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Document status: September 25, 2003

This document was originally written in the winter of 1995 as a reaction to John Searle’s review of books on consciousness in the New York Review of Books. It was about that time that Michael Tye published Ten Problems of Consciousness. I was not aware of Tye’s book until the next year and it is a coincidence that there are ten problems in this essay

The current essay is outdated with regard to my thought on consciousness and philosophical frameworks for thinking about consciousness. It is superseded by Problems in the Philosophy of Mind and Consciousness and then by Journey in Being. The latter essay is far more ambitious than the former on consciousness and this essay – in scope and in depth – and it is, therefore less detailed. Therefore, the current essay may contain some items of interest

While the essential content of the current essay is implicit in Journey in Being in virtue of its relative depth, this essay may have some material of interest – especially suggestions for work on consciousness



1        What is consciousness?

2        What is the seat of consciousness?

3        What is necessary and sufficient for consciousness?

4        Who or what is conscious?

5        What is the place of consciousness in mind?

6        What is the function of consciousness?

7        What is the place of consciousness in the universe?

8        What is necessary for a metaphysics to explain consciousness?

9        The problems of explanation and understanding

10       Future directions

Appendix: Metaphysics and The Fundamental Problem of Consciousness


Copyright and Most Recent Update




The origins of this essay

The topics of this essay are an important part of my interests. I have been thinking and writing on these issues for a long time

I read John Searle’s New York Review of Books articles on the “Mystery of Consciousness” starting November 1995 and by December, that year had written “The Problems of Consciousness” - the first version of this essay. I agreed with much of what Searle had to say. I disagreed with some of his views and felt that the treatment needed inclusion of additional and important dimensions. This was reflected in that original version

I added a significant amount of new material in a number of steps over the year of 1996. The additions included further reflections on metaphysics and relations to the problems of consciousness. I added a second part “Metaphysics and The Fundamental Problem of Consciousness.” This resulted in “Reflections on the Problems of Consciousness” in December 1996

This second version went through a number of revisions

Recently, I have been updating much of my writing using Microsoft Word 97 on a Gateway 2000 Pentium 166 MMX computer. I have made some additions and partial re-organization and the essay is now “Reflections on Metaphysics and The Fundamental Problem of Consciousness.”

The “digitization” has been an exciting task. In addition to the automation due to Word, I have entered the outlines of some of my essays as a Microsoft Access 97 database. The purpose is to manipulate the outlines as data and as concepts. Outlines can be joined. Different conceptualizations of the same outline can be compared. When I interpret the results, I find new understanding. The result is that the text and data processing is assisting in my thinking and concept formation

I have written an essay “Dynamic Uses of Computers” that catalogs numerous other ways from the detailed and merely organizational to the general and conceptual to programming and automation…in which data processing may be used in concept formation and related knowledge and thought processes. The potential applications range mechanical assistance to those in which the computer is deployed to “enter the loop of concept of knowledge and concept formation.”

I am exploring new concepts of “thought” which will allow an interpretation in which my computer is thinking. “Dynamic Uses of Computers” which elaborates and analyses this interpretation. This development clearly meshes with some of the considerations in the present essay

This indicates one line for further work

Another line is the mesh with my central interests that I have developed in “Evolution and Design” of 1987, and continue with “Evolution, Design, and the Absolute” - the title is not final

My adventures in nature and culture also affect my thoughts on consciousness

Some of these considerations are present - if obliquely - in the present essay

A number of other avenues and plans are outlined and discussed in §10 of this essay

One suggestion of that section is a consideration that is somewhat neglected in my essay and many academic developments. It concerns the wonder of the emergence of my own consciousness. That is a mystery, not so much in the sense of my being ignorant of the source of my consciousness, but in the sense of awe, wonder and adventure. As I point out in §10.4.3 this issue has academic interest and consequences in addition to its existential aspect

That paints a picture of the journey ahead

June 1998

Introduction to the problems

In reflection on consciousness and upon what has been written on this topic, it appears to me that there are a number of interrelated issues, or questions, which, taken as a whole, define the problems and problem areas of consciousness and their relations with the world. I believe that, as for any significant philosophical or existential problem consideration in a whole or universal context contributes to understanding of the problem and of the universal context. This development does not arise at once but is iterative, reflexive and interactive. However, although the development is interactive, this essay is divided into two main parts. In the first part, “The Problems,” problems and resolutions are defined, refined and elaborated. The selection of the problems is important - I consider and apply the issue of what constitutes a complete set of problems of consciousness. “The Problems” are interactive with the second main part on “Metaphysics and the Fundamental Problem of Consciousness.”

The problem areas include the proximate - the immediate aspects, the material “substrate”, the nature including concepts and definitions of consciousness and its function from mechanical and from valuational perspectives, as part of an organism in nature and in social life, and the growth of consciousness in the individual; the evolutionary - the origins of consciousness in evolution [that is, in nature], the origin of its nature and functions and interrelations; and the ultimate issues which include the relations between consciousness and the universe, and questions such as whether the universe is material and or mental and or intrinsically conscious…

Proximate issues can be seen as immediate, as phenomenal and - according to choice of metaphysics - as empirical, or material or ideal. As far as origins are hypothetical rather than empirical, evolutionary issues can be seen as a conceptual integration of the proximate issues. This follows from the paradigm in biology where evolution provides a deep explanatory framework. Since ultimate concerns can be seen as the most general of conceptual schemes, evolutionary considerations form a connection between the proximate and the ultimate. I do not regard the evolutionary and the ultimate as merely conceptual and, as pointed out below, they are intimately related to the proximate even in a realistic framework

Note that the term “evolutionary” could be replaced by the more neutral “genetic” - which is introduced here in its etymological and not in any specifically biological or theological sense. Genetic issues would be those having to do with origins, creation, history and formation. The problem areas would then be the proximate, the genetic and the ultimate

It has been suggested in the literature that the essential problem of consciousness is its origin in the brain and that definition of consciousness is simple. This has a certain adequacy, especially in relation to some of the proximate problems. Remember, however, that in physical science concepts of matter have come a long way from ostensive definition, that is, definition by instance rather than description. Similarly, note that consciousness is an element of mind among other elements and that in this consciousness itself is not unitary. It follows that a restructuring of our understanding of mind and consciousness is possible and some considerations of this issue are made in this essay. These provide useful perspectives on consciousness. Further, to be taken up later, such an intrinsic science of consciousness would provide additional avenues for scientific investigation and explanation of consciousness. Thus, the idea that the definition of consciousness is or should be simple - or ostensive - is useful but limited

Relative to the evolutionary and the ultimate issues, I find characterizations of consciousness as simple or unitary to be inadequate, since they suggest, as noted in the following essay, a projection to the ultimate of certain proximate and contingent modes of description. Furthermore, I believe denial of the ultimate is an error - perhaps even pathology - of modern intellectual and spiritual life with serious negative intellectual and existential consequences

The evolutionary [genetic] and the ultimate problems are, of course, vital and interesting from both scientific and human points of view. Common origins result in relations among the elements and so genetic descriptions are a powerful component of systems of understanding and explanation. The history of the universe - or of the universes - is one of a handful of perspectives on the ultimate that provide alternatives to mere belief

Additionally, I see the proximate and the ultimate as intimately related - in fact and each for the understanding of the other. Therefore, from philosophic and even from scientific and practical day-to-day standpoints, the ultimate questions are relevant

In the following essay, I reflect upon these issues and relationships, and briefly, upon how they have been viewed in the recent literature. I list and discuss ten interrelated problems of consciousness. As discussed above, proximate, evolutionary and ultimate issues are considered, and, because of the interrelations, these problems and problem areas are synergistically interactive. In other words, reflection upon the group of problems as a whole also enhances understanding of the individual problems

In the essay, the problems are numbered 1 through 10. Problems 3 and 4 regard proximate concerns; except problem 10, the remaining problems are ultimate or evolutionary

The essay starts with reflection on the nature of consciousness in Problem 1 and its material origins in Problem 2. The treatment focuses more on the nature of the problems and solutions than on specific solutions

These considerations are then refined and elaborated in Problems 3 and 4. In Problem 3, I reflect on what are the mental and or material elements of consciousness - and of human consciousness. Problem 4 asks, “What is conscious?” and “How is consciousness recognized?”

In anticipation of the needs of the discussion of evolutionary and ultimate concerns - indeed even of a full treatment of proximate concerns - definitions and signs of consciousness beyond ostensive definition are up in problems 1 through 4

Problem 5 takes up the relationships of consciousness to other mental activity. The functions of consciousness are the concerns of Problem 6

This leads naturally into the evolutionary, ultimate and metaphysical issues of Problems 7, 8 and 9:

Problem 7 is on the place of consciousness in the universe. What are the relations and origins of consciousness?

Problem 8 considers the relation between consciousness and metaphysics. What are the necessary elements to explain consciousness?

Problem 9 considers the relation between consciousness and explanation and understanding. Explanation and understanding may be abstracted from their known human context. In their abstract form they may be regarded as features of the universe. What does this imply regarding consciousness?

In addition to thinking about consciousness, I also consider the nature and significance of the problems; approaches to thinking about these issues; competing metaphysical frameworks within which consciousness might be best understood; and, finally, directions for future work. These reflections are interspersed throughout the essay, but are also specifically taken up in problem 10

I have tried from a number of points of view to list a complete, structured problem set, and to show that this set is “necessary”; this is at this point somewhat implicit and intuitive. Problem 10 also takes up this issue in an explicit and rational way

In thinking about the problems, I naturally reflect upon ideas, resolutions and answers. A well-defined set of problems specifies the field and contains and implies the structure and nature of the resolutions

A future treatment would include reformulation of the issues as [1] Nature of consciousness; the aspects or areas of consciousness; function; relation to the world: mind, matter…[2] Perspectives on understanding and knowledge of consciousness as an element of the human endeavor of understanding. Now, since the broader topics [the “context”] themselves contain open questions, [1] raises questions of science, metaphysics, society, and value…and [2] raises epistemological issues. Further metaphysics includes - or can be seen as including - epistemology and this provides an organizational principles

This essay also functions as groundwork for further development; some beginnings towards resolution are found throughout the essay and specifically in a final section entitled “Metaphysics and the Fundamental Problem of Consciousness”. Building upon considerations developed in defining and reflecting upon consciousness and its problems, this section also provides beginnings toward definition and resolution of The Fundamental Problem of Metaphysics

This final consideration elaborates the necessity and power, noted above, of considering the broad and essential realm of consciousness in its complete ontological or world context. This contextual formulation of individual problems as part of a complete problem comes neither before nor after consideration of constituent problems but is part of an ongoing cycle or process. It relates to what I have called a “Complete Field” and, informally, to the idea of axiomatic systems from mathematical logic. Although there is an overlap with axiomatic systems the scope and emphasis are different. The scope of a complete field includes being or entities; facts and history; concepts, ideas and theories; discussion and analysis. The analysis is explicitly reflexive and so includes discussion of what should constitute a complete field and what constitutes good analysis. The historical element includes a requirement that incorporates the history of ideas; completeness requires that this should not be limited with regard to era, culture, society, or being. Thus the scope includes the “sub-fields” of being, history, concepts and analysis. The emphasis in formulating a complete is to bring all relevant considerations into play - starting, perhaps, with the immediate world and common meanings. This is followed by expanding scope, refining meanings and relationships. The elements of a Complete Field include - by design and by evolution - factors conducive to the production of a complete field. The potentially over-ambitious and paradoxical aspects of the term “complete” are diffused by the foregoing placement in an ebb and flow process. Given this, the idea of a complete field is seen as a reasonable modern process analogue of the ideas and intents of the older concepts of systematic or speculative metaphysics

December, 1995

December, 1996

June, 1998



1           What is consciousness?

2           What is the seat of consciousness?

In some viewpoints - for both scientific and practical purposes - consciousness is not difficult to define: it is simply what we think it to be in common sense: it is the state or function of mind in which we have subjective experience of the world.[2]

Since there is a qualitative, subjective feeling to conscious states, such states have been labeled qualia

In one standard viewpoint the essence of consciousness is qualia; humans and some animals are conscious; consciousness arises in the brain; and the real problem of consciousness is how does it arise in the brain - “the most important problem in modern biology”.[3] Thus the problem of consciousness, in this viewpoint, is the problem of qualia; that is, how do feelings, sensations, imagery, and thoughts arise in matter. More particularly, how do they arise in the brain?

