A Reflexive Science of Consciousness

Velmans, Max. 1993. A Reflexive Science of Consciousness. In: Gregory R. Bock and Joan Marsh, eds. Experimental and Theoretical Studies of Consciousness. Chichester: Wiley, pp. 81-99. ISBN 0471938661 [Book Section]

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Classical theories of consciousness make it difficult to see how it can be a subject of scientific study. In contrast to physical events, it seems to be private, subjective and viewable only from a subject's first-person perspective. But much of psychology does investigate conscious experience, which suggests that classical theories must be wrong. An alternative, 'reflexive' model is proposed in which the external phenomenal world is viewed as part of consciousness rather than apart from it. Observed events are 'public' only in the sense of 'private experience shared'. Scientific observations are 'objective' only in the sense of 'intersubjective'. Observed phenomena are 'repeatable' only in that they are sufficiently similar to be taken for 'tokens' of the same event 'type'. This closes the gap between physical and psychological phenomena. Studies of consciousness face methodological difficulties. An experimenter E and a subject S may have 'symmetrical access' to events in the outside world in so far as they perceive those events (from a third-person perspective) using similar exteroceptive systems; but their access to the subject's body, brain and experience is 'asymmetrical' (E's third-person perspective versus S's first-person perspective). In so far as E and S each have partial access to such events, their perspectives are complementary. Systematic investigation of experience requires merely that experiences are potentially shareable, intersubjective and repeatable. In this the conditions for a science of consciousness are no different to those for a science of physics. This paper, presented at a Ciba Foundation Symposiumin 2002 was the first time the epistemological implications of reflexive monism for a science of consciousness were presented to a group of internationally recognised scholars on consciousness, including John Searle, Dan Dennett, Thomas Nagel, Sydney Shoemaker, Colin McGinn, Michael Lockwood, Margaret Boden, Bernie Baars, Peter Fenwick, Michael Gazzaniga, Jeffrey Gray, Stevan Harnad, Marcel Kinsbourne, Nick Humphrey, John Kihlstrom, Ben Libet, Tony Marcel, Jerome Singer, Robert Van Gulick, Howard Shevrin, and Pat Wall. The discussion that follows the paper is of particular historical interest, much of it focusing on the how to interpret the projected nature (or out-thereness) of much of the phenomenal world. Over the following decade, various participants accepted the importance of the out-thereness of the phenomenal world (e.g. Libet, Gray, and Humphrey) along with other theorists such as Lehar, Revonsuo, Hoche, and Tye. However, whether phenomena that seem to be out in the world are really in the brain continued to be a source of contention.

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Book Section

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reflexive science, consciousness, reflexively projecting experiences, reductionist model, methodological difficulties

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26 Apr 2019 15:28

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26 Apr 2019 16:30



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