We know what consciousness is like, but what it is is something of a mystery
Philosophical as well as psychological problem
Conscious reports used to collect data in many areas of psychology, so knowing about it very important
Reflecting on own conscious awareness:
actually examining memory of here and now
usually examining things youre aware of, not process of being conscious of them
Does language determine the sort of conscious experience one has?
Awareness without consciousness: sleepwalking, visual neglect (which suggests consciousness might emanate from parietal lobes), blindsight
Advantages of having consciousness shown by above
Different types of consciousness shown by post-traumatic amnesia:
environmental awareness without sense of self
Problems with terminology:
different terms used for same thing
same term used for different things
consciousness taken to mean different things, limited or diverse
Descartes points out that everything except the fact that we think is doubtable, therefore...
mind and body may well be separate and qualitatively different things, therefore...
perhaps we cant reduce mind to something understandable in physical terms, for example...
how on earth could we explain the feeling of being in love in terms of brain states? and...
how could we possibly explain how a brain state gives rise to a feeling in the first place?
Some psychologists have overcome these problems by simply ignoring them
Different types of consciousness
awareness of mental processes we are using (e.g., feelings, memories, perceptions, problem-solving, communication)
verbal protocols used as evidence
the raw feel of things e.g., the experience of tasting coffee, rather than just describing it
watching what youre doing to check youre doing it right
even automatic processes need to be chained, this needs to be monitored
absent in people with anosognosia (they arent aware of their physical impairments)
awareness of who you are, past, present and future
some amnesics not aware of who they are
absent in people with asomatognosia (they do not recognise that they have a body)
Explanations of consciousness
Cognitive scientists, biologists and philosophers have come together to try to reach a unified understanding, despite their different perspectives and methodologies
Cognitive explanations of consciousness
Baars (1988) believes that consciousness is a common workspace receiving input from specialised, unconscious, processors (for perception, language, etc.)
Information is shared and co-ordinated
Information is then outputted to all receiving processors and changes the way they operate
It is passive
It is computationally inefficient (e.g., cant do long division)
It has a wide range of possible contents
It has to be consistent (e.g., can only see the Necker cube in one orientation or the other)
It operates serially (specialists operate in parallel) so we can only attend to one or two things at once
It cant accept conflicting information from different specialists
It has a limited capacity
Memories, perceptions, etc. become conscious if they pass a certain threshold
It is useful for attending to novel things
It fits with a lot of what we know about different unconscious processes and unifies them
It explains access consciousness and monitoring consciousness well
It explains self-consciousness less well
It fails to explain phenomenal consciousness
It is descriptive rather than explanatory
Biological explanations of consciousness
Damasio (1999) proposes three types of self that explain different types of consciousness
Proto-self: our sense of stability, arises from invariant organisation and structure of our body, brain representations of information from somatosensory mechanisms
Proto-self not conscious, but necessary for consciousness
Extended self: consciousness arises from the relationships between these representations of the internal environment and the external world
Autobiographical self: our memories, also gives rise to consciousness when it comes into relation with the external world
Explains why consciousness is dominated by external objects
Explains phenomenal consciousness we are aware of changes in our bodily state brought about by external events
Explains self-consciousness in terms of the interaction between internal and external representations
It doesnt explain how consciousness arises from all of the above to say it emerges just isnt enough
Philosophical explanations of consciousness
Neither cognitive or biological explanations deal with the raw feel of consciousness
Chalmers (1995) says its hard to explain how experience (qualia) arises from physical events
Searle (1999) says the difficulty is that consciousness is inner, qualitative and subjective and therefore not open to scientific enquiry which is objective: we cant see into other peoples feelings or experience their experience
Problems have led to some adopting extreme positions...
Dennett(1991) says there is no phenomenal consciousness; its just that we talk as if there is, and this leads us falsely to believe that there is. This is just sophistic nonsense its blatantly obvious that we experience things
Chalmers (1995) says that experience is another fundamental feature of the universe like mass, charge, space and time, except that its non-physical. However, he fails to explain what this actually means
McGinn proposes the idea of mysterianism: its just too complicated to ever understand. But if we cant, can we really say that psychology is a science of the mind?
Can consciousness be explained by a single theory?
Can consciousness by studied scientifically?