The flow of this essay is this: I first consider proximate issues and criticism of the standard view described briefly above and in the introduction. This leads via an examination of the nature of the argument - and of dialectic in general - to evolutionary and ultimate considerations. Finally, as an integral part of the development, a full field of concepts including metaphysics will be naturally delineated and tested. The final discussion will formulate and analyze a fundamental problem of metaphysics

The discussion will illuminate both topics

That discussion of fundamental problem of metaphysics will be flow naturally and necessarily from the consideration of the issues of consciousness. That is true because of the centrality and depth of the issue of consciousness and because a full discussion of any central ontological topic must be in its whole context

2.1         On definition...and on definitions of consciousness

The purpose of the following note is to show that adequacy of definition is a function of objectives and to provide some preliminary consideration to be taken up in further detail later in this essay - of this issue relative to proximate, evolutionary and ultimate problems

Definition of consciousness as qualia is an ostensive definition - a definition by “pointing”, by identifying the object of definition; e.g., I point at a tree and say “that is a tree” and perhaps at another tree and say “that too is a tree”. Another type of definition is the verbal definition [Russell], also called or similar to the real definition. A tree has roots, trunk, branches, leaves, etc. The idea is, in preference to coming up with a perfect definition for all time, to illuminate here and now, and based also upon past experience [tree] recognition and understanding… and also its relation with other things [explanation, understanding, knowledge] by uncovering the real essence of “tree-hood”… ostensive definition is a beginning. It is the verbal definition in which I say, “a tree is a tree” or “a tree is what it is”… or “consciousness is qualia”. Simple!

But “real” definition attempts to understand one thing in terms of other things [external and or internal]: to enhance understanding. This, of course, is not a simple matter of inter-human agreement. Real definition is also a process or part of a process of discovery [and, therefore, a common notion of definition as coming at the beginning, as defining, is somewhat misleading; yes, in an axiomatic system definitions come near the beginning but in formulation there is an interactive process and in reformulation the redefinition of a concept is based on experience with the entire axiomatic system - and its relations internal and external]…

An objective in terms of making a system of knowledge most useful is to have a few - perhaps a minimal number of primitives [terms or concepts and axioms] in terms of which all else is understood. But what are the most fundamental of primitives? One criterion is identification [in a sense similar to empathy], another is efficiency - a function of number of primitives, simplicity and the number and variety of items, topics explained. Materialists would explain consciousness in terms of matter [and this includes biological materialism]; Idealists[4] would chart an atlas of mental function and identify consciousness as a territory within or as a result of other functions. And, regardless of whether the mental or material is “most fundamental”, the mental is necessary to interpret and identify the results of material explanation - and, perhaps, to guide material explanation… and if one posits that, ultimately, consciousness is the fundamental primitive underlying all of existence, then: since existence, the world, the universe, experience are structured: consciousness, too, must have or be capable of having structure and, in terms of understanding, a fundamental task is to map this structure, to reveal its dynamics and then - from both utilitarian and aesthetic perspectives of understanding - to reduce the dynamic structure to its basic form… Of course, the issue of matter vs. mind is not necessarily either or - multiple modes of description and phenomena may be present in the one universe

In what follows, we shall show that considering consciousness to include awareness of awareness we provide an approach to connecting first person descriptions [qualia] to the third person [matter or brain]; that is, to solving the problem of qualia. We also provide analytical, intuitive, mechanical and evolutionary bases for the idea of consciousness as including awareness of awareness. Structure of consciousness may be significant for the evolution of consciousness [Problem 6]. In Problem 8, I consider a reconceptualization of consciousness that may be relevant to the ultimate nature and role of consciousness. Such a reconceptualization may also be useful in evolutionary considerations

Here ends the note on definition. I now return to the tasks of defining consciousness. Here I will focus on proximate issues and problems. Evolutionary and ultimate concerns will be addressed later

Recall that in some viewpoints definition of consciousness is simple. There are other points of view which hold that consciousness is difficult, perhaps even extraordinarily difficult, to define

One question that has arisen in the past is whether consciousness is mere awareness[5] or whether awareness of awareness or self-awareness is necessary for consciousness. One motivation for this requirement would be to identify consciousness as a special kind of awareness: either as an attempt to understand consciousness and, more specifically, human[6] consciousness and or to imply that human [and perhaps some “higher” animal] forms of awareness are unique and or special. However, a valid question arises: is it possible to be conscious [or aware] without being aware of the awareness - even if the awarenesses are only vague and dim?

Another question is whether language is necessary for [higher] consciousness

I tend to think that awareness of awareness is necessary for consciousness but that language is not. My reasons for this are not, however, to imply that only humans and or higher animals are conscious, but, rather - and in so far as there is an external motive - to extend the domain of what we consider conscious to at least all animal being. The argument is that there is no such thing as a pure awareness of an object or the environment; each awareness is of a relation between perceiver and perceived

The fact that sensory organs, and their integration of information, have evolved or are adapted to specific environments, results in compensation for the specific vantage point of the perceiver, and this permits a sense of perception and consistent associated behavior, which is or may appear to be purely object-bound

I should be more careful about the argument regarding awareness. The premise is that each awareness is an awareness of a relation between a perceiver and a perceived “object”: this is clear and manifest. I can say:

Awareness = Relation [Self, Object]

Strictly then, each awareness involves an awareness of self-object relations. Thus it is a jump to substitute awareness for self

This needs careful reflection:

From the point of view [in a materialist or neutral[7] ontology] of the diffusion of consciousness or awareness among the elements of being which include the element of self. In this case an awareness is awareness of awareness

In an idealist ontology self = consciousness and, therefore, all awareness is awareness of awareness

Also consider that awareness may be primal - not a relation, and not awareness of - but may split into awareness of awareness and awareness of object

2.2         On the definition or concept of consciousness as including awareness of awareness

There are also the intuitions to be made precise - separately and together:

There is a core intuitive question: without being aware that I am aware, how could I be aware at all? This point requires reflection that can be refined as follows. We could call object awareness “primary awareness”, and awareness of awareness “secondary awareness”. Now allow all combinations in which both primary and secondary awarenesses range from the stark to the vague and the discrete to the diffuse

Also, in regards to the previous point: awareness - mind - consciousness - reality - phenomena… are all part of the universe

Body consciousness… includes consciousness of the World

The [perhaps] primal functionality of awareness of awareness:

Primitively: when awareness is changing in time, then by awareness of [changing] awareness we “know” that something in the world [interior and exterior] is changing in time

Primitively: when awareness is qualitatively varied over space [including the body] then by awareness as [varied] awareness do we “know” that the world [interior and exterior] has structure

In the above begins our image of our temporal being within the being of the universe

If consciousness is on-off while awareness [the word being used more in the sense of intentionality] is a continuum… then may not the “onset” of consciousness be at the point of awareness of awareness?

At a “higher” level: by knowing that I am aware… and the nature of the awareness… I can use and mould awareness to ends and function[s]

Is not all this [or can it not be expressed as manifestly] adaptive; and, therefore, is this not an indicator of the evolutionary origin of consciousness?

These functions are focused in - diffused through the body into the environment and in some ways continuous with it; and is this not, also, an indicator of the evolutionary origin of consciousness

And do not these close tie-ins mesh with the elements of all being connected with the reasons that we are [and machines are not] aware, conscious? [Machines are extensions of our awareness… being-environment connection] … or, put another way, consciousness or awareness is a manifestation of universal process in the individual being.[8]

Awareness of awareness is at least preliminary to knowing that one is conscious

And - is consciousness truly on-off? Introspection, that is consciousness of consciousness - especially directed exploration of consciousness - appears to show a substrate of process below each level… and how do we know there is a lower limit of possible access?

Note: [1] there is no implication above that awareness as a perception of a relation between perceiver and perceived is precise [in terms of, say, spatio-temporal categories] or stark and vivid, or linguistically expressed. Question: What does this imply for self-awareness and body perception and proprioception? Is this paradoxical, a reentrant map, or self-organization? And, in turn, what does this imply for perception as relation?

[2] If we are questioning the ontic status of perception, is it not naive to talk of perceiver and perceived?

In general, difficulties of definition and understanding may be relative to the problems addressed or the primitive terms of understanding and explanation employed; e.g., the material substrate, or the elements of mind

Relative to what is sometimes thought of as the problem of consciousness: how does consciousness arise in the brain? It may be sufficient, for practical purposes, to take the essence of consciousness to be QUALIA. However we do not yet know whether consciousness arises in or from quantum level phenomena [Penrose], neurons [Crick], neuronal groups [Edelman], the brain as a whole [hologram, global organization, self-reference… analogies], the brain and the rest of the body [importance of emotion, endocrine system, Israel Rosenfield: body image] or in brain-body-environmental interaction [and at all levels]? And in resolving this issue [resolution need not be either or[9]] it may very well be useful, perhaps essential, to know what are [some of] the elements of consciousness or its field [mind and mental function] or its nature. Is consciousness a [re-] creative process? In each act of awareness? In “creativity”? And is creativity necessarily creation of the new? At least of the locally new if not the universally new - and must it not be so if the “new” is what is not contained in what came before? And does this characterize the new? And if so, does not creation, creativity, consciousness, perception involve indeterminism and quantum mechanics?

Thus we can ask:

2.3         At what levels and where and how in the brain-body-environment does consciousness arise?

3           What is necessary and sufficient for consciousness?

Relative to the elements of mind

Including memory or mental history; and, for example, the emotional as in emotional aspects of intelligence and cognition: empathy, optimism, etc.[10]

Relative to the material substrate: the brain

E.g., as in the work of Crick, Penrose, Edelman and Rosenfield - generally and in terms of anatomy, physiology and especially in terms of neuro-endocrinology

Now, we would also like to know, relative to an explanation which did not explicitly[11] contain qualia [and would therefore be other than subjective or first person], how we would recognize when an explanation of consciousness and qualia which are necessarily subjective or first person had been given in terms of, say, the elements specified above?

But why is this a problem? It is a problem because first and third [second] person descriptions are fundamentally different;[12] that is, qualia have an essentially subjective, qualitative aspect to their nature whereas third person descriptions are not subjective in nature

This is not a problem such as showing when and how a collection of molecules behaves as a continuum! Or is it? A conceptual problem even in the third person to third person explanation from molecules to continua is which aggregates of molecular effects will be identified as continuum effects. The identification is made easy since the same or similar class of material [mechanical] explanations apply to both kinds of phenomena: aggregates of molecules and continua [and note that the continua are not merely conceptual or epiphenomenal, for we deal with them also through observation and instrument]. Thus pressure, for example, is equal to force per unit area and force is identified - through Newton’s laws - as rate of change of momentum of molecules in molecular impact

We learn two things from this. First, if we had a system of explanation and theory which covered both first person and material or third person phenomena, the theory could perhaps be used to rationally [given the theory and…] derive or suggest what identification is to be used. Second, lacking such a theory, as is the case for the combination of mental and material phenomena, we must find other modes of identification. This is outlined next

In Problem 8, I will consider a graded idealism that includes or covers both first and third person descriptions; however the graded idealism is more a reconceptualization than a theory or explanation

3.1         Consciousness from Unconscious Particles - Some Reflections

An analogy with macroscopic properties

An analogy has been given that wetness and solidity are not contained in the fundamental properties of the molecules yet following from these properties. The analogy is that consciousness may be similarly explained from properties of matter. In the following discussion of the legitimacy of this analogy, the following symbols and abbreviations will be used in an experiment in symbolic play with fields of concepts:

b, B: biology, life. The lower case b refers to the details, interactions, parts and so on, while B refers to the fact or principle of life. Below lower and uppercase forms have similar meanings:

p, P: physics, matter; y, Y: psychology, mind; e, d: explanation, description; 1P, 3P: first, third persons; O, S: objective, subjective; E, M: epistemic, ontological; A --> B: “A” type explanation or description of “B”; m: metaphysics

Difficulties with the analogy

Molecules and wetness are both fundamentally 3P and O [in the e-sense]

Wetness has a 1P or S aspect but it is the 3P mode that permits the [3P] e in terms of molecules. Because Atomism is so successful, we frequently believe all 3Pd objects can be explained in terms of 3P Atomism. However this is not always possible in terms of historically current 3P Atomism and may require revision of 3P atomic [microscopic] d to permit explanation of the [3P] macroscopic feature

Examples may clarify this point: Classical mechanics [CM] of atoms is sufficient to explain compressibility [more generally ideal gas behavior] of not too dense gases. But solidity, fluidity, variable specific heats of gases require quantum mechanics [QM] e for some aspects. Super-fluidity and conductivity require QMe. An explanation of atoms in terms of subatomic particles [nuclei and electrons] requires QMe

This leads us to ask [e.g.] what is an atom? Is it a particle… or is it its description in terms of current physics. The latter, which provides explanatory power, is evolving. Magic is the identification of symbol with object: “atom” = atom [?]

