Analytical Philosophy as a branch of philosophy has taken many forms, positive and negative, but there are two very influential forms which, in different ways break with the thread of continuity or what I shall call “the thread of philosophical tradition” that stretches from the Pre-Socratic philosophers to Socrates , Plato, Aristotle, Kant and the later Wittgenstein and all of their followers throughout the ages. Ironically, both these discontinuities manifested themselves in the twentieth century, or what Hannah Arendt called “this terrible century”. The first discontinuity was logical atomism which attempted to use the principles of set theory and mathematical logic to generate “atoms” of sense data, objects states of affairs, names and descriptions: all in the name of a concern or obsession with truth conditions that marginalised a number of traditional domains of philosophy which the “thread of the tradition” had been successfully including in its definition of philosophy as “the systematic understanding of the world as a systematic whole”. The second, discontinuity, logical positivism, born of the obsession of Science with the cloud of metaphysics hanging over their theorising, was more concerned with philosophical theories of meaning than truth and knowledge(the concern of the tradition). It too marginalised domains of philosophy where the major concern was with action, values and the many meanings of “the good”. These two tsunamis drenched and then drowned the hinterland of traditional philosophy with “logic” and “science”, flattening the philosophical landscape into atoms of debris. The major structures of ethics, aesthetics, philosophical psychology, political philosophy,philosophy of religion and metaphysics barely survived the flood and devastation. There were of course reactions and responses to the tsunami in the forms of phenomenology, existentialism, pragmatism, linguistic philosophy and the later Wittgenstein(whose earlier work had been part of the last phase of the tsunami). Some remaining structures and parts of structures are now in the process of being rebuilt in accordance with the principles of “the tradition”. Yet some of these responses were merely “reactions” to the tradition and manifested discontinuities of their own(Pragmatism, phenomenology, existentialism, instrumentalism). We explored some of these in part two of this essay. We pointed out that the history of psychology and consciousness were also affected by a modernist revolution that Husserl had described in his work”The Crisis in the European Sciences. Psychology, having at the end of the 1800’s made the decision to ally itself with the forces of the tsunami that fundamentally affected how we thought about consciousness in the twentieth century was left homeless when the waters receded. The so called “crisis” of course had begun much earlier with the Philosophers Descartes and Hobbes who together succeeded in severing the thread leading back to Aristotle’s philosophy. Kant in his brilliant synthesis of empiricism and rationalism managed for a short time to rekindle interest in ethics, political Philosophy and metaphysics. Hegel and Marx quickly neutralised these Kantian interests and Aristotle or rather the spirit of Aristotelianism was once again cut adrift(a spirit which naturally integrated logic, science, metaphysics, philosophical psychology, ethics, aesthetics and rhetoric under one umbrella). It is difficult to identify the reasons why philosophy fragmented into the atoms of a logical/scientific epistemology. Perhaps the answer lies in the different characterisations of consciousness that have manifested themselves since the era of Descartes and Hobbes. This answer unfortunately merely raises another question concerning the fragmentation of the holistic perspective of the human being we inherited from Aristotelian and Kantian Philosophy.
We have illustrated some of the difficulties involved in abandoning a metaphysical approach to our existence in parts one and two of this essay. In this part I wish to show firstly, how the epistemological project can result in a view of consciousness that does not constitute a break with tradition, and secondly how the “thread of tradition” views consciousness from a holistic philosophical perspective. In relation to the first goal we discuss the work of O Shaughnessy and in relation to the second the work of P M S Hacker.
O Shaughnessy’s first work: “The Will: a dual aspect theory” was truly a metaphysical excursion into the philosophical territory of action and thought about action. He used this same combination of logic and metaphysics to analyse consciousness and its relation to the world. In terms of the “thread of tradition” leading from Aristotle to Kant much of what O Shaughnessy claimed about “experience”*is consonant with the later work of Wittgenstein.
*Aristotle and Kant did not focus on the concept of consciousness that in fact seemed to emerge from the ideas of Descartes and transformed itself at the end of the 1800’s when Psychology detached itself from Philosophy. There are, of course significant differences in the philosophies of Aristotle, Kant and Wittgenstein but I am abstracting from these in favour of commonalities and concentrating on these similarities which seem to be sketching out a position which has yet to be named.
