cannot be complete (in response to a target article by Gray). "Goodbye to reductionism", in Toward a Science of Consciousness, 1998, demonstrates that the ontological reductionism of consciousness to brain cannot work in principle (reductionist arguments confound causation and correlation with ontological identity, or they rely on false analogies, or both). "When perception becomes conscious," BJP, 1999, "A natural account of phenomenal consciousness" Communication and Cognition, 2001, and "Heterophenomenology vs. critical phenomenology: A dialogue with Dan Dennett" (2001 on-line) argue that functionalist reductionism in cognitive science is internally inconsistent. A fuller analysis of this issue is given in "Heterophenomenology versus criticial phenomenolology" , PCS, 2007, Some further pitfalls of reductionism are summarised in “How to define consciousness—and how not to define consciousness” (JCS, 2009), and a full critique of reductionism is given in Understanding Consciousness, 2000, 2009 chapters 3 to 5.
- What would a nonreductive science of consciousness be like? In my view this needs to combine the findings and methods of science with an acceptance and investigation of experience as it is (i.e. a consciousness science that does not try to reduce experience to a state or function of the brain). This requires a rather extensive process of intellectual reconstruction. My own route through this (in Understanding Consciousness) is Reflexive Monism, a modern version of the ancient view that humans are differentiated parts of a unified, reflexive universe. The building blocks for this are in some of the on-line papers: "Consciousness, brain, and the physical world," Philosophical Psychology, 1990, introduced a Reflexive Model of perception that illustrates how reflexivity operates in everyday experience. The model stresses that the end product of perception (in everyday experience) is a 3D phenomenal world. This challenges both dualist and reductionist analyses of what we experience, and requires a different view of how the experienced world relates to the world described by physics. It also suggests a novel resolution of the classical idealism vs. realism debate. In 1992 Philosophical Psychology presented a symposium on this paper along with my replies (Velmans 1992a, b, c). "What and where are conscious experiences?" in The Science of Consciousness, 1996; the more recent "Dualism, reductionism and reflexive monism" in The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness, 2007, alog with the fuller summary in “Reflexive monism” (JCS, 2008) provide an overview of this approach. "A Reflexive Science of consciousness", in CIBA Foundation Symposium 174, 1993, developed the implications of the Reflexive Model for psychology and for science in general, introducing a different approach to subjectivity vs. intersubjectivity and "objectivity", private vs. public knowledge, and repeatability in science. This paper was also accompanied by discussions with philosophers and scientists in this field (e.g. Searle, Dennett, Nagel, Gray, Marcel and Humphrey).The argument is extended, refined and completed in "Intersubjective Science," JCS, 1999, "An epistemology for the study of consciousness" in The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness, 2007, and Understanding Consciousness, 2009, chapter 9, all arguing the case for a unified, nonreductionist science. In recent years there has been increasing interest in nonreductive ontologies that might ground such a science and a number of these are collected in my (jointly edited) Special Issue of the Journal of Consciousness Studies on Monist Alternatives to Physicalism, October, 2012. A detailed analysis of how such a non-reductive science of consciousness can be practiced, along with many examples, is also given in Price & Barrell's book Inner Experience and Neuroscience (see online review above).
- How can we make sense of the paradoxes that surround consciousness? I have argued that the paradoxes of consciousness require us to think about what it is and what it does in a different way. Consider, for example, the following conundrum:
Question: Is it possible for consciousness to do something to or about something that it is not conscious of?
If the answer is NO. We are not aware of the activity of our own brains. So we conclude that consciousness as such does not influence brain activity.
If the answer is YES. We are not aware of the activity of our own brains. So consciousness must influence brain activity UNCONSCIOUSLY. So we conclude that consciousness as such does not influence brain activity.
Yet consciousness is central to being human. Without it our existence would be like nothing. So the notion that consciousness does nothing makes no sense.
