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Building materials for the explanatory bridge

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Commentary on ‘The View from Within’, edited by Francisco Varela and Jonathan Shear

[opening paragraph]: In recent years, David J. Chalmers (1995; 1996; 1997) has forcefully made a point that I consider to be extremely important for the study of consciousness, also from a Husserlian perspective. The point is that conscious experience is ‘an explanandum in its own right’ (1995, p. 209). In order to make progress in addressing the problem of the explanatory gap between physical processes and conscious experience, new approaches are therefore to be explored. As Chalmers has it, ‘a mere account of the functions stays on one side of the gap, so the materials for the bridge must be found elsewhere’ (1995, p. 203). Now, as I see it, the editors of this Special Issue pursue, precisely, the most promising avenue for adequately studying the problem of consciousness in such an exploratory spirit. For, in their excellent Introduction, they un- equivocally propose to include first-person, subjective experience as an explicit and active component of a science of consciousness, to be elaborated with appropriate methods by a research community. Jonathan Shear already put it very clearly elsewhere: ‘what is needed . . . is not so much new conceptualizations of science or new objective methodologies for exploring relationships of the phenomena of consciousness to physiology and behaviour . . . but new systematic methodologies for the exploration of the subjective phenomena of consciousness’ (in Shear, 1997, p. 369). Among such methodologies, the editors now include ‘the most important western school of thinking where experience and consciousness is at the very heart: Phenomenology as inaugurated by Edmund Husserl . . .’ (p. 5, this issue).

Keywords: Chalmers, David; Husserl, Edmund; McGinn, Colin; Shear, Jonathan; Varela, Francisco; explanatory gap; method of reflection; perceiving vs. viewing in a picture; pre-reflective consciousness; reflective-eidetic analysis

Document Type: Review Article

Affiliations: Institute of Philosophy, University of Bern, Laenggasstra. 49A, CH-3000 Bern 9, Switzerland.

Publication date: January 1, 1999


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