Harari has claimed that a “cognitive revolution took place ca 70,000 years ago. We questioned this claim on two grounds. Firstly, the archeological evidence gives very little support to Harari’s position which appears to be founded upon an over-interpretation of the significance of the find of the lion man from Stadel dated 32000 years ago. Julian Jaynes, in his work “The Origins of Consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind” produced a veritable mountain of archeological evidence for the origins of consciousness being much much later, around 1200 bc. Secondly,Jaynes also produced linguistic evidence from both Homer and the Bible that suggested solving complex problems and thinking for oneself are key elements of consciousness in contrast to the state of mind of men who fail to think independently and spontaneously when a new difficult to solve problem emerges which these so called bicameral men lack the knowledge or experience to solve. Jaynes is referring to practical problems here and appears to be committed to this kind of problem in contrast to O Shaughnessy who claims that the epistemological function of consciousness lies closer to its constitution.
There is, however, an interesting shift in paradigm between the fundamental claims of William James and Jaynes. There is no definition of learning in James’ “Principles of Psychology” whilst Jaynes appears to be using a traditional Psychological definition: “The acquisition of knowledge, habits or skills as a result of study, being taught by others or experience”. James may well argue in response to this criticism that his account focuses on the conditions and consequences of the phenomenon of learning that does not require definition once the mechanisms involved have been revealed. Learning, that is, may require analysis in terms of conditions and consequences. The consequences are evident in Jaynes’s definition, namely knowledge skills and habits but it must be pointed out that James avoids the epistemological theme of knowledge and concentrates instead on practical skills and habits(for reasons given in part one). James then attempts to discuss habit in the context of a so called stream of experience and surprisingly claims that habit aims to diminish the role of consciousness in the stream:
“If an act requires for its execution a chain ABCDEFG etc of successive nervous events, then in the first performances of the action the conscious will must choose each of these events from a number of wrong alternatives that tend to present themselves: but habit brings it about that each event calls up its own appropriate successor without any alternative offering itself, and without any reference to the conscious will, until at last the whole chain ABCDEFG rattles itself off as soon as A occurs just as if A and the rest of the chain was fused into a continuous stream.”(James Principles of Psychology, vol 1, p114)
This discussion reinforces James’ practical definition of consciousness given in part one relating to the intelligent choice of ends and means to ends but it also focuses on a kind of energy regulation principle that appears to aim at regulating the amount of energy expended by consciousness in the choice of the best alternative. This is, indeed an interesting hypothesis: the power of consciousness is in a sense too powerful in its generation of alternatives and needs to select the one which will facilitate an efficient stream of events constituting either a knowing that something is the case, a habit or a skill. The selection of the correct alternative is obviously an occurrent act and an expression of a power or disposition of consciousness. If, for some reason one is unable to solve the problem that has arisen, the inability to choose from a large number of alternatives will cause anxiety. Jaynes’ account appears not to agree with James’ position that consciousness is an occurrent operation of selection of ends and means to ends. According to Jaynes:
“As we saw earlier in he performance of skills, so, in the learning of skills, consciousness is indeed like a helpless spectator, having little to do.A simple experiment will demonstrate this fact. Take a coin in each hand and toss them both, crossing them in the air in such a way that each coin is caught in the opposite hand. This you can learn in a dozen trials.As you do, ask, are you conscious of everything you do? Is consciousness necessary at all? I think you will find that learning is much better described as being “organic” rather than conscious. Consciousness takes you into the task, giving you the goal to be reached. But from then on…it is as if the learning is done for you.”(“Origins of Consciousness…p33).
So, consciousness is not involved in choosing means to ends generally but perhaps only the first in the chain of means leading to an end. But how, then, should we characterise consciousness:
“Subjective conscious mind is an analogue of what is called the real world. It is built up with a vocabulary or lexical field whose terms are all metaphors or analogs of behaviour in the physical world. Its reality is of the same order as mathematics. It allows us to shortcut behavioural processes and arrive at more adequate decisions. Like Mathematics it is an operator rather than a thing or repository. And it is intimately bound up with volition and decision.”(p55)
Jaynes then elaborates upon this point by exemplifying how we refer to mental events with visual metaphors that refer to a posited mind space rather than real space:
“We “see” solutions to problems, the best of which may be “brilliant”…we can “approach” a problem, perhaps from some “viewpoint” and “grapple” with its difficulties, or seize together or “com-prehend” parts of a problem…using metaphors of behaviour to invent things to do in this metaphorical mind-space.”