(From "How to make sense of the causal interactions between consciousness and brain", paper presented at The Brain and Self Workshop: Toward a science of consciousness, Elsinore, Denmark, August 21-24, 1997)
What’s this about? From a third-person perspective consciousness seems to do nothing, but from a first-person perspective there seems to be little of importance in human life that we can do without it. A number of my papers focus on how to resolve this "causal paradox." "Is human information processing conscious?" in BBS, 1991, focused on cognitive psychological research, and combined a review of empirical research into conscious vs. nonconscious processing with a challenge to dominant functionalist theories of consciousness in philosophy and cognitive science. The paper both gave a case for associating consciousness with the late-arising products of focal-attentive processing, and for distinguishing consciousness from (being identical to) such processing. This was followed by an analysis of the different senses in which processes may be said to "be conscious", and the introduction of a "psychological complementarity principle" in which first- and third-person causal accounts of consciousness are complementary and mutually irreducible. This target article was followed by 36 commentaries. My reply, "Consciousness from a first-person perspective," BBS, 1991, developed the complementarity principle further, introducing "mixed-perspective explanations," and a new analysis of the consciousness/brain relationship that combines ontological monism with epistemological dualism (or pluralism). I suggested that consciousness and its neural correlates encode identical information, which appears to be formatted differently because of the different perspectives from which it is viewed. "Consciousness, causality and complementarity", BBS, 1993, developed this analysis, giving a more detailed account of how psychological complementarity differs from complementarity in physics, and how first- vs. third-person accounts of consciousness enter into causal explanations. "The relation of consciousness to the material world", JCS, 1995, provided an overview of how consciousness relates to information processing and information structure, including a nonreductive approach to scientific investigation of the mind. "Consciousness and the causal paradox", BBS, 1996, completed the run of this argument, showing how a "psychological complementarity principle" is required to resolve the paradox that from a third-person perspective consciousness appears to play no role in information processing, whereas from a first-person perspective consciousness seems necessary for most forms of complex human activity. A much fuller resolution of this paradox, covering both its epistemology and its ontology is given in Understanding Consciousness, 2000, 2009. An in-depth analysis of this issue (with extensive commentaries) also appears in “How Could Conscious Experiences Affect Brains”, JCS, 2003, and the consequences for our understanding of free will and responsibility are worked out in the 2003 JCS paper, “Preconscious free will”. This analysis is then developed in more depth in my 2013 chapter on "Conscious agency and the preconscious/unconscious self".
- The most common mistake people make about my work. I am not an epiphenomenalist! Without consciousness life would be like nothing! What does consciousness do? I argue that consciousness enables one to real-ize the world, i.e. it is only when some entity, event or process is consciously experienced that it becomes subjectively real. How this can be used to tease apart the conventional problems of consciousness/brain causal interaction is worked out in the many papers mentioned in the section directly above.
- What is Reflexive Monism? Monism is the view that the universe, at the deepest level of analysis, is one thing, or composed of one fundamental kind of stuff. This is usually contrasted with Substance Dualism, the view found, for example in the writings of Plato and Descartes that, fundamentally, the universe is composed of two kinds of stuff, physical stuff and the stuff of soul, mind or consciousness. Reflexive Monism, a philosophical position developed in Understanding Consciousness, 2000, 2009 is a modern version of an ancient view that the basic stuff of which the universe is composed has the potential to manifest both physically and as conscious experience (a dual aspect theory in the tradition of Spinoza). In its evolution from some primal undifferentiated state, the universe differentiates into distinguishable physical entities, at least some of which have the potential for conscious experience, such as human beings. While remaining embedded within and dependent on the surrounding universe and composed of the same fundamental stuff, each human, equipped with perceptual and cognitive systems has an individual perspective on, or view of, both the rest of the universe and him or her self. In this sense, each human participates in a process whereby the universe differentiates into parts and becomes conscious in manifold ways of itself, making the entire process reflexive. A detailed analysis of Reflexive Monism is given in my book Understanding Consciousness Edition 2 (2009), central features of this theory are summarised "Reflexive monism", JCS, 2008, and developed in ways not entirely covered by my book in "Reflexive monism: psychophysical relations among mind, matter and consciousness", JCS, 2012. It's similarities and differences to Eastern philosophy, particularly Advaita Vedanta are discussed in detail in "How to arrive at an Eastern place from a Western direction" (2013), available online (see above). They are also discussed in an online (2014) talk on "From West towards East in five simple steps" available here.