Now we know that an explanation of consciousness and mind has not been given in terms of modern physics. So what would it take? We have excellent reasons to believe classical physics to be inadequate: classical physics is deterministic. For the same reason Roger Penrose believes that modern QM is inadequate: Schrödinger’s evolution equation for quantum systems, per Penrose, is also deterministic; all the indeterminism in QM enters through “observation”. But we do not understand the observation process. Penrose believes that quantum gravity will bind evolution and observation in a single, coherent, indeterministic theory

This, per Penrose, is promising. I agree with the promise - for note the entrance of mind in observation. But also note that there is debate as to whether Schrödinger’s equation is deterministic. Given that observation is indeterminate, Schrödinger’s equation may still be indeterministic, and therefore some other aspect or refinement including refinement in understanding but not description may explain consciousness and mind

This is the source of the idea: P may e B or Y and B may e Y but this may require new e, d, understanding of P, B and or Y

So it may be that modern physics [and for similar and other reasons modern B] may be inadequate to explain Y or consciousness… we will not know until an explanation has been given or otherwise shown to be possible

There is an additional difficulty with P --> Y or B --> Y. It is that mind and consciousness is known, theoretically described in its most fundamental nature as 1P or E whereas P and B are primarily 3P and E. Thus, in addition to the e-gap due to stage of development of m, there is a modal or categorical e-gap between Y & P: mind and matter: consciousness and unconscious particles

Direction of resolution

Physical explanation: Pe: [1] continue to develop physical micro and macro-theories of universal nature; i.e., Atomism, particle-field theories. [This universal aspect is the appeal of the physics from Newton to the present day. The physics of continua and the organic study of the brain and conceptual study based on brain study [neuro-endocrinology and physiology] are, despite claims of biologists, physical theories of [apparently] non-universal domain.]

But what features or type of features are we looking for? [A] Indeterminism, non-locality… These are already present for some interpretations of modern quantum theory. Penrose of course believes further development is necessary for indeterminism. [B] First person aspects of P and microscopic nature & explanation…atoms with consciousness, subjectivity, intentionality? Would this not be strange? Well, since quantum physics and chemistry underpin genetics and genetics[13] underpins behavior and intentionality [more than consciousness and subjectivity, intentionality has both 1P or e and 3P or e modes], we already have QM or e beginnings toward e[Y]. But what of consciousness and subjectivity? A guide: We have 3P description of the 1P aspects [subjectivity and consciousness] even if primitive; we may try to match with the 3P aspects at microscopic level - seek 1P correlative description at the micro-level. [2] Continue to seek explanations P --> Y

B explanation: use biology as an intermediate level of explanation or as an independent level. [I have already noted that B is a P type limitation relative to universality. Of course biologists and others prone to academic reification may and will object.] Biology itself has a number of levels: chemical, bio-molecule, micro-tissue, cell, tissue, organ, system: neurophysiology, neuro-endocrinology [these are not a strict hierarchy]. Through B, with appropriate features, explanations of mind: consciousness, subjectivity, intentionality could be given. Such B would incorporate the necessary P features [indeterminism, non-locality, if aspects at microscopic level per above discussion] but the incorporation may be ontically and epistemically implicit. This would then be an explicit Be but an implicit Pe of Y. Of course in the sense of P restricted to B phenomena, this would also be a non-universal Pe. This avoids and suppresses the problems of Pe

Regardless of whether P or B or e occurs first, [1] the other mode remains important or more important because, in addition to the value of reduction [whether Y --> P or Y --> B or B --> Y] there is also value to coherence of modes of explanation. [2] The problem of explaining details: y or e etc. remains. Relative to this: [A] P --> Y is conceptually and meaningfully most important. That is explaining the fact and principle of mind in terms of the fact-principle of matter-physics [or as part of matter-physics] is most conceptually-meaningfully important. This is because of the universality of P [e.g., pan Atomism]. Conceptually P --> Y is more fundamental than B --> Y; meaningfully P --> Y provides a greater integration among the modes Y, B, P: mind, life matter: [B] b --> y [and B --> Y] are practically more immediate because the explanatory gap is shorter or smaller [and so more likely to happen sooner] and will probably have more explanatory power - at least in the short term. Information would be provided, light would be shed on y, Y especially in conjunction with direct study of y, Y. However we would still be interested in [C] B --> Y and p --> y, [D] p, P --> b, B as well as the reverse studies [E] y, Y --> b, B --> p, P and y, Y --> p, P

It should not be necessary to point out that such studies have been done, are in progress in the modern West and other cultures and through history. Light has already been shed. And whereas the West excels, from Aristotle on, in P --> Y, B and B --> Y, it also includes the reverse traditions Y --> P, B and B --> P in which other cultures excel or have excelled

3.2         How will we recognize an explanation of consciousness when we see it?

Behavioral[14] explanations: the explanations will show how something [or group, class of things] behaves as though it is conscious. In the simplest case “as though” will be recognized by empathy, i.e. through human recognition [this is primitive, not circular]. In behaviorist explanations, a set of behaviors will be prescribed and derived from theory, experiment and empathy

Ideal or mental explanations: if the elements of mind include qualia, no explanation is necessary. If they exclude qualia, then an explanation in terms of behavior or empathy… may be possible but not conceptually satisfying. To explain qualia from mental non-qualia seems to be just as impossible as from material descriptions in terms of physics - physiology. How can we bridge from the mental primitive - qualia - to other primitive elements? A key is to allow qualia to be non-primitive, to allow it to have structure[15]… and as already suggested, we may take qualia to be or involve awareness of awareness. A mental explanation of consciousness will be one that shows awareness of awareness.[16] But is this not circular? I believe not, since a description of awareness can be given analytically… or behaviorally without empathy, or as a somewhat arbitrary prescription of behaviors

I believe this is a useful and key identification: qualia as including awareness of awareness

Material explanations:[17] Will depend on the above and show either:

Behavior of a material aggregate that would be as though it were conscious, or

Some kind of map of maps which is identified with awareness of awareness, or

A set of elements of mind that do not include qualia but which can explain awareness of awareness

Ideal vs. material explanation: We can see in the above paradigms for alternative mental and material explanations: which would be “complementary”; and for mental and material explanations as in the material explanation yielding a set of mental elements which then yielded awareness of awareness… In the case of alternative mental or material explanation we can validly begin to question the distinction between the material and the posited mental elements, by raising the issues: what is mental or material explanation

Ideal understanding: Understanding in ideal or idealist terms occurs when the mental elements include qualia. We do not demonstrate how consciousness arises from other features of mind - for this is assumed - but, instead, we explain and derive some properties of consciousness and some of its relations within general mental function…

3.3         What is necessary or sufficient or effective and efficient for higher human consciousness?

Relative to mental, material, behavioral elements

Relative to basic, primitive consciousness

Necessary and sufficient conditions for a reductive - but not eliminative - explanation of consciousness in material terms to be valid:

A concept of consciousness must be given a valid material explanation in actuality or in principle:

Since a material explanation of qualia - subjective experience - is impossible in principle, I require only that a concept of consciousness be explained. This concept of consciousness should be adequate to the known empirical, conceptual-theoretical aspects of the conscious or mental function and to the adaptive-evolutionary function of consciousness. The function of qualia may and should be explained. An adequate concept of matter should be clearly defined:

Some criteria of definition are: the reduction must be substantial and not tautological and should therefore refer to an actual and not potential conception of matter such as a future version of scientific explanation or physics - quantum mechanics; the definition should be actual and not potential also from a historical point of view since in the evolution of concepts their meanings may alter polarity; e.g., matter as real in the commonsense view vs. matter as substance; finally, the definition should be definite… and perhaps the only way to acquire a definite meaning in a universe of changing perspectives and world views is to remember that matter “is” a meso-scale immediate thing… characteristics of matter would then be:

Sensible, not inferential or conceptual

Third person, common [mode of description]

Intrinsically lacking in agency and other mental attributes

Possessed of definite location

Other specifications that correspond to intuitive notions and are necessary to complete explanatory efficiency

Establishment of a complete materialist metaphysics

This is necessary because the concept of consciousness used may be incomplete relative to the phenomena of consciousness

But it is not sufficient because the existence of a metaphysics does not imply existence of explanations

Further Comments:

Material explanation is proximate… to focus on the proximate to the exclusion of the ultimate is to focus on “mere survival”… There is a historical relation:

Ultimate --> proximate

That is, as understanding grows, what has been considered ultimate may come to be regarded as proximate

And yet material explanation pervades. An example is what David J. Chalmers calls a “principle of organizational invariance”. This is an example of a “psychophysical law” or “high level bridging laws, connecting physical processes to experience on an everyday level”. The principle of organizational invariance “holds that physical systems with the same abstract organization will give rise to the same kind of conscious experience, no matter what they are made of”

The underlying assumption is that systems are physical systems and physical systems are fully specified by our physical description of them. This reification of the current physics and metaphysics of the most fundamental entities of the universe is insidious, pervasive and difficult to disengage from. The problem is not merely psychosocial. Much real progress in science occurs by treating its fundamental constructs as though they are real. The assumption is, however, untenable and this is shown by the history of physics

Chalmers states: “The remarkable implication is that consciousness might someday be achieved in machines.” A proof of this is given by performing a Gedankenexperiment in which more and more neurons in a human brain are replaced by their functionally equivalent silicon chips. At each stage of replacement, since the brain’s organization has not changed, the subject’s experience will not change - and this will continue until the entire brain has been replaced. Chalmers’ argument is that a change in consciousness would be absurd; therefore, there is no change

However, the argument is circular: it assumes what was to be proved: that a description of the neural circuitry captures the essence that gives rise to consciousness.[18] Incidentally, if this assumption is true, the machine assumption should be capable of proof and the above would be the proof

The problem is that, although we have and idea where and how consciousness arises, we do not know whether our knowledge is complete or precise. We know it arises in the brain[19], in neural cells and so on but we do not have a precise location. We know that neural processes are involved but we do not know precisely which neural processes, or in what combination, or - most importantly - whether we know all the processes and there physical and physiological nature. Therefore we do not know whether silicon chips can replicate the processes. We do not even know whether we can discover, invent, design or create elements that will replace brain processes. Therefore, although we know that the brain is a machine, we do not know whether we can replace the units of the brain part by part and retain consciousness. We do not know whether we can build conscious machines or whether thermostats are conscious. We do not know whether consciousness pervades the universe.[20]

