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Awareness, mental phenomena and consciousness: a synthesis of Dennett and Rosenthal

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Both Dennett and his critics believe that the invalidity of the famed Stalinist-Orwellian distinction is a consequence of his multiple drafts model of consciousness (MDM). This is not so obvious, however, once we recognize that the question ‘how do you get experience out of meat?’ actually fragments into at least three different questions. How (out of meat) do we get: (1) a unified sense of self, (2) awareness and (3) mental phenomena? In the latter chapters of Consciousness Explained, Dennett shows how MDM has a radical and profound way of interrelating awareness and self . But the Stalinist-Orwellian distinction can be dissolved by analysing the nature of mental phenomena, without making any reference to awareness or self or the MDM. This is because The Stalinist-Orwellian distinction rests on much the same category mistake (confusing of parts with wholes) which Ryle pointed out in his Concept of Mind. Once we recognize that a theory of awareness is trying to do something different from a theory of mental phenomena, we can see why Dennett and his critics frequently talked past each other, and how we can resolve these controversies by incorporating something like Rosenthal's theory of higher order thoughts into the MDM. (Something he has come very close to doing already in his discussions of the ‘hunt the thimble’ phenomenon.) This would require, however, that Dennett abandon his principle of first person operationalism, and recognize that it is possible for us to be mistaken about our own internal states.

Keywords: Dennett; Neuropsychology; Rosenthal; awareness; center of narrative gravity; global workspace; higher order thoughts; mental phenomena; multiple drafts; self-consciousness

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 2419A Tenth Street, Berkeley, CA 94710, USA.

Publication date: May 1, 1996

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