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Killing the Observer

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Abstract:

Phenomenal consciousness is often thought to involve a first-person perspective or point of view which makes available to the subject categorically private, first-person facts about experience, facts that are irreducible to third-person physical, functional, or representational facts. This paper seeks to show that on a representational account of consciousness, we don't have an observational perspective on experience that gives access to such facts, although our representational limitations and the phenomenal structure of consciousness make it strongly seem that we do. Qualia seem intrinsic and functionally arbitrary, and thus categorically private, because they are first-order sensory representations that are not themselves directly represented. Further, the representational architecture that on this account instantiates conscious subjectivity helps to generate the intuition of observerhood, since the phenomenal subject may be construed as outside, not within, experience. Once the seemings of private phenomenal facts and the observing subject are discounted, we can understand consciousness as a certain variety of neurally instantiated, behaviour controlling content, that constituted by an integrated representation of the organism in the world. Neuroscientific research suggests that consciousness and its characteristic behavioural capacities are supported by widely distributed but highly integrated neural processes involving communication between multiple functional sub- systems in the brain. This 'global workspace' may be the brain's physical realization of the representational architecture that constitutes consciousness.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2005-01-01

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