Locating Consciousness: Why Experience Can't Be Objectified

Here's the abstract of a 2019 paper for the Journal of Consciousness Studies, and a PDF of the final pre-publication draft is linked below.

Abstract: The world appears to conscious creatures in terms of experienced sensory qualities, but science doesn’t find sensory experience in that world, only physical objects and properties. I argue that the failure to locate consciousness in the world is a function of our necessarily representational relation to reality as knowers: we won’t discover the terms in which reality is represented by us in the world as it appears in those terms. Physicalists who are realists about consciousness generally assume its objectivity: experience is something identical with physical processes or properties, perhaps the intrinsic nature of the physical, or perhaps some micro-physical, neural, or emergent property. I argue that this assumption wrongly reifies consciousness; it expects to find qualitative representational content – qualia – in the physical world as characterized using such content. Instead, we should grant that conscious experience constitutes a mind-dependent, subjective, representational reality for cognitive systems such as ourselves, and that the physical world described by science is a represented objective reality. The former, since it exists only for conscious subjects, won’t be found as an entity in the latter. I suggest that naturalistic approaches to explaining consciousness should acknowledge the representational relation and the non-objectivity of experience, and be constrained by evidence that consciousness accompanies certain sorts of behavior-controlling representational functions carried out by complex, physically-instantiated mind-systems. I evaluate a variety of current hypotheses about consciousness on that basis, and suggest that a mature science of representation may eventually help explain why, perhaps as a matter of representational necessity, experience arises as a natural but not objectively discoverable phenomenon.

A PDF of the final pre-publication draft is here.