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2001 - Volume 22, Number 3, Summer

On the Intrinsic Nature of States of Consciousness: Attempted Inroads from the First-Person Perspective

The Journal of Mind and Behavior, Summer 2001, Volume 22, Number 3, Pages 219–248, ISSN 0271–0137

The Jamesian streams of consciousness are each made up of states of consciousness one at a time in tight temporal succession except when a stream stops flowing momentarily or for a longer time. These pulses of mentality are typically complex in the sense of their possessing, each of them, many ingredients or features. But, also, every state of consciousness is, in a different sense, simple: a unitary awareness, a single mental act. Although unitary, a state of consciousness often has many objects, which have some kind of existence, past, present, or future, or which are nonexistent, merely apparent, only imaginary. The problem concerning the intrinsic nature of states of consciousness is what they are themselves, not what they are about or what they may seem to be about, but what are their own intrinsic properties. For example, in my view, conscious states are, literally, certain occurrent states of the brain. In James’s different view, conscious states are mental in the sense of nonphysical yet directly produced by the total brain process or by a substantial part of it. In our attempts to determine the intrinsic properties of states of consciousness, we are well advised to attend to our inner awareness of them. Any true statement about a state of consciousness that we may succeed in formulating from the first-person perspective is, in my view, a fact concerning a brain state and may help us to learn which among the occurrent brain states are actually the states of consciousness. Their being unitary awarenesses is among the facts we know firsthand about the states of consciousness. I can think of no instance of such a state that is missing the property of intentionality, the property of its being at least as though about something. Also, although we may distinguish various ingredients belonging to a state of consciousness — a state can be, for example, an auditory, a visual, a sexual, a memorial, and an anticipatory experience, all at the same time — these ingredients are not apprehended side by side, but as integrated together in a unitary state. It will be argued that how we find firsthand a state of consciousness to be is illusory, that any such state is actually made up of separate processes. But this claim has its own problems, including having to explain the difference between two simultaneous states of consciousness belonging each of them to a different stream and an integral state that includes several different kinds of experience.

Requests for reprints should be sent to Thomas Natsoulas, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, University of California, Davis, One Shields Avenue, Davis, California 95616–8686. Email: .

Structural Causation and Psychological Explanation

The Journal of Mind and Behavior, Summer 2001, Volume 22, Number 3, Pages 249–262, ISSN 0271–0137

A key test of any philosophical account of the mind is its treatment of mental causation. Proponents of the token-identity theory point to its strengths in both “demystifying” mental causation — by identifying mental causes with the physical causal mechanisms underlying bodily movements — and in avoiding commitment to dubious forms of causal overdetermination. I argue against this account of mental causation, pointing out that it mistakenly identifies actions with bodily movements. I suggest instead treating action explanations as explanations of redundant causalities in behavior, and the mental causes cited in such explanations as structural causes.

Requests for reprints should be sent to Jeffrey Hershfield, Ph.D., Department of Philosophy, Wichita State University, Wichita, Kansas 67260–0074.

Conceiving Simple Experiences

The Journal of Mind and Behavio, Summer 2001, Volume 22, Number 3, Pages 263–286, ISSN 0271–0137

That consciousness is composed of simple or basic elements that combine to form complex experiences is an idea with a long history. This idea is approached through an examination of our “picture” or conception of consciousness (CC). It is argued that CC commits us to a certain abstract notion of simple experiential events, or simples, and that traditional critiques of simple elements of experience do not threaten simples. To the extent that CC is taken to conform to how consciousness really is, therefore, the concept of simples must be treated in kind.

Requests for reprints should be sent to Dr. Michael Antony, Department of Philosophy, University of Haifa, Haifa 31905, Israel. Email:

Free Will and Events in the Brain

The Journal of Mind and Behavior, Summer 2001, Volume 22, Number 3, Pages 287–310, ISSN 0271–0137

Free will seems to be part of the romantic echo of a world view which predates scientific psychology and, in particular, cognitive neuroscience. Findings in cognitive neuroscience seem to indicate that some form of physicalist determinism about human behavior is correct. However, when we look more closely we find that physical determinism based on the view that brain events cause mental events is problematic and that the data which are taken to support that view, do nothing of the kind. In fact that view meets some substantial objections which turn on the role of the contents of our thoughts and experiences in explaining our behavior. When we look at mental or psychological content we find it is governed by rules and not just causal laws. Rule-following is an activity which invokes the role of the thinker as rational agent and this is not a causal type of explanation. The fact that the thinker as agent is important means that when we invoke the way that a subject thinks about the world, we conceive of that subject as located in a socio–cultural context. This in turn requires that we recognize an explanatory circle according to which neither brain science nor social science can claim priority in explaining human behavior and it follows that, for the purposes of psychological explanation and the understanding of the brain as an organ subserving a system of representation, we are bound to regard human beings as reasoning beings who exert some control over their own behavior and not just as physical systems. This defeats the causal determinist position.

