Skip to main content

Susan Blackmore on Consciousness

Image result for Susan Blackmore

Susan Blackmore has written Consciousness: A Brief Insight. 

To reward her for that, I've posted her photo here.

She's described on the back cover as a "psychologist, freelance writer, and lecturer."  I've never heard of her before I happened to pluck this book off a shelf at a local library. It seems designed to give a brief (less than 200 pages long) survey of the field.

Starts with a definition of the "hard problem of consciousness," which as per David Chalmers she understands as the question: how can a physical brain, a measurable structure, give rise to something as ineffable as qualia? "Qualia" is philosopher-speak for private experiences, all the severable droplets int he stream of consciousness. Blackmore notes that Chalmers invented the term "hard problem" to distinguish this question from various easier problems to which philosophers draw are attention when they can't solve the hard one and want to draw our attention from it.

One of my usual procedures with a book like this is to look for the name "William James" in the index. Here there are several page numbers listed next to that name. So Blackmore obviously has some sense of the history of her subject.

Anyone, one of her points, which I'll simply paraphrase here without comment, is that human
experience exhibits a unity of consciousness. Assuming that one is beyond a certain (very young) age and assuming non-pathological conditions. This unity involves three things:

1) At any given moment, there is a unity to the things that "I" am experiencing. The buzzing of the bee is known together with the sight of a blooming flower, and they are known together without confusion.

2) Over time, there is continuity. My present state is understood by introspection to follow from a quite recent state, which in turn followed from one before that, and when I woke up this morning I reconnected with the mind-world that existed as I was falling asleep.

3) There is a "me" somewhere in some sense -- an experiencer as well as a cluster of experiences.

Any full philosophical anthropology will have to account for each of these three unities or, to put it differently, will have to account for this one triple-sensed unity.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

England as a Raft?

In a lecture delivered in 1880, William James asked rhetorically, "Would England ... be the drifting raft she is now in European affairs if a Frederic the Great had inherited her throne instead of a Victoria, and if Messrs Bentham, Mill, Cobden, and Bright had all been born in Prussia?"

Beneath that, in a collection of such lectures later published under James' direction, was placed the footnote, "The reader will remember when this was written."

The suggestion of the bit about Bentham, Mill, etc. is that the utilitarians as a school helped render England ineffective as a European power, a drifting raft.

The footnote was added in 1897. So either James is suggesting that the baleful influence of Bentham, Mill etc wore off in the meantime or that he had over-estimated it.

Let's unpack this a bit.  What was happening in the period before 1880 that made England seem a drifting raft in European affairs, to a friendly though foreign observer (to the older brother…

Cancer Breakthrough

Hopeful news in recent days about an old and dear desideratum: a cure for cancer. Or at least for a cancer, and a nasty one at that.

The news comes about because investors in GlaxoSmithKline are greedy for profits, and has already inspired a bit of deregulation to boot. 

The FDA has paved the road for a speedy review of a new BCMA drug for multiple myeloma, essentially cancer of the bone marrow. This means that the US govt has removed some of the hurdles that would otherwise (by decision of the same govt) face a company trying to proceed with these trials expeditiously. 

This has been done because the Phase I clinical trial results have been very promising. The report I've seen indicates that details of these results will be shared with the world on Dec. 11 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology. 

The European Medicines Agency has also given priority treatment to the drug in question. 

GSK's website identifies the drug at issue as "GSK2857916," althou…

Francesco Orsi

I thought briefly that I had found a contemporary philosopher whose views on ethics and meta-ethics checked all four key boxes. An ally all down the line.

The four, as regular readers of this blog may remember, are: cognitivism, intuitionism, consequentialism, pluralism. These represent the views that, respectively: some ethical judgments constitute knowledge; one important source for this knowledge consists of quasi-sensory non-inferential primary recognitions ("intuitions"); the right is logically dependent upon the good; and there exists an irreducible plurality of good.

Francesco Orsi seemed to believe all of these propositions. Here's his website and a link to one relevant paper:

https://sites.google.com/site/francescoorsi1/

https://jhaponline.org/jhap/article/view/3

What was better: Orsi is a young man. Born in 1980. A damned child! Has no memories of the age of disco!

So I emailed him asking if I was right that he believed all of those things. His answer: three out of …