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Shvoong Home>Social Sciences>Psychology>The Problem of Consciousness Summary

The Problem of Consciousness

Article Summary   by:mahaprabhu     Original Author: Mauro Pereira
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Consciousness and indeed unconscious cognition is the subject of much research and scholarship within a number of areas including artificial intelligence, psychology, neuroscience, psychoanalysis and philosophy. Although one can trace this subject back to ancient Eastern civilizations, one can argue that, in Western tradition of thought, the debate about the nature of consciousness is rooted in the Cartesian dualism which postulates that there is a functional distinction between mind (res cogitans) and body (res extensa), and that unlike the body, the mind is not bound by the laws of physics (see Baker & Morris, 2002). In Descartes view matter on its own lacked the ability of conscious thought. Instead, he proposed a dualistic interactionism whereby consciousness and thought (a manifestation of an immaterial soul) interacts with the brain and material body (see Baker & Morris, 2002).

Although the traditional ‘mind-body’ problem originated from the Cartesian Dualism, some argue that ‘mind’ and consciousness should not be treated as the same thing, and that the aspect of the body which is often associated with consciousness is the brain. This poses a further difficulties in terms of understanding the causal relationship between matter and consciousness, and which forms of matter should be associated with consciousness. More specifically, the problem of consciousness lies on the difficulty of explaining how consciousness comes into being as a result of neural activity in the brain (see Ward, 2006). A possible solution to this dilemma would be to understand how subjective experience interacts with objective reality. Dualism (which divides the universe into two distinct substances, being these physical and mental) and Materialist Reductionism (concerned with the idea that the consciousness is simply a product of neurophysiologic processes in the brain [see Velmans, 2000]). Since that evidence from both Dualism and Material Reductionism are often inconsistent with each other, a possible solution to the problem of consciousness is to “marry” science with experience by re-examining how consciousnesses relate to the physical world. From this view point it would seem that human consciousness may indeed be “just one, natural manifestation of a wider self-conscious universe” (Velmans, 2000: 10).

It has been argued that the on the brain one can identify both conscious and unconscious process and that both should be given equal importance. Additionally, one can identify a number of cognitive processes running in parallel which we are not consciously aware of (Hasher & Zacks, 1984). From this vantage point one can argue that consciousness operates as a filter which regulates the flow of information coming from the unconscious and in this way it enables one to process information selectively. In other words, it through consciousness that one is able to solve problems and act prudently in the face of an immense background of knowledge (Deecke & Kornhuber, 2003).
Published: May 14, 2009   
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