There are a number of characteristics of this mind-space. Firstly we spatialise even elements that are not essentially spatial, e.g. time: a hundred years is for example spread out on a time-line extending from left to right. Secondly we excerpt or select certain aspects of a total experience to best represent or symbolise that experience: e.g. the images of a trapeze artist or clown symbolise “the circus”. Thirdly, we symbolise ourselves by a so called “analogue I” which can move about in this metaphorical world. Fourthly, if we catch glimpses of ourselves doing what we have not actually done(so called autoscopic images) this is referred to by Jaynes as a “metaphorical me”. In this so called metaphorical world it is possible one presumes for this analogue I to converse with this metaphorical me and thus provide some foundation for the Greek idea of thinking as a kind of dialogue with oneself. Fifthly, we narratise everything we experience into a story which in its turn is then also used to assimilate new events and give meaning to them. In this story we also attribute causes, real or fictional, to explain our actions or what happens to us. We can also use narratisation to attribute causes of events we experience that might have only peripheral significance in our lives, e.g. a child crying in the street may be characterised in a narrative as being “lost” and being searched for by parents. Sixthly, we assimilate events which look similar into schemes we have formed on the basis of previous experience.
The hypothesis here appears to be that consciousness has an intimate relation to language which if true suggests that consciousness is an emergent phenomenon based on a certain complex use of language. Given that Jaynes has suggested that consciousness is related to the cortex of the brain and we know that language is so related we are then provided with an interesting triangle of factors: the brain, consciousness and language. Jaynes is however convinced that both language and consciousness are cultural entities that may require the substrate of the cortex but which cannot finally be reduced to functions of the brain. In his controversial but interesting thesis of a bicameral mind preceding the advent of consciousness Jaynes uses the hemispherical structure of the brain to situate a voice in the right half of the brain telling a listener in the left half what should be done. He speaks of the Myceneans for example who, he argues, possessed none of the 6 “characteristics” of consciousness mentioned above. When these bicameral people engaged in planning initiating or willing anything, no consciousness is involved: a voice tells them in a friendly way what to do in a hallucination. According to Jaynes these individuals had no mind space in which to think about what they were experiencing or debate with themselves(the analogue I and the metaphorical me) what they ought or ought not to do. They could not even assimilate events into a narrative. In this context it is of interest to note two things. Firstly, it is recorded in Plato’s dialogues that Socrates was once seen standing in the same spot in a trance-like state for a considerable amount of time “consulting” with his daemon. Secondly by the time we get to the period of Aristotle, people “hearing voices” were regarded with suspicion. These two events would fit in well with Jaynes’ thesis that mankind had only relatively recently become conscious beings. The Achilles of the Iliad is indeed a strange being in modern eyes and he only becomes heroic if we endow him with the characteristics of consciousness. And yet he is a being that could perform complex deeds(with the help of the voices of his gods, of course) In order to understand how Achilles could accomplish the complex feats in battle that he did(without being a conscious being), Jaynes asks us to imagine driving a car and having a conversation simultaneously. The latter activity would be occurring in my mind space and in that space I would be debating with myself or conceiving of alternative responses but in the case of the former activity of driving , that would be occurring sub-consciously and involve a myriad of complex decisions that I am not conscious of making. It is thus that the Myceneans and Achilles carried out their complex tasks, being jolted anxiously out of the state of circumspection by unforeseen circumstances and being forced to stand and wait like Socrates for the voice to appear out of the mists of anxiety and confusion. In this context Jaynes points out the power the voice has to command obedience:
“To hear is actually a kind of obedience. Indeed both words come from the same root and therefore probably were the same word originally. This is true in Greek, Latin, Hebrew, French, German, Russian as well as in English whose “obey” comes from the Latin obedire which is a composite of ob+audire , to hear facing somebody.” “Origins of Consciousness…” p97)
Consider in addition the strangeness of the fact that there is no one facing you or who can be seen, merely a disembodied voice. In such circumstances to hear was to obey.
