This is an essay on the “hard problem” of consciousness. If we focus on visual consciousness for simplicity, this is often said to be the problem of explaining how the everyday phenomenon we call seeing “arises” from the brain.
But I have never liked this way of phrasing the problem because it strikes me that we have a poor grasp (to begin with) of the everyday phenomenon of seeing itself. —What is this thing we call seeing?
So, in the essay, I explore instead the prior question of what we suppose the everyday phenomenon of seeing even to be—a question just as hard, but one which I find to be considerably more fruitful.
And the only decent answer I can come up with suggests that a certain form of “neutral monism” may be the true relation between mind and body.
Written in 2014.
Armstrong, D. M. (1968). A Materialist Theory of the Mind. Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Berkeley, George. A good introduction to Berkeley’s idealism is Lisa Downing’s entry, ‘George Berkeley,’ in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Berlin, Isaiah (1965). ‘Empirical Propositions and Hypothetical Statements.’ In Robert J. Swartz (ed.), Perceiving, Sensing and Knowing (University of California Press), pp. 364–93. Full view from Google Books.
—— (2000). ‘Consciousness as Existence Again.’ In Bernard Elevitch (ed.), Proceedings of the Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy, Vol. 9 (Phil. Doc. Center). Available at Ted Honderich’s website.
Humphrey, Nicholas (2006). Seeing Red: A Study in Consciousness. Harvard Univ. Press.
Husserl, Edmund (1913). Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy – First Book: General Introduction to a Pure Phenomenology. The passage I quoted is from the Martinus Nijhoff 1983 edition, trans. F. Kersten.
Marr, David (1982). Vision. W. H. Freeman.
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice (1945). Phenomenology of Perception. The quotes in the essay are from the Routledge 2002 edition, trans. Colin Smith.
Metzger, Wolfgang (1936). Laws of Seeing. The passage I quoted is from the MIT Press 2006 edition, trans. Lothar Spillmann et. al.
Mill, John Stuart (1865). An Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy. Longmans, Green & Co. Online version from California Digital Library. Mill’s famous definition of matter as a permanent possibility of sensation occurs at p. 198.
Moore, G. E. (1903). ‘The Refutation of Idealism.’ Mind, vol. 12, pp. 433–453.
Noë, Alva (2002). ‘Is the Visual World a Grand Illusion?’ Journal of Consciousness Studies, vol. 9, pp. 1–12. Reprinted in Noë (ed.), Is the Visual World a Grand Illusion? (Imprint Academic).
Palmer, Stephen E. (1999) Vision Science: Photons to Phenomenology. MIT Press.
Piaget, Jean. My knowledge of Piaget is really just from the grapevine. But see this article by Bruce Bower, ‘A Child’s Theory of Mind,’ (pdf), Science News (1993), for the sorts of considerations mentioned in the essay.
Reid, Thomas (1786). Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man. John Bell. The quote in the essay is from the abridged 6th edition (ed. James Walker), Phillips, Sampson & Co. (1855). Full views of both editions are available from Google Books. 1785 edition. 1855 edition.
Russell, Bertrand (1927). The Analysis of Matter. Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co.
Ryle, Gilbert (1949). The Concept of Mind. Hutchinson Press.