What do we know? The main material point I want to make is this. It is that, even if all these other entities - thermostats, atoms, chairs, the universe - as a whole - are conscious the consciousness is very different from human consciousness or mental process. The difference is not necessarily one of kind but it involves a combination of degree of self-awareness, clarity, detail, sensory categories, hierarchies of self-reference and degree of cognitive ability including concept formation and language processing…The following is more speculative. As I have argued[21] definition - in the sense of elucidating its essential nature - is, likely, at a primitive stage in modern society; I argued further that, as understanding of mental processes and consciousness proceeds within our culture, we will see the domains of matter and mind expand and perhaps merge. Meanings will grow and change; inversions will occur. In the expanded meanings it is likely that distinctions will break down. We will likely see mind or psyche as pervading the universe. But that will not liken the human mind to atoms and thermostats. There will, as noted above, be degrees and modes of difference among the objects that will be seen as categorically identical. The values of this will include clarity of understanding, power of explanation, and unity of vision and being

Combined with detailed physical, neurophysiological, conceptual and psychological investigations this will elucidate the nature of the coming together of micro entities into a conscious one. These considerations will apply generally and more particularly to the brain and to human consciousness. They will show us what it is about a machine that may be conscious and what is mere peripheral processing. This would apply equally to computers as to thermostats. It would show to what extent and in what degree atoms and material structure is possessed of mental function and consciousness and to what degree a thermostat possesses consciousness over and above that of its design components and its material substrate

I now resume the analysis of Chalmers’ arguments. To further the analysis I consider the atomic or molecular substrate of the brain rather than the cellular one. Assume, then, that it is the atoms in the brain that give rise to consciousness. It is the same argument - for the atoms constitute the neurons that are supposed to give rise to consciousness. Now replace the atoms one by one by equivalent micro-tinker toys and so create a conscious machine

But: how do we know that the toys and atoms are equivalent? By doing a finite number of experiments or, equivalently, by comparing our descriptions: Bohr-Sommerfeld, Quantum [Heisenberg, Schrödinger, and Dirac…], etc

But, while a finite number of experiments and or our systems of descriptions are certainly suggestive, heuristic, they are of no guarantee[22] in relation to so complex an issue as the brain-consciousness issue. In relation to this issue our models, descriptions are useful as heuristic, as analogy, as basis for production of some results… but not as proof of equivalence of mind and brain or mind and machine

Classical physics is clearly inadequate. That quantum-physics may be inadequate - that is, that there is no demonstration of the adequacy of quantum physics, follows from the role of the observer in quantum mechanics. The detailed argument is as follows. [1] Quantum mechanics is not limited to being the physics of atomic or molecular real phenomena as follows from its application to super-fluidity, superconductivity, radiation theory of black holes, etc. [2] That quantum mechanics is not known to be complete follows from the collapse of the wave function or role of the observer; completeness would require a demonstration that collapse of the wave function follows from quantum theory and that the role of the observer follows from quantum theory or is non-essential

We ask, is the thought experiment physically possible? Even if this question is irrelevant, it remains true that in the thought experiment we are replacing atoms [neurons] by descriptive and not real equivalents

3.4         Why is language a fundamental mode of expression of a free or adaptive consciousness… and is it the primary or only mode?

Its non-iconic form makes it ideal for non-subjective or objective encoding; for mentality, mentation and thought [time-sequence]; for abstraction; for linearity; for communication: for recording and transmission… and for these reasons [7] language is an ideal medium for logic and mathematics and define the meaning of this question

4           Who or what is conscious?

This question, and the [attempt to] answer [it] may have bearing upon and illuminate Problems 1, 2, 3, and more generally give us broader perspectives on consciousness, and its nature, its place in the universe

A related question is:

4.1         How is consciousness recognized?[23]

In humans and perhaps in some animals we recognize their consciousness by identification. In general, however, this may not work

The following suggestions have been made at various places in this essay: the possible primacy of awareness and its split into awareness of [i] awareness and [ii] awareness of object; degrees of intensity, clarity, intentionality associated with awareness and examination of these modes and degrees; unity vs. disunity and eternity vs. finitude of consciousness[es] - Problems 7 and 9; the conceptual and metaphysical framework for understanding consciousness - Problems 1, 2, 3, and 8; the role of action and waiting - perceptivity - in knowledge… and perceptivity as ultimate knowledge - Problem 8; and studies pertaining to consciousness particularly those on the envelope of consciousness. All these are approaches to greater awareness of one’s own conscious and unconscious [putative] processing and so to the enhancement of knowledge by empathy… and at the same time these approaches include understanding of “other minds”; and empathy and understanding act synergistically

So far we have been asking “proximate” questions. When we begin to consider more global “ultimate” questions and issues pertaining to consciousness; a fuller, more elaborate definition, understanding explanation of consciousness - perhaps in terms of a total field of reality and concepts - may be necessary to be able to adequately address, understand and consider such questions. And while such global questions [Problems 5-10, below] may be of intrinsic interest [human, cosmological, and metaphysical], their consideration may also lend conceptual clarity to the more immediate questions of Problems Of Consciousness [1-4 above]

5           What is the place of consciousness in mind?

What is the relationship of consciousness to other mental activities - especially to the unconscious; i.e., what is the place of consciousness in a map or atlas of mental function?

Mapping the unities, disunities and elements and functions of individual consciousness and mind, considerations on human or higher consciousness - language, socialization, and value.[24] Within the domain of consciousness itself, it may be useful even essential to distinguish reactivity, intentionality, awareness, consciousness, self-awareness…

Useful works for study and synthesis preliminary to developing an atlas of mental function are:

Searle, John R. Rediscovery of Mind, 1992

Searle, John R. The Construction of Social Reality, 1995

Other works in the philosophy of mind

Standard works in psychology and personality

My unpublished work, especially

Notes on consciousness[25]

On Personality Transformation

5.1         Preliminary Considerations


Consciousness as a continuum

Studies in consciousness and personality

See also My Work, below

The Unconscious


Searle, The Rediscovery of the Mind, Chap. 7: The unconscious and its relation to consciousness

The Connection Principle: “The notion of an unconscious mental state implies accessibility to consciousness”

“The ontology of the unconscious is strictly the ontology of a neurophysiology capable of generating the unconscious”


Assume that the ontology assertion is true. The following may still be true:

Alternative, equivalent explanations exist: functional, evolutionary, mental, ultimate Equivalence of explanations is not necessarily transparent

Demonstration of equivalence if possible may be difficult

The principle is not necessarily prescriptive. Neurophysiological processing may be indeterminate; even an isolated brain might be temporally indeterministic. Determination may include [a] interaction with the world, [b] indeterminate elements

Freud and successors: Psychoanalysis; symbols and archetypes; self-psychology; and object relations


Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Freud and successors on neurosis, dreams and related topics

Psychosis, the unconscious and random processing

Somatoform, dissociative and personality disorders

Hundert: Categories, mind and the unconscious

Further comments

The conscious-unconscious continuum

The envelope of consciousness

Personality and the unconscious; unconscious personality elements; all personality elements are present; construction of the primary and conscious personality; that such construction occurs to varying degrees of completeness but is not absolute; precipitating changes; crises; thoughts on multi-stable personality structures

Writing on the forms of the unconscious and on the reality of the unconscious; unconscious as metaphor

Evolutionary and ultimate considerations


The unconscious and other consciousnesses

Multiple centers of consciousness

Origin of memory, dreams, imagery, symbols, language,

Thinking, creativity [and problem solving and design]

Other: I need to review this

6           What is the function of consciousness?


6.1         Adaptation, survival

6.2         Problem solving

6.3         Intelligence, and

6.4         Mental activity and process

Preliminary considerations on some of these issues were taken up in Problem 2, and in Problem 5

7           What is the place of consciousness in the universe?

…and of conscious processes in universal process?

…and some related problems:

7.1         What is the place of the universe in consciousness?

This problem has two meanings. First, if you are a materialist or dualist, it is the problem of metaphysics - ontology; further, if you are sensing or practical, you may find the issue dull, even contemptible, but if you are intuitive-romantic, the question excites you

Second, if you are an idealist, and especially if you hold that conscious experience is [or may be regarded as] the essence of all being [including the universe] you are asking how the structure-dynamics of all being may be shown to be manifestation of consciousness

Note that “the” commonsense definition of and approach to the solution of problems of qualia eliminates this second alternative altogether [especially in its essentialist version]

7.2         What is the origin of consciousness?

Proximately: ontogenetically in individual growth or epigenesis…

And including experience

Ultimately but evolutionarily in the development of life

In human evolution

In social evolution[26]

Relative to physical origins, current and other ideas and theories of the origin of the universe…

Remember that “the universe” and its origins are actually undefined in modern physical cosmology: the observed universe [at the present time] being bounded by a near but not necessarily absolute or isolated singularity in time and an extent of about 20 billion light years but perhaps extended beyond those space-time limits - to as much as infinity - and bounded conceptually, so far as modern physical cosmology is concerned, by the current quantum-relativistic-experimental limits of physics

… And remember, too, that “before time” and “beyond space” are not only undefined but also perhaps indefinable in modern physical cosmology

In the absolute atemporal sense

…And - What is the relation between these more ultimate problems and the other proximate issues?

7.3         What is the relation between consciousness and creativity and emergence?

Is all perception creation or recreation?

Is creation the creation of the new, of what did not come before, of what is not contained in what came before…

...and if so, does this not imply a temporally indeterministic universe?

...but if indeterministic, is not the universe random in its development and structure, and in what sense can we say humans make choices, create, have value?

A resolution of this issue is as follows. When nothing exists, indeterminism allows creation…but only the stable creations - quarks, etc - survive. Once structure exists, only those subsequent physical creations that are compatible with existing structure and stable persist and only those mental creations that are compatible with existing knowledge, reality and are self-consistent, and represent new knowledge persist. In biological terms there is variation and selection; in epistemic terms this is hypothesis and test, induction and deduction…

7.4         What are the relationships among consciousness and conscious entities?

Is the putative separateness of individual consciousness actual, absolute or real… and why is this contingent separateness often equated with necessary separateness?

Is the putative birth and death of consciousness at physical birth and death actual, absolute or real… and why, again, is the contingent equated with the necessary?

Is all consciousness [becoming, derived from] one consciousness that is eternal in time, total in time - if time is finite in extent, or “beyond time”?

Can we show the diffusion of consciousness [mentality or mentalism] among the elements of being or the seat, source, “cause” [not necessarily in the temporal sense of causation but perhaps in the emergent sense] of “matter”… and what are the implied relationships?

What happens to these relationships in different metaphysical systems: dualism, neutral monism…?