Jaynes also produces brain research support to support his hypothesis that consciousness evolved culturally.Language in conscious man is located in the left hemisphere(in the temporal and frontal lobes) but every other function is controlled and registered bilaterally in both hemispheres. Could it be, Jaynes asks, that the language function was once also bilateral and that the temporal lobe of the right hemisphere was the source of a voice carried over to the left hemisphere by the anatomical structure known as the anterior commissure? Jaynes points out that stroke patients who have sustained serious damage to the left hemisphere can still understand language using the right hemisphere and moreover can obey commands to retrieve objects with their left hands. Wilder Penfield’s studies on epileptic patients also revealed that electrical stimulation of the right hemisphere produced voices. Jaynes also produces evidence from a theory of evolution of language that he presents and he claims that the changes in language used the plasticity of the brain to perceive and attend to the environment in different ways. In this theory of the evolution of language he posits the first sentence to be an imperative and to have occurred between 25000 and 15000 bc, to be followed by thing nouns (corresponding to the time in which animal paintings were appearing in caves), the age of names of people between 10000 and 8000 bc(corresponding to the time of the emergence of agriculture and towns).
All of these reflections make it abundantly clear that for Jaynes, consciousness is not a genetically caused phenomenon but rather a culturally created phenomenon that was perhaps partly brought about by the advent of writing and a series of environmental catastrophes. It was this cultural development of language which then helped to form a mind space, an analogous I, a metaphorical me, symbolic consciousness, and a narratization function that turned life into a story.
But, one can wonder whether all this is typical of our consciousness which appears to abandon narratives in favour of more academically structured forms of discourse. The Greek philosophers and the thread of tradition looked upon the truth and knowledge function of language as a very important aspect of the relation of our consciousness to the world. If we follow this Ariadne-like thread out of the Greek cave and into modern times we encounter a work entitled “Consciousness and the world” by Brian O Shaughnessy which attempts to do justice to a more philosophical answer to the question “What is consciousness”, an answer very different to the answers we have been given in the name of Psychology and continental Philosophy.
O Shaughnessy states in the introduction to his work that a bridge of awareness extends between the mind and “the spatio-temporal scene of physical objects” and that since consciousness emerged at some point in the history of life systems it can only be a supervenient contingent phenomenon for which there cannot be scientific criteria. This fact does not, however prevent there from being what he calls psychological assumptions that explain behavioural phenomena. This contact with reality–this awareness is clearly based on the power knowledge has to generate explanations that are not descriptive in the way narratives are.
O Shaughnessy claims that:
“A self consciously conscious subject must be acquainted with certain general properties of the World, for example with the character of the overall framework, the rules of individuation and explanation that prevail in the world, together with some kind of awareness of its actual contents.”
This is a long way from the characterisation of consciousness in terms of narratization, analogues, metaphors, and symbols. Indeed the polarity of the entire investigation into the nature of consciousness seems to be reversed in this philosophical account: an account where veridical Perception of physical reality is going to play an important role in a final analysis that is going to arrive at the destination of the truth orientation of consciousness.This in turn no doubt will resurrect the Aristotelian definition of man as a “rational animal capable of discourse” simply because truth is intimately related to a rationality that knows what causes ones beliefs and actions: i.e. one knows the explanations and principles outlined in Aristotle’s Metaphysics. The correct analysis of visual experience will obviously play an important role in this analysis, an analysis that will involve the light emanating from the object and the sensation that arises and its special character of being caused by the light and simultaneously aware of its cause. This is most apparent, it is argued, when we awake in the morning and the light both floods in and “is noticed”. This is the basis of the thesis of perception being primarily being extensional and only secondarily intensional:
“Finally it should be noted that the core of all perceptual experiences is “pre-interpretational”: an infant who winces at the light sees light and very likely also its colour but need see neither as “bright”, “white”, “light” “over there”, indeed as anything. It is around this core that all of our familiar meaningful descriptions which owe their existence to the closer integration of the Perceptual Attention and Understanding, are ultimately draped.”(p16)
This quote cannot but remind one of the Kantian idea of how intuitions are related to concepts and thus to the categories of the understanding. In Kant we find no analogical “I” or metaphorical “me” but we do find an “I think” which accompanies all representations. This “I think ” is also intimately related to the understanding. O Shaughnessy argues in this context that in this activity of perception, the world casts its shadow on the mind as nowhere else. This is an important point. Consciousness, it is being argued, has both extensional and intensional objects given to it in the stream of experience:
“This experiential consciousness is not something behind closed doors as it were, a pure representation of lies beyond. Thanks to the phenomenon of perception. essentially extensional consciousness of concretely and pre-interpretationally given mental objects are there from the start(and to an abundant degree) side by side with purely interpetationally essentially mental phenomena. In particular, the one other experience capable of discovering an extensional object in the concrete mode, namely the bodily will, cannot accomplish so much, seeing that there is no psychic “thing” that is the immediate object of the bodily will, which has instead a perceptually given bodily target-object(e.g. arm) and bodily goal event(arm movement) as its (diverse) immediate objects.”(p17)
This division between what is extensional and what is intentional in the stream of experience is important. Thinking intensionally puts us in a certain sense at a psychic distance from the world. It is pointed out in this context that the animal cannot think intensionally given the fact that it is tied to its environment and an extensional form of perceiving, in the way a goat is tied to a post.
