In this post, I want to expose the object-metaphors of analytic philosophy of mind. In this video interview of Chalmers, we can see that for him, consciousness is understood as if it were an entity. He says that “consciousness is a thing” (which we know), as if consciousness is an entity with properties in the way a door is an object with properties which we can come to know. He says that consciousness is “presented” to him, as if consciousness were an object in the visual field which we can come into contact with and manipulate. He says that consciousness “exists”, as if consciousness exists just like a rock exists. He “experiences it” as if consciousness were something we experience in everyday life, such as a couch. He says that physical behavior is always “accompanied” by consciousness, as if consciousness were some extant object which can either accompany us or not.
Moreover, for Chalmers, Zombies “lack” consciousness, as if consciousness were a thing, which we can either possess or not possess. In the same way, God could have created a pure physical universe which “lacks” consciousness. Consciousness is then understood as a thing which exists and has certain properties such as ineffability, privacy, phenomenal feel, etc. The world “contains” consciousness, as if consciousness were an object which can be placed inside of things (such as brains). He says that “there is more to consciousness than physical matter in the brain”. He says that consciousness is an “inner movie”, as if consciousness were analogous to a mind viewing the projections upon a theater. This is an object-metaphor on steroids. It is based on a fundamental spatial analogy which blends a conduit metaphor with a container metaphor. The conduit is the neural sensory system, across which raw sense-data is transferred. The conduit leads into a container (or theater). The dumping of sense-data into the container constitutes the possession of conscious experiences.
If this sounds Cartesian, it’s because it is. Chalmers says that there are basically two types of things: matter and consciousness. This is nothing other than substance dualism wrapped up in the guise of a “respectable” property dualism but I think Chalmers buys into the Cartesian strategy more than he lets on. This is evidenced when he retains the same set of assumptions which lead to Descartes’ strategy of methodical doubt. Like Husserl, I would imagine that Chalmers thinks a universe that only houses a disembodied consciousness is conceptually coherent.
I could multiple Heidegger quotes indefinitely in order to show how he critiqued the presuppositions of analytic philosophy of mind, but I assume readers of Heidegger are familiar with such literature. Needless to say, Heidegger realized that everyday metaphors for consciousness are steeped in the object-discourse we inherit from everyday experience. Analytic philosophers have long treated consciousness as if it were a present-at-hand entity. I hope my analysis of Chalmer’s language has demonstrated that this type of discourse is thoroughly cemented in mainstream analytic philosophy of mind. Very few people have taken seriously the implications of George Lakoff and Mark Johnsons magnum opus Philosophy in the Flesh. This book, more than any other (besides Being and Time), opened my mind to how philosophy always goes astray when it fails to consider the metaphorical nature of philosophical discourse. Chalmers is able to conceive of consciousness as this disembodied inner movie only because he uncritically uses object-metaphors and treats consciousness as a nonphysical thing modeled on our everyday interaction with physical things.
In my opinion, William James was making the same basic point in his famous article “Does ‘Consciousness’ Exist?“. James’ point was not that thoughts and introspections don’t exist, but rather, that consciousness does not exist in the same way a rock exists, hence, consciousness “does not exist” (as an entity). But thoughts and introspections certainly do. As James says,
To deny plumply that ‘consciousness’ exists seems so absurd on the face of it — for undeniably ‘thoughts’ do exist — that I fear some readers will follow me no farther. Let me then immediately explain that I mean only to deny that the word stands for an entity, but to insist most emphatically that it does stand for a function.
While this might sound absurd to traditional Heideggerian scholars, I contend that Heidegger would emphatically agree with James on this point. Consciousness is not a present-at-hand thing. But it still exists. How? As an operation. As something we do. This is Alva Noë’s basic point as well, although it always gets misinterpreted as some kind of radical claim. This enactive approach to consciousness does suffer from a flaw however: whereas it critiques the inner theater model for perceptual consciousness, it needlessly abandons it for understanding introspective consciousness, which is a whole other breed of experience. This is another classic mistake of analytic philosophy of mind. By failing to distinguish the consciousness of brute cognition and the consciousness of introspection, many philosophers fail to realize that introspective consciousness is a different explanandum than cognition, which philosophers often call “phenomenal consciousness”. Accordingly, there is a distinction to be made between consciousness proper (self-reflexive introspection structured in term of self-metaphors such as the “I”) and cognition proper (real-time “on-the-fly” sensorimotor reaction).
Chalmers doesn’t make this distinction because for him, animals without introspection still qualify as fully conscious. This is because Chalmers buys into the theater metaphor for perceptual cognition. My beef is not with theater metaphors, but only with their application to low-level perceptual cognition. Theater metaphors are only applicable when we literally analogize a situation in terms of narratively-driven introspection. When we stop to think, we introspect upon a space which is an analog of our understanding of physical space. Philosophers like Chalmers take the spatialization of introspection to suggest that all experience is spatialized by this inner/outer distinction but he unwittingly extends the metaphor too far when he applies it to low-level cognition. This leads to all sorts of strange implications such as Zombies. But if we follow James and Heidegger in denying that consciousness is an entity, we can come to better understand our experience without eliminating or reducing the concept of consciousness.