The Mysterious Reappearance of Consciousness

How eliminativism presupposes consciousness.

I recently published an article on IAI News criticizing the bizarre notion—called ‘eliminativism’ or ‘illusionism’ in philosophy—that phenomenal consciousness, experience itself, with its felt qualities, doesn’t actually exist. This position is held, among others, by Princeton neuroscientist Michael Graziano, who has published a reply to my essay, to which this article is a response.

Let me start by saying that I appreciate Graziano’s willingness to engage; this is the only way that we will slowly inch our way towards clarity and—hopefully—some level of consensus regarding the nature of consciousness. It is also in the same spirit that I offer this rejoinder, for—as attentive readers will have noticed—Graziano’s reply doesn’t require a reaction: if anything, it unintentionally strengthens and confirms my ori

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Ekalabya Mohanty 9 July 2020

Consciousness is not an introspective illusion because introspection has nothing to do with consciousness.

Ekalabya Mohanty 9 July 2020

Great article. Graziano doesn't understand consciousness. Neither does Jon Burchel or Mike Appareil. Introspection has nothing to do with knowing that phenomenal consciousness is real. And Jon Burchel doesn't understand what consciousness is. There is a what it feels like aspect to awareness in consciousness. Graziano doesn't understand consciousness either.

Jason Cortese 10 March 2020

Nobody seems to notice the difference between consciousness and self consciousness, consciousness must always become self consciousness for
self consciousness to always be consciousness and self consciousness must always become consciousness for consciousness to always be self consciousness. The Universe can only be self intelligence for it to always become self intelligent which means the Universe will become self intelligence for it to always be self intelligent. The Universe would always have to be infinite as an end from a beginning to always create itself becoming infinite as a beginning becoming an end which means the Universe would have to be infinite to be finite and become finite to become infinite. The Universe would have to be self and become self at the moment of its birth of self existence for the Universe to now infinitely become and be self existence as an eternal recurrence of self history of memory and self memory of history. History never changes it only repeats itself by always replicating its finite history of existence as an end from a beginning by always becoming a beginning to an end, the Universe is a ghost Universe as a past point containing all of its future points as past points that must always observe and experience itself as a future point becoming a past point. The Universe is the observers and the observers are the Universe, and when the Universe and all of us fully die by believing we have fully lived then the Universe and ourselves as parts of the whole Universe will come back into existence dying as we all believe we are living our past existence as a future existence.

Nathaniel Parr 9 March 2020

Having read some on both sides of this "debate," including Graziano's piece and your recent pieces, Mr. Kastrup- I agree with you. I think that people who make the provocative claim that subjective experience is illusory or "isn't real" are using definitions of the words "illusory" and "real" that are contrary to most people's intuition, and creating a controversy where there isn't one. If you drill down on these guys, they'll all concede that of course, we have subjective experiences, no one could deny that. They are just trying to explain it as a function of something other than correspondence with objective reality. Well, philosophers have been doing that for centuries or millennia already- That isn't a new thing that needs to be given a new name and presented as a provocative new scientific theory.

They could just say, as some more restrained proponents have said, that consciousness is not efficacious, rather than saying it isn't real. But that doesn't have the same ability to get clicks.

Edgar W 29 January 2020

Eliminative materialism is so obviously wrong that I find it shocking that any time needs to be spent explaining to people why it is untenable. When I first learned of eliminative materialism I thought it was a joke. These people can't seriously believe this nonsense, right? Surprisingly, I learned that there are people who actually do believe it!

Subjective experience simply cannot be reduced to the activities of non-conscious bits of matter, regardless of their complexity. More sensible materialists at least recognize the hard problem of consciousness and attempt to answer it with the magic of strong emergence, but that is no longer eliminative materialism, and it falls prey to Occam's Razor.

Phillip Weaver 25 January 2020

I don't understand why such an intelligently constructed reply is even required.
I'm a working class bloke of average or slightly above average intelligence without a University education who happens to have a lay interest in consciousness and even I can tell that consciousness is the one thing that is undeniable.
Certainly mine is anyway.
A discussion of the accuracy of representation is entirely separate to that of it's existence, indeed consciousness can't inaccurately represent anything without existing.
To continue this discussion further is like playing chess with a pidgeon- it will knock over the pieces, shit all over the board and strut around like it's won.

Michael Aparicio 25 January 2020

I went through graduate school taking for granted that introspection not only is reliable, but more reliable than empirical observations. Arguments that refer to such evidence were taken seriously, and the problems that arise from them defined my understanding of the mind. One couldn't have a complete account of the mind unless one accounted for the mind's qualitative nature. That is, I didn't just expect accounts to explain the causes of my introspective experience, but I assumed that the nature of the mind was as I experienced it through introspection.

At the time it seemed obvious and Eliminativists seemed as blind as that hypothetical Mary.

However, if introspective observations are't reliable, insisting that the nature of the mind must include accounts of Qualia, for example, begins to seem like someone looking at a stick in water and insisting that the nature of sticks is that they have a "bending quality." It's one thing to expect an account to explain why the stick appears bent, and problematic to assume that the stick really is bent.

Most of my life I didn't consider introspection problematic. I considered it reliable. I now doubt that reliability. I still expect research to explain why my introspective experiences are as I experience them. I still expect an account to explain the causes. But I nolonger assume that the nature of the mind is as I experience it introspectively.

Suddenly, I don't consider it implausible when I read that there is no single mental faculty called "memory," but multiple recall abilities. Suddenly I don't dismiss it as implausible when someone hypothesizes that mental states may be physical.

None of this is to claim we know enough to have a theory of the mind. We remain at that stage where we are considering hypotheses. But suddenly Eliminativist hypothesizes seem plausible; and when I read hypotheses relying on introspective observations I can't help but wonder if they're simply assuming that stick really is bent.

Daniel Sobrado 25 January 2020

You guys first agree on the definition of consciousness before arguing if it exists or not!

Jon Burchel 25 January 2020

Super condescending, and you don't understand Graziano's theory either. It succinctly account for all the features we describe as consciousness, and it doesn't take a "philosopher of mind" to understand it. Your "response to your response" shows your argument is bankrupt, and lazy...

David Irvine 24 January 2020

This article was just a bit of a rant really. One's perception of consciousness against another's. There was no message, no wisdom and certainly no philosophy. Absorbing the information that's in front of you, and being able to decipher a visual stimulus from it, does not define consciousness. A blind person still has the same conscious ability as a person who has a sight. Consciousness defines thought, the ability to question, create and propose a solution. This can be enhanced by an individual's ability to seek higher knowledge.