Experience and consciousness in the shadow of Descartes
A conscious being is characterized by its ability to cope with the environment—to perceive it, sometimes change it, and perhaps reflect on it. Surprisingly, most studies of the mind's place in nature show little interest in such interaction. It is often implicitly assumed that the main questions about consciousness just concern the status of various entities, levels, etc., within the individual. The intertwined notions of "(conscious) experience" and "(phenomenal) consciousness" are considered. The predominant use of these notions in cognitive science can be traced back to Cartesianism. What is important is the survival of the central methodological commitments despite seemingly profound changes of metaphysical outlook. The author argues (1) that cognitive scientists typically assimilate perception to sensation, thereby ignoring ways in which descriptions of perception and descriptions of the environment are logically intertwined; (2) that this involves methodological solipsism and an unacknowledged sceptical position that was originally part of Descartes' Dream argument; and (3) that it is impossible to identify the object supposedly to be studied by a science of the phenomenal consciousness. A somewhat parallel argument is identified in Kant's critique of rationalist psychology.