Phenomenological comes with our cognitive, sensory and affective

Phenomenological
awareness – Is consciousness
something over and  above the sum of
physical processes?

 

“What is it like to be a bat?” (Nagel, 1974, p.1). This
famous question introduced in Thomas Nagel’s eponymous
1974 article
hits the nail on its
head. What is conscious experience? We
might know exactly what a bat is, and how a bat in all its parts works, but can
we ever tell what it is like to be a bat? This subjective experience is hard to
describe and the question
where it comes from allures humans for more than 2000 years (Blackmore, 2017).

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!


order now

            Four hundred years ago, Rene Descartes proposed his dualist view of
consciousness, that is still engraved in the minds of many people nowadays.

According to Descartes, there is a mortal body, which is home to an immortal
soul (Blackmore, 2017). Consciousness would therefore be a metaphysical object
that is placed within a corporal shell to act in a physical world. This view,
also called Cartesian Dualism, is the direct opposite of the more recently
formed view of materialism. Materialism is based on the idea that only matter
gives rise to everything we experience (Blackmore, 2017). But how can
conscious experience be reduced to interaction of different forms of matter? This
essentially is the hard problem of consciousness as presented by David Chalmers
(Chalmers, 1995). And, equally important; is consciousness just something that goes
hand in hand with our experiences and automatically comes with our cognitive,
sensory and affective input; or do subjective experiences arise from something
that is more than the sum of the stimuli within and around us?

            In
my opinion, conscious experience is entirely based on the interaction of matter.

It is not an added extra ingredient given to us, or a specific function in the
brain that depends on the activity of a single neural correlate either. I
believe it arises from the interaction of the many processes in our bodies and
environments. I think that
consciousness is the epiphenomenon of the information integration in our
brains.

            The main problem with the dualist theories is that they rarely explain
the interaction between the mind and the physical world which it acts upon.

Descartes proposed that body senses its physical environment and interacts with
the mind through the pineal gland, which has proven to be wrong. Popper and
Eccles’ theory of dualist interactionism completely misses a link between mind and mind and environment
(Blackmore, 2017).

            Humanity has made enormous scientific
progress in the last hundred years and we now know that the brain controls most
processes in our body (Blackmore, 2017). We can identify, isolate and even
reproduce most of the processes that lead to perception, behavior and action.

Chalmers describes the research on formation of perception, action etc. as the solution
to the easy problems, that you can measure and describe (Chalmers, 1995). Yet
the more we know about the working structures in our bodies, the more it comes
apparent that we have a hard time finding the residence of consciousness. With
lesion studies and research on patients with diminished consciousness we have
found that there is no single spot in which consciousness resides (Alkire,
Hudetz, & Tononi, 2008). Alkire et al. hypothesize, with the evidence of
studies on anesthetized patients, that consciousness depends of the integration
of different cortical activities. This evokes the question, whether
consciousness is something that merely goes along with thinking, feeling and
perceiving or something that is added on top of these processes. Ensuing from
the view that consciousness is inseparable from other brain processes, it will
never be possible to find a central area that houses consciousness.

            This agrees with Dehaene Neuronal Workspace Hypothesis, which assumes
that consciousness is a connection of various processes in the brain that
together form a coherent experience. This relates to the findings of Alkire et
al. (2008), that unconsciousness is a “breakdown of cortical connectivity” (Alkire et al as in
Gleitman). I find Dehaene’s
approach very convincing, as his model sees no need for a single central seat
of consciousness and explicitly rejects the notion of a Cartesian Theater
(Dehaene & Naccace 2001). This hypothesis supports my opinion, that
cerebral information integration the creates conscious experience.

            So,
like Dennett argued in a thought experiment, if you completely reproduce a
human body, there would be no disturbance in conscious experience, as the
individual structures would stay the same and the connection would be no
different (Dennett, 1978).

Daniel Dennett concludes that we need to move
on from the idea of a Cartesian theater in which a little homunculus is the
central operative in our brains (Dennett, 2007).

            From
research on neural correlates of consciousness we learned that certain
conscious experiences have a distinct activation pattern to them. Some
phenomena, such as binocular rivalry, in which two pictures superimposed on one
another, are shown to the participant, show that the higher cortical regions
respond accordingly to the picture the participant is conscious of (Gleitman,
2011). Yet, it is important to note that Neural correlates does not necessarily
imply causation.

            I
believe the main problem with the dualist theories arguing for some instance in
addition to physical processes, is that firstly they rarely explain the
interaction between the mind and the physical world which it acts upon.

Descartes proposed that body senses its physical environment and interacts with
the mind through the pineal gland, which has proven to be wrong. Popper and
Eccles’ s theory of dualist interactionism
completely misses a link between mind and mind and environment (Blackmore,
2017). Moreover, they fail to bring forth evidence for a central seat of
consciousness. As mentioned before, research into the neural correlates of
consciousness showed that some areas seem to be more involved than others, e.g.

the prefrontal cortex and the anterior cingulate (Dehaene & Naccache,
2001), yet they always act in combination with other areas, e.g. the perceptual
areas in the cortex. 

 

 

References

 

Alkire,
Hudetz, & Tononi, 2009

 

Blackmore

 

Chalmers

Dahaene & Naccache

Dennett

 

Dennett, D. silverstream314. (2007, November 2). Cartesian Theatre – Daniel Dennett Video file. Retrieved from:

Gleitman

Nagel