7.5         What is the value of such problems and questioning?

Sensing, practical, critical: the process of answering, working with such questions illuminates the answering and significance of the sensing-practical problems

if you are of this type, these [including 7.5] need no proximate answer… ultimately you might question why you are this way

Intuitive, romantic, spiritual, speculative

if you are of this type, the questions [including 7.5] have intrinsic interest to you and the question needs no proximate answer; ultimately: why are you this way

the “ultimate” questions do in fact, have day-to-day behavioral-attitudinal consequences… the dogmatic-pragmatist who denies the spiritual is taking a spiritual stance

7.6         What approaches are there or may there be to answering such questions?

From the point of view of consciousness pervading, diffusing the universe

At the levels of primal and animal being

Attitudinal, behavioral and pragmatic



Philosophical: various systems: material, ideal, neutral monism, idealistic realism [elsewhere called graded idealism in this essay]

Next: the metaphysical framework

8           What is necessary for a metaphysics to explain consciousness?

The following is preliminary to developing an atlas of metaphysical systems

One appeal of an idealist metaphysics is that it [or some of its versions] posits as most basic our most direct experiences - qualia - without positing additional entities, such as chairs, petroleum refineries, atoms, fields. Therefore I will start with a consideration of such an idealist metaphysics [idealism]. We could call this experiential or phenomenal idealism.[27]

A preliminary question is whether there is non-conscious experience. If there is non-conscious experience, then phenomenal idealism is an incomplete metaphysics relative even to the domain of the idea

i] The planet Pluto revolves around the sun: is that process part of my non-conscious experience? True, I can have conscious [if partly conceptual or inferential] experience of the planetary revolution through telescopes and theory, but it is experience of the process; the process itself is not within my experience and is therefore not part of my non-conscious experience

ii] My hair grows: is that part of my non-conscious experience? If I can actually sense the proteins forming at the roots or the hair follicle pushing up, then I am having a conscious experience of the growth. If I feel an itch associated with the growth, then I am having a conscious experience: the itch, but not of the growth per se; I may infer the growth from the itch but that is an inference that there is growth, not an experience of the growth. If I look in the mirror today and then again in two weeks, I experience that “my hair has grown” [the experience is conscious if somewhat inferential]. In none of the above cases did I have a non-conscious experience of the growth of my hair

iii] Are unconscious mental processes experiences? If they are experiences they are non-conscious experiences. An initial argument against non-conscious processing being experience is that affecting experience is not the same as experience. However, there is still something paradoxical about denying that non-conscious processing is experience at the moment that, or in face of the fact that, non-conscious processing may enter into experience

As far as the non-conscious process itself is concerned, it is only experience if my consciousness is a multiplicity of sometimes non-communicating parts, the primary one being what I usually call “I” which has language and agency [relative to action] and the other[s] being more diffuse and “pure-animal” like “processing with fluid form in a field of being”. The alternative is that the non-conscious processing is not the experience of any subject, but that when it comes into consciousness, the experience is not of the process itself but of a combination of either the physiological trace of the experience or the experience that some change has occurred but that the changing itself was outside experience

A related consideration is the following: conscious experiences are associated with degrees of intensity, clarity, intentionality and attention. These factors and perhaps others affect awareness and recall. I can be aware of something without being aware that I am aware of it; later I may become aware that I was aware of it. An example is realizing what someone said a few seconds after the utterance - perhaps when one’s attention is drawn to the context of the utterance. All this needs careful analysis since there is the awareness A1 and the awareness of the awareness A2, and this needs to be examined conceptually. Further, A1 and A2 come with varying degrees of intensity, clarity and attention. On this model we can see how one may be conscious at some level of some happening yet be focusing on some other circumstance and become acutely conscious of the happening a few seconds later. Or, one may forget a low level conscious experience, be aware of some associated features and later remember the experience via the associated features as a non-conscious experience even though the original experience was conscious

Therefore, to call non-conscious processes - whether mental, physiological or physical - “experience” is to confuse the process with another experience that is conscious or to redefine experience to include the absence of experience

Therefore, there is no non-conscious experience and this phenomenalist idealism is complete relative to individual experience

But this immediately identifies a problem with phenomenal idealism: there are events or entities or processes outside of it:



The experiences of others

Therefore, I will generalize phenomenal [apperceptual[28]] idealism to conceptual idealism. A conceptual idealism is one in which, by appropriately and - of course - properly, expanding the domain of the concept of the idea, more of existence is subsumed under the concept. In the limit in which all of existence and all of being are included - as are nonexistence and nonbeing - we arrive at an idealist ontology… However, there is an extended sense in which perception includes conception; in this sense the resulting idealism remains a phenomenal idealism but is also an objective idealism

This extended idealism will not explain consciousness so much as understand it in the context of mental process. That this will be challenging yet possible arises from the following considerations:

i] The idea of multiple experience or multiple seats of experience within a single person

ii] The question of what is conscious

iii] The issue of separateness of consciousness [i.e., that discrete conscious centers - you and I - exist]: contingent or necessary

iv] A map of mental function

v] Posited reality of the world

vi] That the issues of the unconscious aspects of the mental functions must be worked out within the idealism

In fact, the extended idealism becomes what I have called “graded idealism” and is a tentative solution to the “problem of metaphysics” [different metaphysics and their competing but chimerical nature and the issue of completeness of metaphysical system]

Some elaborations of idealism occur in this essay in a number of places, including in Problem 9 below. Here I add a response to a criticism of this idealism: “But brains, atoms and cars are surely real.” Yes, they are. And idealism does not deny this. Even without recourse to idealism we recognize that the reality of the real is in part conceptual… and part perceptual. In the synthesis of percept-concept, we approach but do not arrive at the “noumena”. The real world has a structure within idealism within which there are grades of reality and there are ideas and “ideas of”. This is graded idealism, within which the real is actually more real than it is in materialism. However, we see that consciousness and awareness take on new dimensions. That is our concept of the idea is extended from an initial concept of idea as, say, visual imagery. First, we do not posit that idea is something that one has. Rather the ontological primary is the idea which is not “had” by anyone or anything. Second, we interpret experience within this framework. To be included are the primitive concept of idea, the first person experience, the third person experience or matter. Here, again, we find added motivation and source for expanded definitions, concepts and experiments of [or with] consciousness

In this ontology there are grades of idea; and mind, ideas of, and matter are constructs. Thus the first person viewpoint is primary except that person is not a primitive concept. The third person is the first person minus the pure subjective. The noumenon is not what the mind seeks to know but includes mind and all else

This idealism is not anti-materialist. Neither is it antirealist. Nor is it realist in the sense that there is an absolute reality outside of mind because mind itself is an approximate construct from the more primitive idea. It is realist in the approximate description in terms of mind and matter in that, within this approximation, matter has existence outside of mind. Thus graded idealism includes realism in the sense just specified. This is the sense of noumenon being outside mind that we now see as being possessed of explanatory power but not as absolute. The absolute noumenon in graded idealism is the idea that separates into idea of idea and idea of object; that is, into first and third person or, approximately, mind and matter. In this extended sense the graded idealism is a form of realism in which the real is primary to mind [and other derived categories] rather than outside mind. …As noted earlier, graded idealism is not a theory itself. There is, however, an associated assertion. It is that graded idealism provides a more comprehensive and unitary view of existence than prior metaphysics

I will add some comments on the relations of these thoughts on the graded idealism to the concepts of subjective idealism, objective idealism and absolute idealism as they appear in the literature of Western Philosophy

I will ignore subtleties - deriving from multiple meanings, shades of meaning and historical transformations and inversions of meaning - that are not primarily relevant to the present discussion

The following paragraph derives from Runes.[29]

Subjective idealism has more than one related meaning[30] one of which is acosmism,[31] but the meaning I use here is that the ontologically real consists of subjects; that is, possessors of experience. Objective idealism identifies an externally real Nature with the thought or activity of the World Mind. In Germany “objective idealism” is commonly identified with the view that finite minds are parts - modes, moments, projections, appearances - of the Absolute Mind. I will liberally interpret Hegel’s concept of the Absolute Idea, of Absolute Idealism to mean the following: the Absolute Mind is real even if this is not manifest or actual; its reality is both cause and result of the processing of its constituent minds finite or otherwise; its manifestation to its constituents occurs as a result of their evolutionary process and integration or reintegration

The commentary may now be brief:

In reflecting on the ultimate, consideration of the concepts presented above is inevitable

In these considerations, ultimate Meanings transcend proximate meanings. Thus the split of idea into idea of idea and idea of object implies a much broader and more primal concept of idea. At this level the distinction, valid and clear from the vantage point of the proximate, between idea and idea of, between idea of idea and idea of object, between subjective and objective idealism break down

The resulting idealist metaphysics in which idea acquires new, integral meaning is a neutral but not too neutral monism

Absolute idealism as defined above is considered at a number of places in this essay including Problems 7 and 9 and, as noted, is a form of objective idealism

What then is matter or materialism in the graded idealism?

Matter is not just what is common or in common perception. The idea of the material begins in what is sensed but is separate from agency and is experienced, but is not [experienced as] possessed of experience. The separateness clause eliminates thoughts and feelings. But sensation implies contact. Corroboration of the senses and of agents is also required. Thus tables and trees and stones, arms and legs are matter as are atoms and fields. Tables and trees and stones, and arms and legs[32] are also concepts but not primarily so; the concepts are built up around the sensa. Atoms and fields, in contrast, begin as concepts and subsequently acquire perceptual flesh, become imbued with the sense of being real

Matter then has the following properties. It is:


Objective: inter-subjective agreement [experienced as]

[Experienced as] existing outside of experience

[Experienced as] not possessed of experience or agency

Matter begins by being understood as arms, rocks, and trees…

But now understanding of matter begins to evolve, and its nature as defined as a relative concept:

We ask what underlies matter: Substance: material substance: water, fire, … atoms

Description: time, space. Time and space receive similar transformations from the experienced [whereas matter is of the form “sensed object”; time and space are sensed relationship]

Symbolic description of process: mechanics, science, and theory formation

More and more of the world are subsumed under matter

Despite the excommunication of matter from experience and agency, it becomes more and more like mind [relationship in relativity, observation, and knowledge in quantum mechanics]

8.1         Is it correct then to say that materialism may explain consciousness and or mind?

8.1.1        Consciousness will not emerge from materialism

In the sense that consciousness is an element of mind relative to the graded idealism, consciousness will not emerge from materialism, for experience and agency were excluded from the materialist metaphysics. It is a categorical error to expect the contrary

The problem of origin of qualia in the brain can be broken down[33] into [1] the philosophical question of how qualia are at all possible in a material brain, and [2] the scientific-explanatory one of the origin of the different elements of mental process in specific neurobiological processes or states or sets of processes and sets of states… the categorical issue referred to above pertains to the philosophical part of the problem of qualia

8.1.2        Graded idealism includes materialism and materialist explanations

The materialist metaphysics includes matter, materialist versions of science, common sense. But all this and more are included within the graded idealism. Therefore, if materialist explanations of mental behavior develop, so will idealist explanations. As noted above, the graded idealism trivially includes consciousness, experiences and agency

8.1.3        The problem is to explain mental behavior in scientific terms

The question is not so much which position will explain conscious and mental behaviors in terms of body-brain-environment [both will or neither will], but will we explain mental behavior in scientific terms and the answer to this question is contingent [though it seems tantalizingly close to some]: the materialist explanation in terms of brain-body-environment and particles, cells, groups, global interaction is not guaranteed, as of 1996

8.1.4        Is the idealism-materialism distinction one of emphasis or personality?

The idealism materialism debate relative to materialist explanation seems more like a debate between intuitive-perceptual personality types, and sensing-judgmental personality types, than a true metaphysical debate. The metaphysical debate is a surrogate for an attempt at projection and control

An individual may become a materialist for a number of reasons: personality orientation, life milieu and experience including natural, social aspects - and the latter includes the educational-institutional environment, and opportunities for psychological growth. Not every materialist diminishes the importance or rejects the existence of mind and consciousness. Yet the materialist literature is strewn with rejection and minimization of mind

A similar paragraph could be written about idealist literature railing against the materialist reduction

As I stated earlier, idealism and realism are consistent. They are consistent to the point of being potentially identical in some of their versions, because, whereas graded idealism includes materialism, current materialism does not include the graded idealism. Materialism may lead to graded idealism in the future, and this may be possible within the graded idealism that includes all notions of matter among its constructs and is therefore in no way anti-materialist

However, some idealists state “everything is mental” which does not imply but may be intended to imply “material objects are not real, do not exist”. This may be ego-control or reaction against materialism. Likewise, reductionist materialism may be ego-control or reaction against idealism. This is a transference-counter transference game. And a judgment-perception game, and a “be a man” and take a stand game. And a consistency game in which essential growth and paradigmatic shifts are not possible because one cannot be wrong

But: dialectic, too, is important

As a result of these polarizations, in the context of consciousness and mind, the idealist-materialist tension often takes the form of a mentalist or reductionist-materialist debate. [A mentalist explains and understands mind in terms of mental categories and concepts and is therefore a species of psychologist… The reductionist materialist is one who requires that “everything” can be reduced to today’s understanding of matter. To require reduction to an as-yet undiscovered or an evolving understanding of matter is no reduction at all.]

