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Understanding subjectivity: Global workspace theory and the resurrection of the observing self

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Why is the problem of subjectivity so hard, as David Chalmers claims ? This essay suggests that it becomes hard when we adopt an implausible, perfectionistic standard. In the last two decades the standard has come to be observer empathy --- the ability to know what it’s like to be a bat or another human. That makes understanding consciousness difficult indeed. Far more practical criteria are used every day in medicine and scientific studies of consciousness, and indeed traditional philosophy from Kant to James took a much more relaxed view of subjectivity. Once we adopt these more workable standards, subjectivity is suddenly revealed to involve a familiar concept, namely the self as observer of conscious experiences. Contrary to some,this sense of self is conceptually coherent and well-supported by hard evidence. For example, the left-hemisphere interpreter in split-brain patients behaves as one such self. Given a modest andpractical approach, we can expect to make progress toward understanding subjectivity.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: The Wright Institute, 2728 Durant Avenue, Berkeley.

Publication date: 1996-03-01

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