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The relation of consciousness to the material world

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Within psychology and the brain sciences, the study of consciousness and its relation to human information processing is once more a focus for productive research. However, some ancient puzzles about the nature of consciousness appear to be resistant to current empirical investigations, suggesting the need for a fundamentally different approach. In Velmans (1991a; b; 1993a) I have argued that functional (information processing) accounts of the mind do not ‘contain’ consciousness within their workings. Investigations of information processing are not investigations of consciousness as such. Given this, first-person investigations of experience need to be related nonreductively to third-person investigations of processing. For example, conscious contents may be related to neural/physical representations via a dual-aspect theory of information. Chalmers (1995) arrives at similar conclusions. But there are also theoretical differences. Unlike Chalmers I argue for the use of neutral information processing language for functional accounts rather than the term ‘awareness’. I do not agree that functionalctional equivalence cannot be extricated from phenomenal equivalence, and suggest a hypothetical experiment for doing so - using a cortical implant for blindsight. I argue that not all information has phenomenal accompaniments, and introduce a different form of dual-aspect theory involving ‘psychological complementarity’. I also suggest that the hard problem posed by ‘qualia’ has its origin in a misdescription of everyday experience implicit in dualism.

Keywords: Chalmers; Consciousness; blindsight; cortical implant; dual-aspect theory; first-person; hard problem; information processing; psychological complementarity; third-person

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Psychology, Goldsmiths, University of London, New Cross, London, SE14 6NW, England.

Publication date: March 1, 1995

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