Does Consciousness Come in Degrees?

That depends on what you think consciousness is.

Every living thing responds selectively to its immediate environment.  Rocks don’t.  One-celled organisms do. Viruses are a borderline case.

To speak of perception is a little more demanding. Do amoebas actually perceive things in their environment? Do stylops? Do ants, for that matter? When we say perceive, we’re thinking of sense organs, inputs and information-processing, however rudimentary. Those criteria are vague and admit many borderline cases; they might even be said to come in degrees.  

But when we agree that an animal does perceive, we are attributing to it a kind of consciousness, namely, perceptual consciousness of the world around it. Perception itself certainly admits degrees.  Some animals perceive more information per second than others; or they make a greater number of distinctions than others.  Likewise, if an animal has a greater variety of senses, it will enjoy a higher degree of perceptual consciousness.

A creature that does perceive

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Drew Raybold 8 July 2019

While I recognize that there is a significant difference between basic perceptual consciousness (that even my office's sprinkler system would seem to have) and state consciousness, I am not convinced that phenomenal consciousness forms a third category. Interestingly, the reason I would give for this position was stated in the article:

" Where there is any degree of awareness of one’s own mental state, there is something it’s like for the subject to experience that state."

To me, that makes a clear case for regarding phenomenal consciousness as an attribute of state consciousness - you have the former because it follows directly from having the latter, as stated in the quoted passage.

I also happen to think this attribute clearly has degrees: for example, the current me has a more expanded notion of what it is like to enjoy music than my former self, for whom Bach's music was merely a sequence of sounds.

Richard Walker 17 April 2019

The problem we have with consciousness is that our "thinking" is usually intensity based. How "true" something is is the drive of intuition and its insistence that we accept it reject it or rationalize it. Intuition, or system 1, is the tail that wags the dog, the slower, harder, more rational system 2. So as Daniel Dennett said, no reason exists to think we are not all zombies and that consciousness isn't a creation of our minds. Physics, if super simplified, shows the world to be nothing but change and to have no intuitive substance apart from our minds. It's just not out there substantially. Energy and matter can be defined when change becomes potential or stored change. Nothing else exists. To think that any self serving entity with memory or the feelings of motivation is not conscious is nuts. To say the the feelings that motivate us are automatically inherent in record keeping devices is equally nonsensical. The miracle of life is the evolution of self. As is the inherent distaste for truth because it argues with our feelings. And feelings are the source of all this needless confusion about consciousness. And the insane idea that we can see our minds as a static observer rather than an awareness of the present which is all they are. The present including all the mindstuff of the present. Though it would be nice to understand how the neurological systems do this.

Robert Stone 15 April 2019

I'm with Nanay. I cannot see what could be meant by 'being in pain' but not feeling it. Either an animal is suffering or it is not. If I programme my computer to say 'ouch' when I hit it, and then to take evasive action so that I can't hit it again, one could say metaphorically that it is reacting to pain; but it is not really 'in pain' or 'suffering'. Similarly, if some creature makes whimpering noises and runs away if I hit it, but suffers nothing - i.e. feels no pain - then it is not in pain. End of. That is simply a correct use of the English language. If philosophers choose to redefine pain as not necessarily involving suffering, then I choose to ignore them!