Being Conscious

Susan Blackmore’s Consciousness: A Very Short Introduction 2nd Edition is fascinating. I just started listening, and the section on Chalmers and Dennett about p-zombies is rich for considering the question of whether the unconscious mind, which functions as an organism capable of interacting with its environment, is aware of itself. Does it possess an awareness that the conscious mind cannot experience?

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“If this theory needs a name, we might call it ‘delusionism’. I think this is the right way to think about consciousness, but it implies that our ordinary assumptions about our own minds are deeply misguided. Could we really be so wrong? And if so, why? Perhaps we should take a closer look at some of those everyday assumptions.”
~Susan Blackmore

Sure why don’t we take a closer look at why you don’t only not matter, but you also don’t exist.

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I will have to check it out.

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I’m curious what this means. Does she mean that we aren’t really aware of how little we can decide for ourselves, and that as agents we are really part of our environment?

I’d be interested in what you find.

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The previous sentence explains it a little better:

“The bottom line for this kind of theory is that we are deluded; we feel as though our consciousness is a power or added ability and so we believe it is, but we are wrong.”

Or this one…

“The phrase ‘the power of consciousness’ is common in popular discourse. The idea is that consciousness is some sort of force that can directly influence the world—either by acting on our own bodies, as when ‘I’ consciously decide to move my arm and it moves…”

This book is truly a great introduction to anyone who has had the slightest interest in the philosophy of mind. I’m about a third of the way into the audiobook, and going back and reviewing parts on Kindle.

At one point as she was describing various brain injuries and curiosities of perception, I recalled an incident I had of being so carried off in thought, I drove for 30 minutes in traffic on and off the expressway completely and totally oblivious of driving at all. The author surprised me by bringing up this experience of driving unconsciously to highlight the disagreement over the relationship between attention and consciousness.

“In both cases, you successfully stopped the car, and yet in one case all this activity was conscious and in the other it was not. What is the difference?”

The answer is in the question. In one case I consciously drove and in the other I unconsciously drove.


Is there a physical copy i can get or is it just the audiobook?

The library, ebay or amazon has it in print or digital.

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One small example I came across was how we catch frisbees. (Going from memory here, but might try to find the video later)

The video I saw started with a dog catching the frisbee. Being that I used to have a border collie that loved catching frisbees I was instantly hooked. What you will notice is that the dog will match the speed of the frisbee as they run and keep it nearly straight above their heads until they catch it.

Then they did the same thing with a human catching a frisbee. Humans do the same thing. We match our speed to the speed of the frisbee. No one is trained to do this. No one was told to catch the frisbee this way. We just do it without thinking about it.

It’s a small example, but it has always stuck with me.


Consciousness is a clever phenomenon. A person might decide to choose a series of numbers, after awhile as boredom starts to set in and the mind wanders, you start to pick numbers without really thinking about it.

Consciousness cannot be separated from the body (in this world) and it can’t be reduced to bodily function either.

It’s been a long time since I’ve taken a psychology course - so I’m sure I’m leaving out basic vocabulary for much of this. But there must be something of a continuum of “voluntariness” for our muscle actions. We have the entirely involuntary actions like the beating heart. We have the entirely voluntary ones, like my choosing to raise my hand. But then there are all the semi-voluntary things too that hover in both worlds. We can control our diaphragms and choose to hold our breath for a minute if we wish, and yet we obviously keep breathing all day and night long without having to concentrate on it at all 99% of the time - so it’s a good ways into the involuntary sort of action, thankfully. Blinking would be the same thing. Maybe this is more a continuum, than a clean 3rd category. My driving to work on “mental autopilot” as it were just means that my normally voluntary movement of my hands and arms grasping the steering wheel, just became a slight fraction toward the semi-voluntary in that continuum as I devoted almost none of my higher concentrations to it while I was actually doing it. Riding a bike - same thing. What a dull activity that would be if we were always having to concentrate on keeping our balance rather than just letting our bike-conditioned reflexes take care of that for us while we enjoy the ride and talk with a friend.

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Why can’t consciousness be reduced to bodily function?

That would be because a person is able to act without being acted upon.

Isn’t this the same discussion in effect?:

How does that support the claim that consciousness can’t be reduced to bodily function?

Why would someone not be responsible for their actions if consciousness is the product of bodily function?

Someone could act irresponsibly and say “I had no choice, it was just bodily function”?

And we could say, “You did have a choice, so we are holding you responsible.”

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Then you would be philosophically incorrect.

Why would that be philosophically incorrect?

Also, do you think it is philosophically incorrect to not hold people responsible for their actions when they are suffering from mental illness, such as schizophrenia?

Sure, why not. To hold them responsible in one case and not the other seems hypocritical.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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