As dialectic: idealist-materialist and mentalist-materialist tensions are good. Mentalism: describes mental categories, states, and processes and perhaps dynamics; materialism: describes material-physical-biological categories, states and processes and perhaps dynamics; the dialectic develops an integrative relation between the two. This debate is surely enhanced by programmatic behaviorism which asks, among other things, relative to mind: how do we describe, recognize consciousness, mind in other entities and being - but is surely retarded by dogmatic behaviorism which asserted nonexistence of mind [or at least banishment of mind from science]

8.1.5        Graded idealism may develop a separate mental dynamics

…and always has a non-trivial explanation of mind and consciousness in a behavioral sense

Whereas the material perspective may develop an explanation for mind and consciousness, if it does so, so will the graded idealism. However, graded idealism may develop a separate mental dynamics of mental phenomena [categories, states, process, and dynamics]. In fact, at all times the graded idealism has a non-trivial explanation of mind and consciousness in a behavioral sense and a trivial explanation in the sense of qualia. Psychology, psychoanalysis, etc. provide nontrivial if partial and as yet approximate explanations. They are useful. And this evolution continues

Regarding a comparison of the mentalist and materialist explanations, both are useful and indeed they may be useful - as pointed out above - taken together, in interaction, and co-evolutionarily

Uses of the mentalist approach:


Intuitive understanding of mind


What is it to be human, etc?

Control and effect through interaction

Provision of a language for behaviorism and other schools of psychology

Understanding the relation: mind-nature[34]

Uses of the materialist approach:

Building models of mind, mental phenomena, artificial intelligence [AI]

Provision of objective functions and experimental foundations for behaviorism and other schools of psychology

Chemotherapy for mental disease


Electroconvulsive therapy and other physical therapies…

Understanding “relation” of mind-nature34 above

Of course, the interactive combination of these approaches - the mental and the material - produces a result that is greater than the sum of the parts

8.1.6        The idealist-materialist[35] dialectical tension is a creative force in the development of ideas

I think and conclude: idealism includes more than materialism. Yet idealism lends itself to [but does not imply] an absolute atemporal view. Materialism has affinity with the concept of progress and evolution, is an occasion for significant specialized development in science. The absolute and the atemporal include the existent and the temporal. The idealist-materialist[36] dialectical tension is one of the creative forces [with some destructive byproducts] of our civilization

On descriptive dualism vs. ontological monism

The existence of dual [multiple] modes of description and experience: mental or conscious and material… does not imply an ontological dualism

There is one world, many descriptions

On ontological neutrality

That there is one world, however, does not imply either ontological monism or pluralism; i.e., that there is one kind of “stuff” or many kinds of “stuff”. [Stuff = enduring substance.] For: the existence of the world does not imply the existence of enduring substances at all

Thus, the single issue of the number and choice of fundamental constituents of the world must be replaced by two issues:

[A] The meta-issue of categories

Although we may have or need descriptive monism, dualism, etc., this need not require [a commitment to] an ontology in which there are fundamental or enduring underlying substances - or in which the number of fundamental substances is an issue

This consideration results in a metaphysics that is ontologically neutral relative to existence and number of fundamental substances. This metaphysics would be prior to, more general than an n-istic metaphysics, n = 1, 2, 3… It would be a pre-metaphysics…or a proto-metaphysics

[B] The issue of number and choice of fundamental substances

[But what happens to these considerations when, in abstraction, we replace “substance” by “category”, etc.]

I now take up some tentative reflection on the nature and destination of consciousness in the universe and its relations to knowledge, specifically to the human endeavor of knowledge

9           The problems of explanation and understanding

Roughly, and not in precise agreement [by intent] with other definitions or concept:

Explanation is: external i.e., in terms of other elements and ideas…outside of consciousness

Understanding is internal or relational within a set of things and ideas…within consciousness; the distinction is chimerical - of course - and relative to viewpoint

9.1         Explanation and understanding as features of the universe

Now: Think of the unity of individual consciousness and the separateness of distinct consciousnesses. But the unity and the separateness are contingent and apparent - not necessarily necessary and real

If we argue from awareness requiring awareness of awareness - analytically - and so to the diffusion of consciousness among the elements of being, we begin to see the breakdown of discreteness at the boundaries, of flow of consciousness among being; we also begin to see the diffusion of consciousness within the unity and so the breakdown of the unity. And the breakdown of the concepts of the unity of the individual and separateness of distinct being key into and reinforce and partially explain each other. We begin to see the diffusion of consciousness as one among the elements of being as conceptually necessary. The same is seen in certain psychological phenomena: multiplicity and diffusion of the individual and breakdown of the boundaries of privacy among what are apparently separate consciousnesses

Likewise, the contingency of the finiteness of consciousness [in terms of birth and death] begins to breakdown relative to the question “what is an instant of time”, the improbability of the birth of consciousness in alien universe, the question of recurrence, and the issue of meaning

In the limit the plausible reasoning above yields the universe as one consciousness over “all time”

The issues of necessity of the reasoning and the status of the objective or material world remain

A residual problem is the psychological one of unity or disunity among the metaphysical and ontological paradigms

In the limit of the universe as one consciousness over all time, there is nothing to be explained [because nothing is hidden or needs to be revealed in terms of anything more fundamental] and understanding pervades?

Thus by considering a limiting possibility of consciousness, we gain a “positive” understanding of conscious activity: pursuit of knowledge

Whereas in the above [Problem 9] consideration was given to [i] understanding of consciousness and its knowledge functions of explanation and understanding [and the special cases of science, yes, but also, perhaps, myth, religion…] by considering certain limiting cases of the manifestations and relations within consciousness [note: even when we accept ontically consciousness as many and each consciousness as finite, we can still formulate concepts of the one as the many and the eternal as the succession of the many]… and [ii] plausibility of the universe as one consciousness [or one consciousness pervading the universe] over “all time”… we are led to consider:

9.2         What would prove the unity, eternity and pervasiveness of consciousness?

What would it take to prove that all consciousness is one… and to prove its eternity… and to prove that this one consciousness is or pervades the universe?

Note: Combination of the ultimate unity of all consciousness with the graded objective idealism of Problem 8 results in an absolute idealism


At least provide directions to increase plausibility, if not certainty; what do I mean by proof; proof, explanation, understanding and the under-ground

Can Problem §9.2 be a scientific or religious or metaphysical question, or is it a Being-Existential question in the sense that an answer requires getting outside that which we cannot-get-out-of-by-using-only symbolic systems of understanding and explanation

Approaches to §9.2:

The perceptual-conceptual approach; the diversity and relativity of the “I”; that the finiteness and limitation of individual consciousness is empirical-conceptual but not absolute-necessary; the truth of the personal phenomenology… and its limitation --> falseness --> and correction

Relations among individuals: communication, education, transference belief and transference psychosis

The issue of social delusion [in cases where a belief is part of a culture, some systems do not refer to this as delusion]

The learning of modern science: physics, cosmology and biology

The approach of vision[37]

The issues of diffusion and finiteness as metaphysical and scientific and Being-Existence [including ground, including vision and the conscious unconscious]

Latent and potential consciousness

9.3         Is there a teleology, a destiny, of consciousness - and what are its dimensions?

The current success of mechanistic explanations - and this includes the fundamental paradigms of modern physics and of modern biology - implies neither their reality nor their ultimate success nor the non-existence or unreality of alternate modes of explanations

Finally some interesting and exciting programmatic [relative to Evolution and Design Project, and Evolution, Design and The Absolute ] but tentative [and very partial] ideas toward mapping out and realizing the plausible ideas above

10       Future directions

In what directions will or should conceptual, experimental and experiential study in consciousness proceed and evolve?

10.1     Some directions for psychological experience, experiment and theory. What are the problems of consciousness?

10.2     Continued definition and listing of the essential problems of consciousness and their nature

What experiences, experiments will clarify, establish the ultimates in the destiny and universality of consciousness suggested above?

What theory and experiments do we need to construct maps of mental function and material being relative to the issues of consciousness considered above

Specific to the focal questions

Relative to the selection and synthesis of metaphysical and epistemic paradigms?

On the material side I want to consider anatomy and physiology -especially the anatomy and physiology of the neural and endocrine systems. Descriptive study and experimentation with ideas, physical and physiological systems and techniques are of interest. Regarding mind and consciousness, introspection[38] and reports of introspection are the primary source of information on function and personality. Understanding of these areas is augmented by concepts and theories: of physiological function at a number of levels - chemical to organismic; of mind, of consciousness and personality; of the origin of mind and consciousness in the body and more generally of mind-body relations

10.3     On the Need for Study of Mind in Mental Terms

I will continue to clarify the considerations of Problem 2 of conscious as or as including awareness of awareness. This will include consideration of the following issues: awareness as a relation between a subject and an object vs. awareness as a category; analysis of awareness as a relation; analysis as a category…if it is a category then the issues of solipsism and “other minds” should be dealt with. One approach to the issue of other minds is through the idea of individual minds as elements of universal mind as in absolute idealism…modified by the idea of a lack of distinction between idea and object…which entails that the idea of an object is an approximation


I will show the need for study of mind in [more primitive] mental terms through three examples below

A.  Consciousness is the seat of all meaning

This does not mean that consciousness is the source of meaning. There are factors also in the world and in unconsciousness which provide some conditions and source of meaning, but meaning happens only in the conscious mind

Consciousness is necessary for meaning

What about the universe before life? Any meaning there? Early life forms?

If we assume consciousness is on-off, unitary, located in the brain, then we have the “humanity in an alien universe” syndrome

An alternate scenario: What we normally term consciousness is the stark form, the mode that can use language, the usually or putatively dominant mode. Empirically I become aware of other modes - diffuse, multi-centered, that do not contain language: I become aware of quiet forms not usually seen in the dominant mode. I become aware of an implicit continuum. Theoretically this is a universalization, the exact process in mind science so valued in physical science

This alternative scenario finds that awareness-without-consciousness is not a distinct category but an element in a continuum. It universalizes the conscious and meaning aspects of our experience but does not exclude the “material”

B.  Mind is caused by matter [the brain]; minds are just features of the brain…

But: what is the body [brain]? Is it the body matter of Stone Age man, of Thales, of Aristotle, of Newton, of Einstein-Heisenberg- Schrödinger-Dirac? These are all vastly different ideas and actualities of matter and its potentials

And these give understanding - but categorically incomplete and practically partial understanding - of mind. Therefore intrinsic, cross and unifying study of the categories are all important

C.  Physical indeterminism is necessary but insufficient to understand human freedom

This follows of course from the “bottom-up conception of physical explanation” and this is based on completeness or physical explanation

I believe that the fact of human freedom is absolute. Therefore any ultimate universal physical explanation must be indeterministic

The physical indeterminism would then underpin human freedom but would not necessarily explain it

Such an explanation would be in principle “human freedom physically exists or is possible” but would [likely at least initially] be far from an outline of the structure of freedom and mind

Therefore, to understand freedom we must also and necessarily study the phenomena of mind. Where, how and what level do the creative elements enter. And it is not just random elements, but the perception of the random by the existing structure, be the random symbolic or iconic or both. And it is combination and recombination of the random with the existing and this includes the stark and the diffuse, the loud and quiet

Physical indeterminism may be an analogy for this or may underpin this as in quantum indeterminism. Penrose seeks a quantum gravitational unification of evolution and measurement [uncertainty] and expects the indeterminate element to show up in certain [brain] cellular or sub-cellular structures

But the mental study is as or more important in order to know and understand human freedom, choice and creativity

10.4     The Study of Mind in Mental Terms Is Important

Will include the elements of mental phenomena: standard

Will include the suggestions of Problem 10 and elsewhere in this essay

Will include the stark and diffuse, the symbolic and the iconic, the unity and multiplicity of centers, the loud and quiet, of communication among the centers and so of unity or the multiplicity, of the continuum of consciousness, of acting, intending and waiting, of internal perception, of projection of mind to the universe

All of this is augmented by studies of ecology and behavior, which includes language and social behavior

Of especial interest are some studies on the envelope of consciousness: of imagery and hallucination at the boundary between eidetic imaging and psychosis; of the relations between observation [such as of [internal] object relations and voices], choice and personality, and other factors such as genetics, environment and social dynamics; personality development, personality transformation and the issue of role and flexibility vs. essence and rigidity; of consciousness as a continuum extending to the apparent unconscious, and of observation and micro-study at the edge of [self-] awareness, and of the limit - if any - of this edge; and of time-splitting especially in relation to choice [volition] of mood, thought and behavior

What are the essential problems of consciousness?

