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Goldsmiths - University of London

Causal interactions of consciousness, unconscious mind and brain

Velmans, Max. 2005. Causal interactions of consciousness, unconscious mind and brain. In: P Giampieri-Deutsch, ed. Psychoanalysis as an Empirical, Interdisciplinary Science: Collected Papers on Contemporary Psychoanalytic Research. 27 Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, pp. 91-117. ISBN 9783700133865 [Book Section]

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Psychosomatic medicine assumes that the conscious mind can affect body states, and this is supported by evidence that the use of imagery, hypnosis, biofeedback and other ‘mental interventions’ can be therapeutic in a variety of medical conditions. However, there is no accepted theory of mind/body interaction and this has had a detrimental effect on the acceptance of mental causation in science, philosophy and in many areas of clinical practice. Biomedical accounts typically translate the effects of mind into the effects of brain functioning, for example, explaining mind/body interactions in terms of the interconnections and reciprocal control of cortical, neuroendocrine, autonomic and immune systems. While such accounts are instructive, they are implicitly reductionist, and beg the question of how conscious experiences could have bodily effects. On the other hand, non-reductionist accounts have to cope with three problems: 1) The physical world appears causally closed, which would seem to leave no room for conscious intervention. 2) One is not conscious of one’s own brain/body processing, so how could there be conscious control of such processing? 3) Conscious experiences appear to come too late to causally affect the mental processes to which they most obviously relate. There are in any case different senses in which a mental process can be said to “be conscious”. It might be conscious (a) in that we can become conscious of it, (b) in that it results in a conscious experience, and (c) in that consciousness causally affects that process. Some processes are conscious in senses (a) or (b). However, it is uncertain whether any process is conscious in sense (c). Freud had similar doubts about the causal efficacy of consciousness. However, this produces a paradox: viewed from a third-person perspective consciousness seems unnecessary to the operations of mind, but viewed from a first-person perspective, it seems to be central to mental life. I suggest a way to think about consciousness, unconscious mind and brain that allows this paradox to be resolved.

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Date Deposited:

24 Apr 2019 16:01

Last Modified:

24 Apr 2019 16:01


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