Selected publications on consciousness
The following is a selection of some my publications on consciousness with a very brief description attached. A brief summary of some of the main themes is also given at the end.
Velmans, M. (2009) Understanding Consciousness, Edition 2. London: Routledge/Psychology Press/Taylor & Francis. (UK, USA).
A current, comprehensive summary of my theoretical work that updates and deepens the analysis given in Edition 1. Part 1 reviews the strengths and weaknesses of all currently dominant theories of consciousness in a form suitable for undergraduates, postgraduates and researchers focusing mainly on dualism, physicalism, functionalism and consciousness in machines. Part 2 gives a new analysis of consciousness, grounded in its everyday phenomenology, which undermines the basis of the dualism versus reductionist debate. It also examines the consequences for realism versus idealism, subjectivity, intersubjectivity and objectivity, and the relation of consciousness to brain processing. Part 3 gives a new synthesis, with a novel approach to understanding what consciousness is and what consciousness does. It also introduces Reflexive Monism, an alternative to dualism and reductionism that is consistent with the findings of science and with common sense.
Velmans, M. (2000) Understanding Consciousness. London: Routledge/Psychology Press/Taylor & Francis. (UK, USA)
Available as an ebook at Amazon.com, Ebook mall and Taylor & Francis.
A comprehensive survey of consciousness studies at the turn of the 21st Century, and outline of my own theoretical approach. Now updated, with a deepened analysis in Edition 2.
Velmans, M. (2003) How Could Conscious Experiences Affect Brains? Exeter: Imprint Academic. (UK, USA)
This is a special issue of the Journal of Consciousness Studies that presents my suggested solution to one of the hardest of the "hard" problems of consciousness, accompanied by commentaries from Kihlstrom, Feinberg, Torrance, Van Gulick, Gray, Rakover, Chrisley & Sloman, Rao, and my reply.
Velmans, M. & Schneider, S. (eds.) (2007) The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness. Malden, MA: Blackwell. (UK, USA)
The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness is the most thorough and comprehensive survey of contemporary scientific research and philosophical thought on consciousness currently available. Extensively peer reviewed, its 55 newly commissioned chapters combine state of the art surveys with cutting-edge research.
Velmans, M. (ed.) (2000) Investigating Phenomenal Consciousness: New Methodologies and Maps. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. (UK, USA)
A set of 15 invited chapters by leading researchers and theoreticians that survey the strengths and weaknesses of new methods (and rediscovered methods) for investigating consciousness. Part 1 gives an introductory overview, followed by a series of methodology chapters ranging over third-person brain imaging techniques, first-person phenomenological investigations, second-person methods for exploring intersubjectivity and classical techniques drawn from Eastern philosophy. Part 2 examines a variety of alternative "maps" of the consciousness studies terrain.
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) 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) 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. 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.
Some main themes in these online papers
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.
- 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”.