Tinker with the problem sets relative to the following issues:

Making the problem set exclusive - eliminating overlap and repetition. Making the problem set minimal - as small as possible

Completeness: with respect to epistemic, metaphysical and cosmological issues and systems

Co-experiment with alternative metaphysical systems…While I will attempt to avoid a priori commitment to any metaphysics, I will also attempt to elucidate and criticize implicit metaphysical systems and assumptions. I will not relegate either mind or matter to an epiphenomenal status

Carefully structure the set according to

ultimate, evolutionary and proximate categories

relations among the categories and problems

Deduce, as far as possible, the problem set from fundamental notions of consciousness, being and the universe - e.g., metaphysical considerations

10.5     Revaluation of the problems in as much as problems arise from conflicts among reifications of different or alternative modes of description or spheres of experience

What are the reifications

...of a society

...of a phase of society: academics…?

Of the chosen problems - ultimate, genetic or evolutionary, and ultimate - which ones are the result of reification alone. To what extent are the other problems due to reification?

What resolutions may be possible?

10.6     Some possible future work and revisions for this essay

10.6.1    Reconceptualization

Outline of what is written; repetition and reorganization; reconceptualization. Note: the present, fourth, version includes:

Some reconceptualization

Some reflection on every problem

A new section on An Approach to Definition and Solution of the Fundamental Problem of Consciousness…in this section it is shown that the essential problems may be bound into a single fundamental problem

Minor stylistic improvements

10.6.2    References

Reference to include J. Consciousness Research; major relevant Eastern and western philosophical positions; major recent modern references; neuropsychiatry, endocrinology and psychology; again, see Problem 10. Note also Searle’s newer review in the March 1977 issue of the New York Review of Books, “Consciousness and the Philosophers”, devoted mainly to David Chalmers’ “The Consciousness Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory.”

10.6.3    Reformulation or reorganization of the problems

The first problem area will be a new one on the “mystery of consciousness.” This is not the same as Searle’s “mystery.” I am in agreement with Searle[39] that what he begins by labeling a mystery is really a problem…it is the problem of “explaining exactly how neurobiological processes in the brain cause our subjective states”

What I call the “mystery” is truly a mystery…not in the sense that it is ultimately unfathomable but because it is, for me and for many others, an enduring source of wonder, awe and enjoyment. This mystery is the one of my being and my awareness or consciousness of my being. My personal memory goes back to a certain point - when I was two or three - and no further. My consciousness, my being was - as far as I know - once not. Now it is. This is the mystery. It can be seen also as a problem but it is also a personal mystery. And it is worthwhile including in philosophical considerations not only as a mystery, which keeps us fresh with wonder and curiosity, but also as a problem that encompasses Searle’s fundamental biological problem of consciousness. As a problem it relates, of course to the genetic and ultimate problems identified in my essay

The problems could be reorganized:

What is consciousness - proximate issues. The nature, relations and functions of consciousness

The origins of consciousness - these are the evolutionary or genetic issues

The ultimate or universal aspects of consciousness

10.6.4    Issues of consciousness

Setting in relation to metaphysics; specifically see the Introduction

Problems 1, 2, 7, 8, 9, and 10

Develop, for example, the consequences of the comments “on dualism” at the end of Problem 8 in my essay

10.6.5    Incorporate my comments on Searle’s New York Review of Books articles

Incorporate the above items and the essential ideas of my summary with comments on Searle’s review article into the essay. These ideas, which are labeled in the summary, are as follows:

Definition of consciousness is simple

The body image and the idea of a functional brain

On the on-off nature of consciousness

The issue of Cartesianism

On the identity of brain processes with consciousness and with mental processes

Partition of the problem of consciousness into [1] the philosophical problem of the origin of qualia in matter, and [2] the scientific problem of how specific qualia and, more generally, the structure and categories of mental process arise in the brain

Arguments about strong and weak artificial intelligence:

The Chinese Room argument

The brain and consciousness are actual entities - or processes. Computation exists only relative to an interpretation


Definition of the problem

The question of how consciousness arises in the brain has been called the most important problem of modern biology and the problem of consciousness. This question of course contains the following putative facts as presuppositions:

Consciousness arises i.e., it has an origin or origins

It arises somewhere

It arises in matter

The matter in which consciousness arises is the brain

I have called these assumptions into question in three ways. First, I considered the form that a solution to the problem as stated must take. It is a two-part solution consisting of:

[i] A demonstration of how qualia can arise from a mode of description called materialism from which qualia are absent, indeed, from which qualia have even been eliminated… thus this situation is different from the one of showing how, say, wetness of water arises from water molecules, for although wetness is not explicitly included in the description of water molecules, it is not excluded either. This is because wetness can be defined mechanically and this mechanical nature of wetness can be shown to follow from the mechanical properties of the molecules. This cannot be done for qualia since there is no mechanical definition of qualia: qualia are not mechanical. This may be stated in a simpler and more general equivalent alternate form. Third person description is first person minus subjectivity; i.e., minus first person. Therefore, the first person includes third person description. However, the third person description excludes an essential part of first person description. Therefore, the third person cannot include first person description

The relation of the third to the first person is analogous to that of proper subset to set. To go from a molecular to a wetness description is to go from third to third person description. That is allowable. From molecules - or neurons - to qualia is, relative to modern science, to go from the third to the first person. That is not allowable - it would be equivalent, in the analogy, to saying that a set is contained by one of its proper subsets

[ii] The scientific-empirical problem of showing in detail how and where in the brain the different aspects of subjective experience arise. I have argued above and earlier in this essay, that a solution to [i] is intrinsically impossible. I would also argue that a solution that claims that consciousness is a feature of the brain is not a solution to the problem but suppresses the problem, even though the claim itself may be correct.[40] And, although the assumption of the possibility of solution to [i] is intrinsic to the dominant paradigm or metaphysics called materialism, there are alternative paradigms - including scientific ones - of explanation[41] in use in the modern academic community, in addition, of course, to the ancient to modern traditions of idealism. This first objection, then, argues against matter as a source of consciousness

Second, I argue - below - that if we are to associate consciousness with a biological system, the system should be the Functional Brain rather than the organic brain. This functional brain will, likely, contain the neural and endocrine systems but need not be contained by the putative boundaries of the organism

These first two arguments are proximate, immediate. Indeed, the functional brain is a concept whose domain of validity is the proximate

The third argument calls into question the idea that consciousness arises somewhere. This idea - that consciousness arises somewhere - seems practical and empirical but is in fact starkly metaphysical. This starkness is of course suppressed by the force of what I have called the social delusion of paradigm. The basis of a claim that consciousness arises somewhere would be [i] consciousness is associated with certain forms, [ii] that consciousness is associated only with these forms. To turn these empirical and contingent and putatively putative[42] facts into the necessary and the absolute is starkly metaphysical and [43] speculative, in some pejorative senses of these terms. Other forms of metaphysics in which, for example, matter is contained in consciousness, are at least equally consistent with the field of data. And I have argued that a form of objective idealism provides a better framework for understanding the world - the universe - than does materialism

Now, a research program based on the paradigmatic assumption that consciousness arises entirely and only in the brain is and will of course be pragmatic and useful. However, the assumption itself, as I have argued above, is untenable. And, as I will argue, the following contains a more accurate paradigmatic assumption,[44] and a formulation likely to be more fruitful, of the fundamental problem

The fundamental problem of consciousness - revised

The problem is in two parts

[1] What ontology provides the best framework for understanding and explaining the relation between consciousness, perhaps mental function or processing in general, and matter - especially matter in its living forms; and what is the form of such understanding or explanation.[45]

[2] What are the detailed relations between the different aspects of subjective experience and what I have called the functional brain

A sub-issue is of course the question of identifying and defining and mapping[46] the functional brain; and validating, re-mapping-defining, this concept through theory and experiment

And, as noted above, the relation between consciousness and the organic brain is a valid field of research

But why is this the fundamental problem of consciousness?

I started consideration of the fundamental problem with an analysis of the question of how consciousness arises in the brain. This could more appropriately be called the fundamental proximate problem of consciousness. However, consideration of this problem, as we have just seen, brings into question, and requires answers to some ontological and metaphysical questions. In providing answers, even tentative ones, we are required to consider ultimate problems of consciousness and answers or forms of answers to the ultimate questions. Evolutionary questions and answers will also need to be considered in providing the most effective reflections on these issues. Full evolutionary and ultimate considerations will be incorporated into any solution to the fundamental problem as stated above. Thus there is justification to calling this section “The Fundamental Problem of Consciousness”

Toward a solution of the fundamental problem

Although [1], above, provides a framework for [2], I expect that a detailed though perhaps implicit solution to [1] will occur after or in association with a detailed if partial solution to [2]. However, the following question is important in relation to [1]:

What is it that makes the “objective” objective… and the “subjective” subjective?

I will consider position as an example of something that is objective and color as an example of something that is subjective


That position is specified relative to a frame of reference does not make it subjective, for it is position-relative-to-a-frame that I am arguing that is objective. Existence and objectivity of absolute position are physical-philosophical issues that I am not addressing here

Given a foot-rule and a frame of reference, I can specify the position of a landmark so that other people can locate the landmark from among a number of landmarks. This is what makes position objective


The issue of the subjectivity of color is a difficult psychological-philosophical issue, one that I am not addressing here. However, the following is reasonably certain: I have subjective experience of different colors and of shades of color; there appears to be a day-to-day consistency to my experience of color; but specifying a color of an object, in given light, so that [other] people will consistently choose the same object from among a number of differently colored objects - aside from the issue of color blindness[47] - is at least a much more difficult task than the task of specifying position

What are the implications of the issues of closeness of landmarks and closeness of shades of color? It would seem that if an individual who is kinesthetically competent can specify distinct positions, other kinesthetically competent individuals can differentially locate the positions whereas a similar claim for inter-subjective agreement among color-competent individuals cannot be made. In other words, specifying position can be done independently of perception of position; however the purpose of a color scale is to elaborate the subjective experience of color. Or, it would seem that color has an essential subjective component and therefore color competence cannot be defined at the level of color discrimination. That is, in transferring two times with a given eye, from a given color scale, to a given object in given light in a given room with given air conditions, a color reading of the object may be different even for color competent individuals

Thus: we have subjective experience of color and it seems as though this experience is, to a degree, essentially subjective. While this is not a final position, it seems as though the subjectivity arises from difficulties with specifying a color scale; incomplete evolutionary development of sensitivity to the frequency, intensity and superposition variables of electromagnetic radiation; and from the effect of emotional tone and other internal factors on the experience of color. I believe that my left and right eyes experience the same color as different and different shades of color as identical

Of course position, too, is a subjective experience. And I can never say that my subjective experience of position - on the standard separate consciousness ontology - is the same as that of other people. But I can define and specify position in a way that is completely objective

Thus it would seem that all knowledge has a subjective dimension; in some cases the knowledge can be made objective - or, should I say that an objective correlate can be identified [without loss of discrimination]. And, whereas I have elsewhere given ultimate reasons to prefer an idealist ontology, this justifies that choice in an immediate and practical way

Thus, based on the above and other considerations in my essay, I expect - in a rough way - the following:

A program of research and synthesis

Brain-consciousness research will provide useful information especially on correlation or causation between the varieties of subjective experience and physiology and physiological processes

A functional brain will be identified as the place of the most discrete forms of consciousness

The detailed relations between the aspects of subjective experience and the functional brain will be worked out

Qualia will be found to be real. Whether qualia are associated with microscopic entities [quarks, quanta, photons, fields…] or occur through integration at a higher level is an issue that will be resolved after working out of the detailed relations - and perhaps after further discoveries in fundamental physics and or neurology. The reality of the microscopic entities - and all matter - will be found to be proximate but not ultimate

An ultimate ontology will be worked out. Matter, consciousness in its discrete and diffuse forms will be contained and their nature, place and relations will be worked out within this ontology. I expect that this ultimate ontology will be a somewhat neutral monism - perhaps a form of objective idealism and not a materialism based on our current paradigms - in the Modern World Culture - of the nature of matter

The ontology will be somewhat neutral in that it will contain or imply concepts of both mind and matter and define or imply their place, but may not necessarily in its specification be devoid of mental or material characteristics

It will be an idealism rather than a materialism because [i] our concept of the idea is somewhat vague, not specified by any science and therefore, as I have elaborated, will readily re-conceptualize to include matter [ii] the commonsense and scientific notion of matter according to the paradigm is as inert, passive, devoid of self-reference, intentionality and agency and therefore devoid of mind

This ontology, since idealistic in tone, will be monistic. But since it points to the meeting of idealism and materialism - the latter according to some non-dominant or later paradigm - it will be ultimate at least relative to the mind-matter issue

How will this come about?

