3.11.2010

Re: Philosophy of Mind, or Consciousness Studies

People like David Chalmers and Patricia Churchland have been rising in "coolness" over the past decade. They're trying to create a "philosophy of mind," or of consciousness. Chalmers is good at explaining the "easy" and "hard" problems of consciousness. Check him out, starting at about 7:30:



One of the things I don't like about the way these folks talk is their use of the collective pronoun "we" with regard to what would be consciousness-studies. Chalmers does it above. Churchland sorta does it too, in the link above. This video, featuring Patricia Chalmers' husband Paul, is summarized by whoever posted it: "This clip opens with the voice of David Chalmers describing the lack of consensus among philosophers of mind on just how we should define 'consciousness.' " [my bold] The kid below does it; listen to how he uses "We" for the first few minutes (starting when he slides into the collective pronoun at :54 seconds):



In my judgment, this kid is no joke, despite his tank-top. I've been following him for a while, clued-in by his sweet tag-name, "ThouArtThat," which is right in my wheelhouse. He's a serious thinker and an engaging speaker. But I don't like his speaking here, which presumes that it's possible for an "us" to come to know anything. I don't think consciousness should be (or can be) studied this way. Instead, I believe the only fruitful way to study consciousness is experientially--in the first person.

If this means we need to keep the subject of consciousness out of academic journals (to preserve the "scientific" angle of study), that's okay with me. The problem here is that consciousness is the great ineffable, as I understand it. To try to describe it in a Science of Mind journal isn't going to get "us" anywhere, because "we" can't study consciousness together. Only I can experience consciousness. And I should. And you, in the form of "I," should. And there, as a first person, I might experience consciousness in a way that is meaningful and insightful.

Then--following the personal experience--I may choose to try to return to the public discourse and make an effort at meaningfully describing my experience. But it must at least include the form of personal (subjective) narrative, and even then, I think, it will be circumspect at best, and misleading at worst.

Note: I think my post here provides a good foundation for a defense of the necessity of literature (or at least "narrative").

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