• bert1
    1.3k
    Does your concept of consciousness, in the context of philosophy of mind, admit of degrees of consciousness? Can one thing be completely unconscious, then a bit more conscious, then a bit more? Can consciousness slowly fade in and out? Are rocks unconscious, snails a tiny bit conscious, rabbits somewhat more, republicans more, then dogs, crows, and then humans as the most conscious things around?

    Or is consciousness a binary thing? On/off? It it either there or not, and there are no degrees of it? Either a thing is experiencing or not.
    1. Does consciousness, as you conceive it, admit of degrees? (16 votes)
        Yes
        69%
        No
        31%
  • gurugeorge
    517
    Yes, I'd say there are degrees of consciousness. Waking up is a gradual process - at first awareness and thought are vague, cloudy, sluggish; the reverse for going to sleep (though not a pure mirror image, the phases seem to be a bit different). Waking up in the middle of the night can also be a quasi-conscious, vaguely hallucinatory state.

    I wouldn't say that demonstrates the truth of Panpsychism, but it does allow one to conceive the possibility of it more easily.
  • Arne
    618
    only for those who sleep. I am less conscious when I sleep. And seriously, how do you think anesthesiology is all about? I once had a client who was a nurse anesthetist and he assured me that not only does it admit of degrees, but that it is circularly spectral through and through.
  • John Doe
    242


    Might you be willing to expand on this post? I'm not sure that I understand how your position is supposed to work. If we define consciousness as awareness of things like tickles and pains, then we can have more or less refined degrees of awareness but not "degrees of consciousness". If we define consciousness as self-awareness or discursive conceptualization, then we can have more or less sophistication and nuance in the application of concepts and exercise of embodied know-how, but this too wouldn't strike me as "degrees" of consciousness. Surely it would be bizarre to claim that a man has a "lesser degree of consciousness" than me before his morning coffee.
  • _db
    3.6k
    To be sure, there is a difference between being non-conscious and being conscious. But between things that are conscious, what would make something "more" conscious than another thing?

    As far as I can tell the only difference would be in amount of consciousness, that is to say, the size of the set of things that one is aware of. "Transcending to a higher degree of consciousness" can only mean a change in the contents of consciousness.
  • apokrisis
    6.4k
    We could easily tell if it had degrees if we had a good handle on what it actually is. Measurement and theory go together.

    My general definition of consciousness or sentience would be being in a semiotic modelling relation with the world.

    Rocks don’t model anything.

    Microbes are a first glimmer of world modelling, but we would hardly say they see a world. They have some chemotaxic reflexes, but not some kind of integrated picture of an environment that changes from moment to moment in some modelled fashion demanding variety of behaviour.

    And so we can move on up the chain to organisms with those kinds of complex world models. But being in a modelling relation would be a suitable dividing line. It marks off all of life with a reasonable sharpness.
  • John Doe
    242
    My general definition of consciousness or sentience would be being in a semiotic modelling relation with the world.

    Rocks don’t model anything.

    Microbes are a first glimmer of world modelling, but we would hardly say they see a world. They have some chemotaxic reflexes, but not some kind of integrated picture of an environment that changes from moment to moment in some modelled fashion demanding variety of behaviour.

    And so we can move on up the chain to organisms with those kinds of complex world models. But being in a modelling relation would be a suitable dividing line.
    apokrisis

    So on your view does the capacity to move meaningfully within an environment constitute consciousness, since it implies a bodily modelling relation with the world? Or do you mean literally having representations in the head?
  • apokrisis
    6.4k
    The OP was about drawing sharp baseline boundaries. My answer is that there is no sharp boundary really until you get right down to a state of matter that is not alive and mindful. A lump of something that is in no sense modelling a world.

    But then you can start filling back in the obvious degrees of mindfulness/world modelling represented by the distinctions between reflexive behaviour, automatic behaviour, attentive behaviour, self-aware behaviour. That's just the neurobiology of complexity. The modelling steadily becomes more sophisticated in terms of a relation between "a self" and "a world".
  • John Doe
    242
    But then you can start filling back in the obvious degrees of mindfulness/world modelling represented by the distinctions between reflexive behaviour, automatic behaviour, attentive behaviour, self-aware behaviour. That's just the neurobiology of complexity. The modelling steadily becomes more sophisticated in terms of a relation between "a self" and "a world".apokrisis

    Which is what I take to be interesting about your post. It seems to imply that reflexive behavior builds up gradually into a mind thinking about itself, that the embodied know-how of a lower animal develops into the mental knowledge-that of human beings. Bodies can model the world in a way that develops into representational knowledge of the world. I like the approach much better than the more brain-centric approach to the self-world relation.
  • apokrisis
    6.4k
    Thanks. I'm not claiming anything original. An embodied approach to cognition would be pretty mainstream these days.
  • John Doe
    242
    Thanks. I'm not claiming anything original. An embodied approach to cognition would be pretty mainstream these days.apokrisis

    Yeah, I mean, I don't know how many over-caffeinated grad students are just this moment sitting in a library, writing some article or dissertation aiming to blow our minds over some new embodied approach to the nature of conceptual content. 50? 100? Still, I think this format is more interesting to read and perhaps often more edifying.
  • gurugeorge
    517
    I don't think "consciousness," "awareness," etc., have any particular crisp definition that's THE definition.

