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Home » Blog » Is Consciousness An Experience or An Attitude?

Consciousness: Theory and History

For thousands of years, philosophers dominated the study of human consciousness. Rene Descartes, a French philosopher, pioneered the concept of mind-body dualism, or the idea that, while the mind and body are distinct, they do interact.

Once psychology was established as a distinct discipline from philosophy and biology, one of the first topics studied by early psychologists was conscious experience.

Structuralists analysed and reported conscious sensations, thoughts, and experiences through a process known as introspection. Trained observers would examine the contents of their own minds with care. While this was obviously a highly subjective process, it served as a catalyst for further research into the scientific study of consciousness.

Consciousness, according to American psychologist William James, is like a stream—unbroken and continuous despite the constant transformations. Sigmund Freud, a psychoanalyst, emphasised the importance of the unconscious and conscious minds.

While much of psychology research shifted away from observable behaviours in the first half of the twentieth century, research on human consciousness has exploded in popularity since the 1950s.

Conscious Experience VS Conscious Attitude

Consciousness is the term used to describe your unique awareness of your thoughts, memories, feelings, sensations, and surroundings. Consciousness, in its simplest form, is your awareness of yourself and the world around you. This awareness is subjective and personal to each individual. If you can verbally describe an experience, it is a part of your consciousness.

Conscious experiences are in constant flux. For instance, you may be focused on reading this article at one point. Your consciousness may then shift to a conversation you had with a coworker earlier that day. Or maybe a conversation with your coachee.

Consciousness research has centred on deciphering the neuroscience underlying our conscious experiences. Additionally, scientists have used brain-scanning technology to identify specific neurons that may be associated with various conscious events.

As previously stated, the primary objective in the case of conscious experience is to explain the properties of phenomenal consciousness. And a first-order theorist is always free to respond to alleged evidence of non-conscious experience by insisting that the aforementioned experiential states are actually phenomenally conscious, despite their lack of access consciousness. That is, despite the fact that the subject is unaware of or does not report on it directly.

There is nothing incoherent about the concept of phenomenally conscious experiences that subjects are unaware they possess, even if it is rather difficult to believe.

However, there appears to be no independent target of explanation in the case of conscious thought. For in this case, there does not appear to be any basis for claiming that the ‘unconscious’ thoughts investigated by psychologists are, in fact, conscious thoughts, despite the subjects’ lack of awareness. The phenomenon to be explained in the case of conscious thinking is the way we appear to have immediate and non-inferential awareness of our own thought processes. And this is because thoughts are not intrinsically phenomenally conscious. Our thoughts are unlike anything else in the relevant sense, except that they may be associated with visual or other images or emotional feelings that are phenomenally conscious due to their quasi-sensory status.

Of course, there is a sense in which entertaining a conscious attitude is similar to something. This is because, depending on what one is thinking about, various aspects of the world come into focus. As one’s thoughts shift from one subject to another, one’s attention is drawn to different aspects of the world.

For any experience or attitude will entail a partial and partially subjective ‘take’. on the objects of the experience or attitude.

What is necessary for phenomenal consciousness, however, is that there be something that resembles the subject’s own mental states. Mental states themselves are subjective in nature, possessing properties amenable to introspective recognition, and so forth. With this distinction established, there is no reason to believe that non-imagistic thoughts are comparable to anything.