April Blog Post

The first chapter of The Nature of Consciousness by Mike Rowlands argues that consciousness, specifically phenomenal consciousness, presents a threat to the materialist theory of the mind because it deals mainly with sensations and emotions, which due to being materially intangible, can’t exactly be quantifiably measured. Experiences, according to phenomenal consciousness, are more than simply images, sounds, odors, textures, and tastes. However, as Rowlands explains, phenomenal consciousness is very difficult to explain, but he then states that “Rather, it is a feature of our understanding of the concept that any adequate amount of consciousness should address and, hopefully, explain. Approaches that are, broadly speaking, eliminativist about phenomenal consciousness will explain this by saying that there is no coherent concept there to specify, or that what is there is a jumbled mish-mash of conceptually variegated strands that cannot be rendered into a coherent whole.” Rowlands then goes on to state that the book is of the realist, rather than the eliminativist, persuasion. According to the book, an author by the name of Nagel claimed in 1974 in a paper “‘What is it like to be a bat?’, to say that ‘there is something that it is like to be that organism – something it is like for the organism’.” This claim points to the idea that experiences as well as the beings who have them are phenomenally conscious. For example, the book gives the example of being guided while blindfolded and the person’s experience depending on their sensations during the scenario. The topic is very interesting because it presents our experiences as more than the sum of their sensory parts, that the emotions one feels during an experience are just as important as the sensory information we gather. However, the phenomenal consciousness theory has a few problems of its own, each of them shown through a hypothetical situation. The first is that of the abused scientist, who is kept her whole life in a black-and-white and grayscale room without any non-neutral colors. She is also all grayscale. Despite her unusual life, she is a leading neuroscientist with a specialty in color vision. When she is let out of her B&W room to experience non-neutral colors for the first time, she learns what it is like to experience color despite her grayscale upbringing. The second is that of the zombie. In this context, the zombie is someone who “is physically and functionally human, but which lacks conscious experience.” Such a person lacks any phenomenal experience and though not a natural possibility, they are still a logical possibility. The third is that of the deviant (but not the sexual kind). Here, deviants are individuals who are like doubles of us for whom qualia are inverted, meaning that our conscious experiences are inverted. For example, when one person has an experience as of the color red (seeing a red fire truck), their inverted twin has an experience as of the color green (seeing an expanse of grass). Just like the zombie, the inverted twin is also a logical possibility.

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