Update1: The problem of consciousness

Sorry for this late update of my research…. Went back to China and not really convenient to get on school’s website for updates. But I’ve done a bunch of research during the past two months and in the next couple of days I will introduce   the current popular theories of consciousness in philosophy and neuroscience.


Let’s start with clearing up some terms. Though the notion ‘consciousness’ is widely used, the definition of it is notoriously ambiguous and controversial. Here are a few terms for different kinds of consciousness defined by neuroscientists and philosophers.

Creature consciousness – This is the kind of consciousness animals have when they are awake and respond to stimuli. It is used when we say “humans are conscious” or “dogs are conscious”.

State consciousness – This refers to the property of a mental state. It is used when we sometimes speak of certain mental state as conscious, such as a pain or perception. Most of the contemporary theories of consciousness aimed at explaining state consciousness. (e.g. what makes a mental state conscious)

Transitive consciousness – This is used as we are conscious OF something. It’s the kind of consciousness we have when we are perceiving, sensing and etc.

Access consciousness (Ned Block)- This refers to a mental state that is been poised for control of action. It is available for use in reasoning and rationally guiding speech and action.

Phenomenal consciousness (Ned Block)- According to Block, this results from sensory experiences such as hearing, smelling, tasting, and having pains. He excludes this from anything having to do with cognition and intentionality.


Qualia/ “what it’s like” (Thomas Nagel) – A famous notion raised by Thomas Nagel.  Nagel states that, when we are in conscious state, there is a “something it’s like” sense from our first-person perspective. (I’d like to think of this in terms of one’s ‘interpretation’ of the world or looking through a lens.) The notion stresses on the subjective quality in a conscious state, and also points out that even if we acquire all the objective qualities of a conscious state, we still cannot grasp this “what it’s like”ness.  An organism, such as a bat, is conscious if it is able to experience the outer world through its (echo-locatory) senses. Even if we have a complete knowledge of how its sensation system works, we still don’t know what it’s like to be a bat.

Note that consciousness might not necessarily be the same thing as ‘awareness’, ‘experience’ or ‘attention’. Examples in priming, blind sight and other cases provide evidence.


In next post I will discuss the problem of consciousness.