A discussion with reflections on the fundamental problem of metaphysics

I have argued that a form of objective idealism would be a good candidate for such an ontology. Within such an objective idealism, matter and the apparati of perception would both be forms of idea; matter and idea would be places in a continuum… matter contained in idea. On the other hand the concepts of matter continue to evolve; quantum metaphysics reveals what we think of as matter to have characteristics that are or come close to having some elements of what we consider to be mental: again we see a bridging of the divide between matter and mind and - from this viewpoint - mind as contained in matter

It is valid to point to nature, as some do, and say, “There - that is matter even though I do not know, for I do not need to know, precisely what it is in its details… I do know, however, that it is matter in that it is the seat of all the manifestations of nature.”

I believe that, relative to ontology, this is insufficient - for what “is” matter here appears as mind there and as life in between. But I cannot know whether life required some vital infusion into matter without knowing the details - at least to a sufficient degree - of life and of matter. It is this approach that has led to the [at least putative] demise of vitalism in biology and Anglo-American natural philosophy. For, while a quiet skepticism is always healthy, we know that, in biology, materialism is a significant and powerful foundational, explanatory and predictive instrument

However, despite hopes and ambitious claims - made on the basis of the success of scientific materialism in general and on the analogy with biology in particular, and despite successes in neurophysiological explanation, there is no firm foundation to an assertion of a materialism in anthropology, philosophical psychology, and ontology

Of course I do not believe that modern quantum mechanics or any theoretical physics instructs thought; rather it is suggestive, it is a source of ideas upon which to experiment. Our most ultimate thoughts can and will derive from the immediate - as do the esoterica of modern science.[48] Idealist and materialist ontologies will not be so different, may merge

This will be worked out carefully. The ontology will be a monism because there is one world. It will be neutral because there are many partial modes of description. The neutrality will not be absolute because the partial modes of description are not empty

This suggests another approach to monism. It is a commitment to the world on at least an equal basis with our ideas of it. This is a form of realism [I have written elsewhere of the similarity if not identity of the many, apparently quite different faces of realism]. Matter today appears as mind tomorrow and as matter again the day after. Nature did not hit me and say, “I am matter”; and my brain never said to me, “I am mind.” This monism is one in which I am not totally attached to any one of my projections, in which I live and reflect, see relationships… but keep speculation and skepticism in balance, in conversation

Note that these considerations also provide an approach and form of solution to The Fundamental Problem of Metaphysics; i.e., what are the relations among the different metaphysical systems which variously provide at least partial descriptions and how may they be synthesized into a single Metaphysical or Proto-Metaphysical System of the Universe which encompasses the universes of being and of experience

These issues touch on the question of being. There is no problem of being in any ultimate sense, for problematicity is a relation among proximate elements - the proximate constituents of the ultimate. But there is a problem of the nature of being which includes elaboration of these proximate constituents and their relations. And there is the question of the nature of the proximate: the immediate: the seen, the felt. But what is seeing, feeling? And what happens to the proximate when we admit inference and thought? And what is the ultimate or, rather, what is our knowledge of it: the all, the seen - conceptualized - intuited… These issues will be part of the resolution referred to above

The concept of a complete field

A “Complete Field” relates, informally, to the idea of axiomatic systems from mathematical logic. Although there is an overlap with axiomatic systems the scope and emphasis are different. The scope of a complete field includes being or entities; facts and history; concepts, ideas and theories; discussion and analysis. The analysis is explicitly reflexive and so includes discussion of what should constitute a complete field and what constitutes good analysis. The historical element includes a requirement that incorporates the history of ideas; completeness requires that this should not be limited with regard to era, culture, society, or being. Thus the scope includes the “sub-fields” of being, history, concepts and analysis. The emphasis in formulating a complete is to bring all relevant considerations into play - starting, perhaps, with the immediate world and common meanings. This is followed by expanding scope, refining meanings and relationships. The elements of a Complete Field include - by design and by evolution - factors conducive to the production of a complete field. The potentially over-ambitious and paradoxical aspects of the term “complete” are diffused by the foregoing placement in an ebb and flow process. Given this, the idea of a complete field is seen as a reasonable modern process analogue of the ideas and intents of the older concepts of systematic or speculative metaphysics

The whole process

This whole process -of ongoing resolution of the problems of consciousness and metaphysics - will require experience with the world and experiment with a complete field of concepts in which the world and every meaning, including the meaning of meaning, can change


Chalmers, David, “The Puzzle of Conscious Experience”, Scientific American, December 1995

Hundert, W, Philosophy and Psychiatry

Jaynes, Julian, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, 1976

Runes, Dagobert D., Editor, Dictionary of Philosophy, Revised and Enlarged Ed., 1983

Searle, John R, The Rediscovery of the Mind, 1992

___________, The Construction of Social Reality. 1995

___________, Intentionality: An Essay in the Philosophy of Mind, 1983

___________, Speech Acts, An Essay in the Philosophy of Language, 1969

___________, John Searle and His Critics, Ernest Lepore and Robert Van Gulick, Eds., 1991

___________, Minds, Brains, and Science, 1986

___________, Ed, The Philosophy of Language

Tye, Michael, Ten Problems of Consciousness: A Representational Theory of the Phenomenal Mind, 1995

For further bibliography, see

Problems in the Philosophy of Mind and Consciousness

The Bibliographies


ANIL MITRA PHD, COPYRIGHT © 1998 AND REVISED Thursday, September 25, 2003 1:28:04 PM


[1] See §10 for some future directions of study and further work on this essay.

[2] This is an ostensive "definition" - a definition by identification - rather than an analytical-verbal-real definition of the "essence".

[3] John R. Searle, "The Mystery of Consciousness", New York Review of Books, Nov. 2 & 16, 1995.

[4] Idealism in the sense used here: idea-mind as the primary element of being.

[5] This is the question of awareness without consciousness... and of unconscious perception.

[6] Although I am implying that human consciousness is a higher form, I do not mean this in an absolute or an exclusive way.

[7] See comments on ontologically neutral metaphysics following §8.1.6.

[8] With the result: the individual (and society) can (begin to) perform the "function" of evolution... of the process of the universe.

[9] If, to take a simple one-cause model of causation, A causes B and B causes C, then we may say either: A causes C; or, Given A, B causes C.

[10] Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence, 1995.

[11] Such an explanation would really be an understanding.

[12] This is elaborated elsewhere in the essay.

[13] We already see intentionality in that the genetic code bears the imprint of and therefore refers to the environment!

[14] Note: I am purposely using "behavioral", "ideal"... over "behaviorist", "idealist"; the former are stances or modes of description rather than paradigms or ontologies.

[15] Can consider alternate structures and formulations; e.g., consciousness must be evolutionarily effective re knowledge, action, adaptation, consciousness and choice.... See my supplementary manuscript notes to Evolution and Design and to my Brief Notes on Consciousness.

[16] Are the constructions of Gerald Edelman, i.e. maps of maps and reentrance, identical or similar to this?

[17] Note I have used the relatively neutral terms behavioral, ideal, mental, and material rather than behaviorist, mentalist, materialistic.

[18] That is, our description completely covers the elements which give rise to consciousness (posited in this example - though this is not necessary and may be materially invalid - to be neural circuits).

[19] Consistent with what I have written elsewhere in this essay, this is not a claim that consciousness or mental process arise only in brains, cells all the biological entities that we currently associate with mental function.

[20] This is a somewhat strong form of scientific agnosticism.

[21] See Problem 2 above and Part 2 of for some details. Also see Problem 10 for some suggestions on avenues for research. In work that is currently unpublished, I have formulated an initial framework for these concepts and researches. Part of that framework is reflected in this essay.

[22] This is the problem of induction - of the validity of generalization. It should be noted that arguments against induction are based on models of the world... of course an argument against the argument against induction is not an argument for induction; but is, rather, suggestive of direction for analysis.

[23] This relates to programmatic behaviorism and the work of Alan Turing.

[24] Gerald Edelman's work. Gerald Edelman, Bright Air, Brilliant Fire, 1992 is an accessible account of his work.

[25] Brief notes on consciousness and related topics

[26] Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, 1976.

[27] Descartes, Locke, Kant

[28] Apperception: conscious perception.

[29] Dagobert D. Runes, Editor, Dictionary of Philosophy, Revised and Enlarged Ed., 1983.

[30] Op. cit.

[31] Nature has no real existence, is merely the projection of the finite mind.

[32] I am not distinguishing between natural objects and artifacts.

[33] §10.4 item 6.

[34] This does not imply dualism.

[35] Idealism-materialism can be couched in other terms such as perception-judgement, intuition-sensing, introvert-extrovert, feeling-thinking, liberal-conservative, cloud-rock. Of course, the cloud-rock analogy is misleading in that, as noted previously, the concept of idea is not exclusive of matter even in its most material and rock-like manifestations.

[36] Idealism-materialism can be couched in other terms such as perception-judgement, intuition-sensing, introvert-extrovert, feeling-thinking, liberal-conservative, cloud-rock. Of course, the cloud-rock analogy is misleading in that, as noted previously, the concept of idea is not exclusive of matter even in its most material and rock-like manifestations.

[37] See: Journey-Quest: Guide to the Process.

[38] See comments on introspection on page 6.

[39] John R. Searle, The Mystery of Consciousness, © 1997 NYREV, Inc.

[40] Of course, it would be incorrect to claim that only brains can have consciousness. This is one reason that the proposed solution is not a solution. Further reasons are taken up in what follows in (a) the idea of a functional brain, and (b) the idea that consciousness arises in something else that is more fundamental or primitive.

[41] Amit Goswami, The Self-Aware Universe: How Consciousness Creates the Material World, 1993...I present this title as a recent example and not as authority or as containing views to which I subscribe. The philosophical literature includes a lineage in the idealist tradition that ranges from Plato, through Berkeley and Hegel to the modern time. I note that my own views, in so far as I subscribe to any idealism, are not so much that consciousness creates the material world, but, rather, that the material world is a component of consciousness. Additionally, although there is value to an approach through reduction and categories, my final preference is to refine and relate understanding of the phenomena and their classes. That includes all kinds of modification of the understanding, the relationships, the phenomena and the classes. Types of modification or change include variation, cut and paste, addition, deletion…Modes of modification include speculation - a special case of which is hypothesis formation - and selection which includes criticism, reason and logic. Modes of understanding range from the ground, the body, the experience, the use of the mental functions - feeling, emotion, cognition or perception and conception, and various modes of group understanding and behavior.

[42] I believe that items (i) and (ii) are not widely held as truly indubitable. However, there appears to be a widespread tacit agreement in the academic and practical worlds to behave as though they are true - as though all persons with good sense would subscribe to them. There is a tacit agreement as to their tacit truth…

[43] I do not wish to imply that all metaphysics is speculation.

[44] Position

[45] Of course, the ontology will need to stand independently... but note that the present issue covers significant ontological ground.

[46] Mapping the different aspects of consciousness, subjective experience, mental processes is a necessary part of this task.

[47] Just as location of landmarks is difficult for kinesthetic klutzes.

[48] Therefore, considerations from science and other disciplines derive at least indirectly from the immediate