So, if you’ve read the “What’s this about” page, you’ll know that this is a survey of pop culture things and their assumptions about what “mind” and “consciousness” are.
There are a couple of points I should clarify now: Firstly, by “consciousness” I mean subjective experiences, feelings and thoughts of any sort. Any feeling of pain or hunger, no matter how unsophisticated, counts as consciousness as I use the word. Anything that has a subjective experience of light or sound or smell or any experience at all is considered conscious.
Personally I prefer the word “sentience” as I think it’s more suitable, but “consciousness” is much more popular so I’ll use it instead.
Righty. So here are the possible verdicts:
Brain + Mind Dualism: This is the idea that our conscious minds are separate, non-physical entities from our bodies. Anyone who believes our immaterial souls or disembodied minds interact with our brains falls into this category.
(Academically this is usually called “Substance dualism” or “Interactionist dualism”. It isn’t a popular view but there are some recent philosophers/scientists who have supported it, most notably John Eccles.)
Consciousness-as-Property: This is the idea that consciousness is a property of the physical brain, and not something separable from it. Sort of like “hardness” is a property of a brick; a brick’s hardness doesn’t exist independently of the brick itself.
There are actually two substantial sub-categories within this camp; physicalists and non-physicalists. The physicalists, strangely enough, say that consciousness is a physical property. Academic philosophers such a Michael Tye and David Papineau support this view.
The non-physicalists argue that the property of consciousness is caused by the physical brain, but is not itself physical. Philosopher David Chalmers is one proponent of this view
I’ve put these two views together under one category because, for our purposes here, there isn’t much difference between them. They may not like me saying that. But there are a lot of similarities and they do suffer from similar difficulties. The non-physicalists have difficulty showing how something non-physical can affect our physical brains, or if it doesn’t, how we can detect its existence. The physicalists have difficulties because, although they label consciousness as “physical”, they have not (IMHO) provided any convincing mechanism by which it interacts with the rest of the physical world, nor an explanation for why it’s so different from other physical properties.
Consciousness-denialist: This is the idea that consciousness just doesn’t exist. Dogs, horses, goats, robots, and chimpanzees just don’t feel anything ever. They have no more subjective experience than a fork. In fact, neither do humans. (If you’re new to academic philosophy this may seem like a crazy idea, but it has a very respectable academic pedigree. It’s often called “Behaviourism” but there are also other views which deny consciousness but which are not technically Behaviourist either.)
Idealism-or-similar: This is the view which I support. It’s not very popular unfortunately. At least, not until I complete the killer robot with laser eyes that I’m building in the shed. Then I’ll show them! Then they’ll be sorry! Basically, it’s the idea that our whole experience of the world – everything we see, hear, feel, touch, blah, blah, blah – is all part of our conscious experience. However the world which exists beyond these conscious experiences is unknown to us, or at least bears only a sort of “informational correlation” with the experiences we have. The easiest way to think about this is to pretend that you’re just a computer-generated character in a sophisticated version of the game “The Sims”. The world you experience (sights, sounds, smells, objects) is caused by a “reality substratum” (i.e. the computer running “The Sims” program which includes you). But this “substratum” is not available to you; you can’t look hard at the world around you and hope to see the system that’s behind it all. Your consciousness isn’t caused by the brain which you observe inside the game, but by the “reality substratum” itself. This is a bit confusing at first, and hard to summarise in a paragraph. For a fuller explanation, see my Unmaterialism blog.
Alrighty. Onward and upward.