Some time ago I was invited to contribute a paper to a forthcoming volume entitled Being in Time: Dynamical Models of Phenomenal Experience. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I was invited because of my paper “What is a Brain State?” Looking back at that paper, which I was writing in 2004-2005, I was interested in questions about the Identity Theory and not so much about consciousness per se and I wished I had said something relating the thesis there to various notions of consciousness. So I was happy to take this opportunity to put together a general statement of my current views on this stuff as well as a chance to develop some of my recent views about higher-order theories. Overall I think it is a fairly decent statement of my considered opinion on the home of consciousness in the brain. Any comments or feedback is greatly appreciated!
One thought on “The Brain and its States”
The adoption of a Kantian framework is ill-advised here as this, above, study is non-Kantian. For example, the definition of transitive consciousness as “our being conscious of things” and “makes us
aware of something in the world” highlights and adopts a transcendentally real line against Kant’s transcendental idealism: Kant’s “Copernican revolution” does not support the idea that things have the properties of their appearances, nor that “objects of the senses…must have an existence by themselves, and independently of the senses.” (Critique, A369)
Taking a Kantian line to modern consciousness studies is possible but very little would be left of them. For Kant consciousness itself provides the limits and boundaries of physical objects such as the brain. The brain and its structures, which can only be identified by reports of consciousness, cannot be a source of knowledge of consciousness. This is the fate of any elements involved in a reductionism.
So, for Kantians, brain studies are necessarilly, in an absolute sense, epistemologically vacuous, even restrictive to the search for knowledge about consciousness. The reasons are logical. From the (Kantian) transcendentally ideal perspective consciousness studies today are not epistemological, empirical exercises but identificatory exercises. By adopting animistic gestures such as the brain having processes or functions, and neglecting our original epistemological, culturally dependent sources we, erroneously, make it look as though the brain itself is an epistemological source of consciousness, rather than one built from local, arbitrary, preferences and reports.