Requests for reprints should be sent to Grant R. Gillett, D.Phil, M.D., Bioethics Center, University of Otago, Box 913, Dunedin, New Zealand.

Can Dynamical Systems Explain Mental Causation?

The Journal of Mind and Behavior, Summer 2001, Volume 22, Number 3, Pages 311–334, ISSN 0271–0137

Dynamical systems promise to elucidate a notion of top–down causation without violating the causal closure of physical events. This approach is particularly useful for the problem of mental causation. Since dynamical systems seek out, appropriate, and replace physical substrata needed to continue their structural pattern, the system is autonomous with respect to its components, yet the components constitute closed causal chains. But how can systems have causal power over their substrates, if each component is sufficiently caused by other components? Suppose every causal relation requires background conditions, without which it is insufficient. The dynamical system is structured with a tendency to change background conditions for causal relations anytime needed substrates for the pattern’s maintenance are missing; under the changed background conditions, alternative causal relations become sufficient to maintain the pattern. The system controls the background conditions under which one or another causal relation can subserve the system’s overall pattern, while the components remain causally closed under their given background conditions.

Requests for reprints should be sent to Ralph Ellis, Ph.D., Department of Religion and Philosophy, Clark Atlanta University, Campus P.O. Box 81, 223 James P. Brawley Drive, S.W., Atlanta, Georgia 30314

Book Reviews

The Mind Doesn’t Work That Way.

The Journal of Mind and Behavior, Summer 2001, Volume 22, Number 3, Pages 335–336, ISSN 0271–0137

[Note: First paragraph, no abstract available.] This excellent book presents a timely critique of present trends in cognitive science and computational psychology. What makes this critique so remarkable is, in addition to its lucidity and the depths of its arguments, the fact that it comes from someone who has actively contributed much to the field of computational psychology for the past quarter of a century. This book, then, is a remarkable work in many ways. The title refers to Steven Pinker’s How the Mind Works, a relentlessly optimistic evaluation of the explanatory power of present-day cognitive science. Although (or, because) Fodor himself shares many of the presuppositions of cognitive science and computational theories of how the mind works, and in fact, his writings have shaped the thinking and the work of an entire generation of cognitive scientists, he contends that a great deal of homework is still to be done before cognitive science can claim to have come even close to a thorough understanding of the mind and its workings. One trend which particularly disturbs Fodor, and at which he directs much of his criticism, is what is termed “New Synthesis” — a combination of computational and evolutionary psychology put forward in the last few years by authors like John Tooby and Leda Cosmides, Stephen Pinker, and Henry Plotkin. Though the approach taken by these authors certainly has some merit, it presupposes too much and it presupposes it much too early. For, before the evolution of cognition can be constrained in a convincing way, we first need much better theories of the cognitive processes whose evolutions are in question. And that is exactly, says Fodor, what cognitive science has not been able to produce so far.

Requests for reprints should be sent to Dr. Alexander Batthyany, Prinz Eugenstrasse 14/28, 1040 Vienna, Austria.

The Vile Village

The Journal of Mind and Behavior, Summer 2001, Volume 22, Number 3, Pages 337–342, ISSN 0271–0137

[Note: First paragraph, no abstract available.] The Vile Village is the seventh volume of A Series of Unfortunate Events, by Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler). The books are immensely popular with children, and they are growing in popularity with adults as well. Three volumes of the series were on the best seller lists in the summer of 2001, inevitably and justifiably inviting comparison with J.K. Rowling’s extraordinarily popular Harry Potter books. In fact, in addition to their best-selling status, Handler and Rowling have a great deal in common, not the least of which is that they are excellent writers. They both treat their readers as equals, never condescending, never lecturing. And they have something a rare few adults retain, a memory or an understanding of childhood, which allows them not only to connect with children and adolescents, but also to be trusted implicitly and soundly by them.

Requests for reprints should be sent to Steven Connelly, Ph.D., Department of English, Indiana State University, Terre Haute, Indiana 47809.

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