Maarten Maartensz:    Philosophical Dictionary | Filosofisch Woordenboek                      

 C - Consciousness


Consciousness: What one experiences one experiences.

As defined, this seems the simplest minimally adequate definition. It also does justice to a fact noticed by Leibniz (long before Freud), namely that one has unconscious experiences, as illustrated by the fact that one may be woken up by a loud sound.

It seems not unlikely that human consciousness differs from whatever experiences or experiences of their experiences other animals have, because human beings use a natural language for a considerable part of their conscious experience, which is an extra layer of symbolical representation, next to the representing of parts of one's environment and body that is involved in ordinary non-verbalized experience and that is presumably shared with animals, at least in principle.

Indeed, it is well to remark that it seems likely that the types of experience and consciousness a species of animal is capable of is species specific: The bandwidths different species are well-tuned to differ, as do their capacities to make fine distinctions in what they do pick up, as may their organs, like the sonar that comes natural to bats.

And in this context of capacities: The stresses and capacities of organs that different animals share may differ a lot between species: Dogs rely much more on smell than humans do; birds may have far better eyes than humans do; and indeed compared to the sensory discriminations other mammals may easily make, human beings seem obtuse and limited in their abilities to perceive what goes on in their environment.

Here is a sort of simultaneous description and analysis of what seems to me to be involved in the only consciousness I know directly, namely my own:

There are two sides to conscious thought, since that happens in a dialogue, as it were by an answering and an asserting entity. Also, there are a body-image, feelings of pain and pleasure, sensations, memories, and fantasies besides thought, that is mostly verbal in its two sides, but that may go intentionally or come unavoidably with images of fantasy or memory.

By intentional fantasies I mean that I can ask myself "what would this look like?" and get a mental image, which I can alter or replace by another. So I am speaking mostly of a capacity for picturing, imagining, rather than creating, which is what the mind does, and which need not involve pictures, but may come as text.

Of course, what I have been saying is mostly metaphorical, but it seems fairly adequate. Also, these faculties are distinguishable and are given and come with capacities:

thought    thinking and judging
fantasy    creative formations and expectations
memory    information about one's past and associations
senses     information about environment and orientations
body        information about one's body and feelings

Also there definitely is knowing what one thinks before verbalizing it, which anyway seems more by way of explicating and memorizing then the proper thinking it verbalizes. Hence in fact there often are at least three layers involved in thinking something:

1) the thought prior to the words
2) the words for the thought
3) the mental image for the thought

These also usually arrive in that order, and always with the thought first: one knows what is coming, one has an inkling, and there it comes.

As to thought: I do think these are two departments, as it were, two sides, two halves, say the producing and the judging part. 

In everyday terms thinking and judging seem most appropriate, and judging is the active part, so to speak: it chooses to believe, desire and do. These are acts, mental and physical. There are other mental acts: remembering, in various ways; imagining, likewise.

Put otherwise, all that is involved in consciousness are actions that may be phrased like so

thinking and judging
imagining and expecting
remembering and associating
sensing and orienting
being and feeling

By being I mean basically bodily states or whatever it is that is one's body image, which is more than feelings, supposing these to be positive and negative, and in the ways of signals, for there tend to be many states that are more or less indifferent if one is more or less healthy, say the feeling of one's right foot, at the end of one's leg, without pains or pleasures of it.

It may be added, with reference to Propositional Attitudes, that the conception there adopted is to iterate the attitudes:

  • aKaKq is conscious knowledge of q: a knows q and a knows that a know q
  • aBaBq is conscious belief of q: a believes q and a believes a believes q
  • aCaCq is conscious causing of q: a causes q and a causes that a causes q


See also: Unconscious


Gregory, Hilgard & Atkinson

 Original: Aug 21, 2004                                                Last edited:12 December 2011.   Top