Abstract words help us talk quickly and simply — well, unless we disagree on their meaning. At times like that, we can see that the abstract words are contrived. “Consciousness” is just such a contrived word — especially if we take a stance like this: “Well, it is a word, so it must exist. So now we just have to discover what it is.”
Block calls “consciousness” a “mongrel concept” because of its many different, easily conflated meanings and thus requiring careful distinctions between these meanings to make any conceptual advances.
I have said the same about other highly abstract words including “faith” and “religion”. In my post on “The Myth of Definitions” I suggested that the first step to making cognitive progress on disagreed abstractions is to agree on the various meanings, and then to add an adjective to the abstract word to distinguish these meanings.
Using adjectives, Block wants to introduce three fundamentally different sense of consciousness:
(1) Phenomenal Consciousness: the internal experience of a sensation — obviously shared with other animals. Requiring no language.
(2) Monitoring Consciousness: Awareness of self and our own thoughts and pains and perceptions.
(3) Access Consciousness: When our cognitive systems reflect upon phenomenal consciousness. Other animals can do this too.
OK, I did not enjoy the article, because I don’t really enjoy the topic. It is too hard for me. And I can’t see why I should care about it. Perhaps my meditative experiences are what occasionally draw me back to such articles — a desire to think about the complexity of mind. But inevitably, on reading them, I quickly return to my state of apathy for the philosophy of consciousness.
Sure, I have a few opinions about consciousness: I am certain that we hugely exaggerate how conscious we think we are — we exaggerate our Access Consciousness (using Block’s term). But that one supplement to the normal view of consciousness is about all I feel I need for now– unless someone can show me how the other concepts should matter to me.
So why do this post? Well, I think many people treat religion and certainly religious words the same way I treat consciousness:
I have friends who believe in “God” but don’t care about the details because the idea of life after death or a need to be good is enough for them. Likewise, I know religion-free folks who don’t care about the Bible or the Qur’an arguments, because it is so obviously clear to them that there is no loving, controlling, miracle working super spirit. So they don’t care to get into all the other abstractions and minutia.
Question to readers: Do you see why I have written about consciousness here? Do you care?