• 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 you’re 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:
• non-consciousness
• automatism
• environmental awareness without sense of self
• full consciousness
• Problems with terminology:
• different terms used for same thing
• same term used for different things
• ‘consciousness’ taken to mean different things, limited or diverse


Philosophical problems

• 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 can’t 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

• Access consciousness:
• awareness of mental processes we are using (e.g., feelings, memories, perceptions, problem-solving, communication)
• verbal protocols used as evidence
• Phenomenal consciousness:
• the ‘raw feel’ of things — e.g., the experience of tasting coffee, rather than just describing it
• Monitoring consciousness:
• watching what you’re doing to check you’re doing it right
• even automatic processes need to be chained, this needs to be monitored
• absent in people with anosognosia (they aren’t aware of their physical impairments)
• Self-consciousness:
• awareness of who you are, past, present and future
• autobiographical awareness
• 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., can’t 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 can’t 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
• Evaluation +
• It fits with a lot of what we know about different unconscious processes and unifies them
• It explains access consciousness and monitoring consciousness well
• Evaluation –
• 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
• Evaluation +
• 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
• Evaluation –
• It doesn’t explain how consciousness arises from all of the above — to say “it emerges” just isn’t enough

Philosophical explanations of consciousness

• Neither cognitive or biological explanations deal with the raw ‘feel’ of consciousness
• Chalmers (1995) says it’s 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 can’t see into other people’s feelings or experience their experience
• Problems have led to some adopting extreme positions...
• Dennett(1991) says there is no phenomenal consciousness; it’s just that we talk as if there is, and this leads us falsely to believe that there is. This is just sophistic nonsense — it’s 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 it’s non-physical. However, he fails to explain what this actually means
• McGinn proposes the idea of mysterianism: it’s just too complicated to ever understand. But if we can’t, 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?