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April 10, 2010


Jim Lippard

Ned Block distinguishes three notions of consciousness--the subliminal (but behavior-affecting), the ordinary notion of conscious & accessible to the individual for reporting, and an intermediate state of conscious but not accessible to the individual for reporting.

Is another way of putting the distinction between the latter two that there are phenomena that are conscious to different parts of the brain (modules or systems)? Is consciousness a unitary executive process operating over multiple systems in the brain, or is it multiple processes in different parts of the brain?


"Is consciousness a unitary executive process operating over multiple systems in the brain, or is it multiple processes in different parts of the brain?"

Why should consciousness have to be "in" the brain? Isn't consciousness rather intentional consciousness, the consciousness an individual has of things in the world? I see the glass, I use the phone to send a text message, I push the pedal in the car- these are all instances of object-oriented consciousness. Where exactly do these kinds of conscious acts occur? To say that they occur "in" the brain seems misguided- instead, these acts occur in the relational space connecting human subject to material object. When we steer the steering wheel, doesn't this action connect the embodied human being's hands, the steering wheel, and the road? All of this poses big problems for saying that consciousness happens "in the brain" in any reductionistic sense.


I feel that the fundamental problem with the common view of the conscious is that it is trying to force features into something that doesn't have them. The consciousness doesn't control anything, the brain does, the consciousness is a sensual combination true, but it is output not input.

I go into this in detail here:


No offense to Dr. Block, but upon closely hearing this podcast three times in a row, I really couldn't make out more than that he was making a useless semantic distinction and arguing semantics and that his distinction did not amount to any real substance. Plus he seemed a bit unecessarily rude toward our wonderful host: Nigel Warburton. Block somewhat refused to play within the examples Nigel offered, and it didn't really make sense since it seemed Nigel was setting him up with great questions and great examples to elucidate the ideas for the audience.

I didn't really understand Block's reason for using the term "consciousness" in the way he did in the podcast. Couldn't you just have said that you have non-conscious perceptions or awarenesses, and that you are certainly "aware" of a rich field of things but that you only attend to a handful of those things (and you call this "attending to": you call it "consciousness")? From what I understood, it seemed to me that he could've preserved more of the common sense use of the term "consciousness" while still being able to articulate the same idea (that you have a rich field of awareness but that you only attend, are only conscious of, a small parr of it) I'd like to know why he instead decided to use the term "consciousness" so awkwardly. (Basically, from what I understood, Block replaced 'non-conscious awarenesses' with "consciousness" and replaced 'conscious attending or accessing' with just that "accessing").


The control that the subliminal is purported to have is still conjecture. I don't entirely discount the relevance, but I do knock it down a peg or two.

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