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Annu Rev Neurosci. 2000;23:557-78.

Consciousness.

Author information

1
Department of Philosophy, University of California, Berkeley 94720-2390, USA. searle@cogsci.berkeley.edu

Abstract

Until recently, most neuroscientists did not regard consciousness as a suitable topic for scientific investigation. This reluctance was based on certain philosophical mistakes, primarily the mistake of supposing that the subjectivity of consciousness made it beyond the reach of an objective science. Once we see that consciousness is a biological phenomenon like any other, then it can be investigated neurobiologically. Consciousness is entirely caused by neurobiological processes and is realized in brain structures. The essential trait of consciousness that we need to explain is unified qualitative subjectivity. Consciousness thus differs from other biological phenomena in that it has a subjective or first-person ontology, but this subjective ontology does not prevent us from having an epistemically objective science of consciousness. We need to overcome the philosophical tradition that treats the mental and the physical as two distinct metaphysical realms. Two common approaches to consciousness are those that adopt the building block model, according to which any conscious field is made of its various parts, and the unified field model, according to which we should try to explain the unified character of subjective states of consciousness. These two approaches are discussed and reasons are given for preferring the unified field theory to the building block model. Some relevant research on consciousness involves the subjects of blindsight, the split-brain experiments, binocular rivalry, and gestalt switching.

PMID:
10845075
DOI:
10.1146/annurev.neuro.23.1.557
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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