The Ontology of Creature Consciousness

In a previous post, I asked whether creature consciousness might be ontologically more important, including as part of the ontological basis for phenomenal consciousness, than many philosophers seem to think.  I was motivated in part by “Consciousness without a Cerebrain Cortex: A Challenge for Neuroscience and Medicine,” a forthcoming BBS target article by Bjorn Merker. 

In the article, Merker makes the radical claim that the brainstem can sustain creature consciousness, and even phenomenal consciousness, all by itself.  In case you haven’t heard me right, I’ll put it another way:  Merker argues that some people are phenomenally conscious (and a fortiori, creature conscious) even though they do not possess a cerebral cortex.  Althought it’s hard to prove that these people have phenomenal consciousness (they can’t talk), Merker presents compelling evidence that they at least have creature consciousness.

Feeling encouraged by Pete Mandik’s feedback on the above mentioned post, I have written a commentary on Merker’s article, which should appear in BBS with the article and other commentaries. 

Here is my abstract: I appeal to Merker’s theory to motivate a hypothesis about the ontology of consciousness:  creature consciousness is (at least partially) constitutive of phenomenal consciousness.  Rather than elaborating theories of phenomenal consciousness couched solely in terms of state consciousness, as philosophers are fond of doing, a correct approach to phenomenal consciousness should begin with an account of creature consciousness.

The revised abstract is due on February 21.  It would be especially helpful (and gratefully acknowledged) if anyone wants to take a look at my commentary before then and let me know what they think.

One Comment

  1. Richard Brown

    Hi, I just found this article, very interesting stuff…I tend to agree that creature consciousness is given short shrift in the consciousness literature, and for just the reasons that Pete indicated in the earlier post. People Like Rosenthal think that this kind of consciousness is uninteresting (philosophically) and that we have a pretty good understanding of the difference between unconscious creatures and conscious ones. The reason that Rosenthal seems to think that creature consciousness is uniteresting is because he seems to think that it, as you point out, has nothing to do with qualitative consciousness, which is where the real philosophical problem lies. I have long thought that this is a mistake on Rosenthal’s part. It is not the case that a creature is simply conscious or not, rather it is the case that it is awake and in some mood or other. These ‘background’ states of creature consciousness must surely be qualitative and they are NOt states. In my view these states of the brain are levels of neuromodulators controlled by the brainstem and there is no reason to think that they will not be qualitative…though I am not sure about this, I think that Chalmers also thinks that there creature consciousness is qualitative…

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