It is clear that, on this account the function of perception is cognition. The combination of the “I think” and the intuitive representation(to use Kantian terminology) involves conceptualisation of the particulars of the visual field. This conceptualisation rests upon knowledge of certain truths but conceptualisation and a propositional understanding of reality should not be confused even if the one is a necessary condition of the other. Pre-propositional understanding and perception combine to produce an interpretational order that is constituted of a chain of phenomena before the physical object actualises at its end.
“We desire to know” is one of the most important opening claims of Aristotle’s “Metaphysics”. In this work he produces a classification system of 4 kinds of change, three principles, and four kinds of explanation which all together circumscribe the arena of knowledge. Knowledge of course is dispositional in contrast to the contents of consciousness that are occurrences or episodes. Knowings can occur in the stream as the actualisation of “knowledge” as can learnings, rememberings, believings, conceivings, feelings, emotings, perceivings, strivings. Conceivings and perceivings can combine to produce a knowing. Imagine you witness the event of lightning striking a tree. On the above account this is not one event in a complex self conscious mind:the sight of the lightning striking the tree will be intimately related to the event of knowing that the lightning has struck the tree. This is because consciousness is truth oriented. Here the insistence that “I know” is universal and would be valid for every normal witness of the event. Understanding will be involved in both the seeing and the knowing: in categorising the lightning and the tree as well as the causal relation between the two in a causal categorial judgement. There is nothing metaphorical or fictional about this judgement. One could of course take the lightning striking the tree as a symbolic or metaphorical manifestation of the anger of the gods and this indeed would be a kind of narratization of the kind Jaynes envisages. In terms of Aristotle’s theory the Understanding and Reason will be involved in different ways depending upon whether the lightning destroys the tree or not. If destruction is the result we are dealing with a substantial kind of change: the destruction of an enduring form of life situated in space S at time T: there will be both material and efficient and perhaps also formal explanations of this change in our world.
This is the kind of account of consciousness we can expect from philosophy tied to the thread of tradition stretching back to Aristotle via Wittgenstein and Kant. This approach contests both the earlier dualistic and materialistic accounts that dominate our current thoughts. It is by no means complete however because what becomes apparent is that consciousness is not identical with the realm of the mind which is composed not just of those lower elements of physiological sensations that are best explained physiologically but also of a higher realm which for current purposes we can temporarily refer to as the realm of the “mental”. O Shaughnessy refers to it as the “mental- non psychological”. This is the realm which is responsible for reasoning and explaining that appear to be more concerned with dispositions than occurrences( or what Gilbert Ryle in his work “The Concept of Mind” refers to as “episodes”).
