Consciousness in cognitive neuroscience, philosophy of mind and related fields. An attempt at a unified approach

Invited talk by Jakub Jonkisz, The University of Bielsko-Biała.

Consciousness is the subject of research that, as it is currently pursued in contemporary science, may be said to be of an extremely interdisciplinary nature. At the same time, as is evident throughout the field, we see that it has come to be understood in ways that are highly ambiguous – there are a large number of quite different conceptions and meanings, all of which have been attached to this notion.[1] With such a multiplicity of approaches and varieties of consciousness in play, a fundamental question arises: are representatives of these various disciplines studying different aspects of one homogenous natural phenomenon, or rather multiple ontologically distinct phenomena, connected only by the somewhat fashionable term ‘consciousness’.

In my work up to now I have already argued that the vast majority of these correspond to just four fundamental features of consciousness: its being accessible both from the inside and from the outside (subjectively and objectively), its referring to things (with consecutive orders of aboutness), its depending on the physiological states of an organism and, finally, its possessing diverse functions. Thus, almost all varieties of consciousness may be successfully accommodated within a four-fold taxonomy of epistemic kinds, semantic orders, physiological states and pragmatic types of consciousness.[2] The main objectives of the current research project, then, are:

  • clarification of the main idea and consequences of the four-fold taxonomy, as well as responding to major comments elicited by my published work so far
  • formulation of a new, unified concept of consciousness based on its four fundamental features as shown in the taxonomy
  • identification of possible applications of the taxonomic distinctions and of the unified conception in science
  • justification of the ontological homogeneity of the phenomenon of consciousness

A properly formulated, unified concept of consciousness, combined with the above-mentioned four-fold taxonomy, can furnish a sound theoretical framework for further scientific studies. Inter alia it will allow:

  • the term ‘consciousness’ to be employed more precisely in the areas in question;
  • descriptions of the various impairments and deficits of consciousness (e.g. minimally conscious state), and of phenomena such as blindsight, agnosia and phantom limbs (and many others), to be developed much more clearly and accurately;[3]
  • human consciousness to be more precisely differentiated from animal consciousness, and natural from artificial or machine consciousness[4]

References: [1]Vimal R. (2009), Meanings Attributed to the Term ‘Consciousness’, in Journal of Consciousness Studies, 16/5, pp. 9-27, where 40 distinct meanings of the term are described. [2]Jonkisz J. (2012), Consciousness: A four-fold taxonomy, Journal of Consciousness Studies, 19/11-12, pp. 55-82. [3]Giacino J.T, (2005), The minimally conscious state: defining the borders of consciousness, Progress in Brain Research, 150, pp. 381-95; A. Kokoszka (2007), States of consciousness. Models for psychology and psychotherapy, New York: Springer. [4]Edelman D., Seth A. (2009), Animal consciousness: a synthetic approach, Trends in Neuroscience, 9, p. 476–84; Journal of Consciousness Studies (2007/14), Machine consciousness, embodiment and imagination, ed. by Torrance S., Clowes R., Chrisley R.