    There's always the temptation to think of consciousness per se as a kind of qualityless "spotlight" type of thing that "lights up" a separate, distinct content of consciousness - but that's question begging. It's just as possible that consciousness and content together is a particular type of existent (comprised of both external causal factors and internal brain processing) that comes into and goes out of existence, with consciousness and content being two abstractions that are merely notionally distinguishable and separable.

    One of the most basic distinctions to be made in this area is the public sense of "consciousness", "awareness", etc., and the private. In the public sense, it's unproblematic - we can observe consciousness in action (in for example the avoiding and cleaving-to activities of animals, our fellow humans, in their responses to our questions, etc.). And in the public sense, the concept of degrees of consciousness is unproblematic too - for example, one thinks of the origin of the evolution of the eye in light sensitive patches that might have just given a vague impression of a something (some kind of predator) swooping down; or the experiments done with baby chimps where you give them a straw "mother" that they latch onto just as readily as they would have done to their biological chimp mother. It's unproblematic to think of consciousness in this sense as having levels of "grain" or levels of resolution.

    It's the private sense that gives us all the difficulties, which are added to by the kinds of philosophical reflections engaged in by the moderns (Descartes onward). And to many it seems like having this private type of consciousness (the spotlight lighting up private content) is the precondition for the public type (it being a process hidden "inside" the body or the brain that somehow makes avoiding/cleaving behaviour possible in us and animals). It's the private sense (the spotlight sense) that seems like it has to be something that's either on or off.
  • bert1
    1.3k
    To be sure, there is a difference between being non-conscious and being conscious. But between things that are conscious, what would make something "more" conscious than another thing?

    As far as I can tell the only difference would be in amount of consciousness, that is to say, the size of the set of things that one is aware of. "Transcending to a higher degree of consciousness" can only mean a change in the contents of consciousness.
    darthbarracuda

    Yes, that's my view I think. The content of consciousness admits of degree, but consciousness itself does not - you are either aware of something not aware at all (and perhaps aware of nothing). Perhaps there are three useful conceptual categories, aware of something, aware of nothing (but still aware), and not aware at all. I regularly revisit this topic to see what people think as it's the main question I'm interested in in philosophy.
  • bert1
    1.3k
    It's the private sense (the spotlight sense) that seems like it has to be something that's either on or off.gurugeorge

    Indeed. If the spotlight is on anything at all, it's on.
  • Wayfarer
    16.7k
    Interesting question and I voted ‘yes’ but here I have to qualify that. To start with, anything alive is conscious in some sense - that goes for the most primitive organisms. The criterion for that is goal-directedness and the ability to respond to stimuli. If something is alive, it has to do something. Even if it’s a single-called organism it has to respond to stimuli. So in that sense, it is an on/off, yes/no question.

    But then, there is an hierarchy apparent in terms of degree of conscious capability. Plants respond to stimuli almost in the same way as inorganic substances, albeit with the ability to grow and reproduce which minerals don’t exhibit. Insects and verterbrae exhibit behaviours, which plants do not. And humans can consider alternatives and weigh up options, which animals do not. So I think there is an hierarchy visible, which is why I anserred Yes.
  • Wayfarer
    16.7k
    Microbes are a first glimmer of world modelling, but we would hardly say they see a world.apokrisis

    One of the intriguing articles I learned about on forums was that bacteria exhibit learning behaviour - something about navigating pathways towards nutrients. So they may not ‘see a world’ but in their particular ‘lebenwelt’, they actually can ‘find their way around’. Found that intriguing.

    //ps// which is, as you say, a ‘modelling relationship’, even if very primitive. But there already there’s a difference in kind from what inorganic molecules do.
  • Belter
    89
    Does your concept of consciousness, in the context of philosophy of mind, admit of degrees of consciousness?bert1

    I think it is a very interesting question. Consciousness can be the "vividness" (number of pixels), but also the "integrity" (i.e., not superposition between them, how when two channels of TV match, so they are "superposed"). Both of them admit of degrees.
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