Perhaps the term “Power” used in relation to the term “agency” might be a less confusing way of discussing the issues involved here. P M S Hacker is understandably impatient with the term”consciousness” which he traces back to the modernist revolution that began with Descartes:
“The essence of the mind, Descartes argued, is thought: but he extended the concept of thought to include sensations felt(as if in parts of the body) perceptions(understood as seeming to see,hear, smell etc) mental images, cognitive and conative functions such as thinking(as normally understood) understanding, judging and believing(which he conceived of as acts of the will, not of the intellect) as well as feeling, emotions and desire. Thought included “everything which we are aware as happening within us insofar as we have awareness of it”. Hence thinking is to be identified here not merely with understanding, willing, imaging but also with sensory awareness. Thought was therefore defined in terms of consciousness and consciousness was assimilated to self consciousness misconceived–that is, as that of which we are immediately aware within us”(Human Nature: The Categorical Framework, p242)
Hacker is not impressed with the French Cartesian revolution. He continues thus:
“This conception of consciousness is like a virus. It is with us today in mutated forms infecting current “consciousness studies” that bedevil the thought of philosophers, psychologists and cognitive neuroscientists….But consciousness correctly conceived is no more a mystery than attention of which perceptual transitive consciousness is a form. It is at root a biological phenomenon, and corollary of sentient life”(p244)
Hacker’s account of thought is in terms of powers which being Aristotelian and Wittgensteinian, he does not hesitate to trace back to the power of language. He works with the Aristotelian definition of mans human nature as being a rational animal capable of discourse and has this to say on the powers of animals compared to humans:
“Human beings are substances of a certain type(the concept of a human being is a substance concept)- an evolutionary offshoot of the anthropoid apes, whose upright posture and consequent laryngeal changes made articulate vocalisation possible. The human species has not only a distinctive appearance and anatomy, posture and mode of locomotion, but also a unique form of life. Our rational powers endow us with a horizon of possibilities of action, thought and feeling vastly more extensive than anything accessible to other animals. Our ability to reason enlarges the possibility of knowledge and enables us to strive for theoretical understanding. It has made possible the benefits and evils of science and technology. Our ability to act for reasons makes us uniquely answerable for our deeds. We alone in the animal kingdom have knowledge of good and evil, have a conscience and are susceptible to feelings of guilt, shame, and remorse for our wrongdoing. It is no coincidence that only human beings can be said to have a soul, for to the soul belongs moral sensibility, the commitment to righteousness and moral goodness, as well as the darkness that besets those that have lost their way. All but the lowest forms of animal life are conscious. It was a far reaching Cartesian confusion to identify the human mind with the domain of consciousness. Animals undergo periods of sleep or unconsciousness and duly awaken and regain consciousness. Their attention is caught and held by objects and events in their environment, and it is of these that they become, and then are, conscious. They enjoy or suffer various states of consciousness such as feeling contentment, hunger thirst and pain. But only human beings are self conscious. We can reflect on what we are doing or undergoing, on our reasons for thinking acting or feeling, on our motives and motivations, on our likes and dislikes, on our character traits and relations to our fellow human beings….(animals) can intelligibly be said to think only what they can express in their behaviour. The horizon of human thought is far wider. We can think of specifically dated events of the distant past and remote future. We can think general thoughts, discover and reflect on sempiternal laws of nature, and understand and come to know the timeless truths of arithmetic, geometry and logic. We are blessed and cursed with the ability to think of how things might have been , and with the ability to imagine countless possibilities–an ability that lies at the heart of our story telling, and, more generally, of art. For, again, we are unique in nature in possessing an imagination which also makes possible artistic creativity and aesthetic appreciation… Human beings have and can know a history..they can be said and to be able to tell, an “autobiography”…Only human beings are aware of their mortality, can be occupied or preoccupied with their death and the dead. We are unique among animals in being able to strive to understand our lives and the place of death in life. So we are uniquely God-creating, myth generating creatures–making the gods in our image initially to explain the phenomena of nature and appease the forces of nature, later to make moral sense of our lives and fortunes by holding out vain hopes (and unwarranted threats) of a life after death. Whence these unique powers?…it is part of our nature to be born with the ability to speak a language. From this, from our animal nature coupled to a mastery of language, all else flows. We are language using animals.”
This is the statement of a philosopher who philosophises in accordance with a tapestry woven of what I have called “the thread of tradition”. It weaves the truths of William James, the Continental philosophers, Harari, Julian Jaynes and O Shaughnessy into the tapestry, thus forming a picture of the mind that realises the philosophical intentions of Aristotle, Kant, and Wittgenstein.
What needs to be done philosophically is the work of establishing which powers build upon or are integrated with other powers. Does , for example, the imagination belong to the sensible aspect of our minds or is it a part of our understanding? How does language relate to perception and to thought? How does language relate to consciousness?
Until all the above conceptual confusions and fallacies are avoided and the above questions are answered we will not have a clear idea of what constitutes the cognitive domain of mans mind and the role that consciousness plays in this domain.