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On the intrinsic nature of states of consciousness: O’Shaughnessy and the mythology of the attention

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What are the states of consciousness in themselves, those pulses of mentality that follow one upon another in tight succession and constitute the stream of consciousness? William James conceives of each of them as being, typically, a complex unitary awareness that instantiates many features and takes a multiplicity of objects. In contrast, Brian O’Shaughnessy claims that the basic durational component of the stream of consciousness is the attention, which he understands to be something like a psychic space that is simultaneously occupied by several experiences. Whereas, according to the first conception, emotion is a feature of a temporal segment of the stream of consciousness and colors through and through each consciousness state that instantiates it, the second conception considers an emotion to be a distinct one of a system of simultaneous experiences that interact with each other, for example, limiting each other’s number and intensity. Among other matters discussed is the two theorists’ mutually contrasting conception of how the non-inferential awareness which we have of our states of consciousness is accomplished.
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Keywords: O’Shaughnessy; William James; inner awareness; qualitativeness; state of consciousness; stream of consciousness; system of experiences; the attention; unitary awareness

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of California, Davis

Publication date: August 1, 2002

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